Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

February 9, 2009

Bowlerize Yourself

Filed under: Accessories,Books,Hats,How To Wear It — Miss Plumcake @ 4:24 pm

Being a big girl can be tough when it comes to pulling off male tailoring. We’re generally too big to do that whole “isn’t she adorable in her boyfriend’s jacket” thing and our curves keep us ANYTHING from androgynous.  Tilda Swinton we aint.

And you know? That’s totally okay, because we don’t need to be. Sure, she has a whole mess of statuettes and Alber Elbaz on speed dial, but we have breasts and when it comes down to it, my sweet baby Alber isn’t getting me out of a speeding ticket when I get pulled over for the third time in two weeks.

My other issue with masculine tailoring on women is that unless it’s VERY modern and VERY high-quality –which translates into prohibitively expensive for a lot of us– well, it can look a little played out.

So what’s a girl to do?

Think outside the boxy jacket.

Over the next three days, we’ll be borrowing pieces from the boys, starting with the item nearest and dearest to my head:

The Derby

The Perfect Black Bowler.

Call it a bowler or a derby,  if you’ve got dramatic features or a heart-shaped face you need one of these.  I bought one last week and I have no idea how I lived without it. It was like the week I discovered gin and rechargeable batteries. God, that was a good week.

So how do you wear it? Cocked and low on the brow, never EVER on the back of your head. Debbie Gibson is Not What We’re Going For. Think Fraulein Sally Bowles.

How To Wear It.

Sigh. Life is just so much more FUN when everything’s a Fosse number.

Anyway, there are plenty of purveyors of fine-quality bowlers (you want to be careful you don’t get a costume one. You’re looking at spending $30 – $60 on a decent wool one. Fur felt will be about $400) I like to support local business, so I picked up a traditional wool felt bowler from Stacey Adams at a fantastic little haberdashery called Hatbox. I recommend it to you highly if you’re in the Austin area, although beware: it is a haberdashery, not a millinery.  You’ll probably have to get your church hats somewhere else.

Speaking of recommendations, let me suggest unto you a fantastic book:

Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats

You might have seen the musical of the same name, but I still suggest you pick up a copy. The portraits are amazing, the stories are touching and –setting aside my own personal interest in the place where fashion and faith collide– these women are WEARING some hats.


  1. One bit of male tailoring that I think looks dynamite on a big girl is the women’s tuxedo. Don’t try it with the white shirt and bow tie…that’s too costumey. But with a pretty, lacy camisole, some great jewelry and some fierce shoes, it’s a great blend of masculine and feminine, and tends to look really awesome on curvy women.

    Comment by La Petite Acadienne — February 9, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  2. Speaking of crowns, I want to chime in (weeks late, I know) about Aretha’s hat at the inauguration. It was fantastic, and given the grey color and wool fabric, quite restrained for our Lady of Soul. Plus, she got it at Mr. Song’s, a Detroit icon who still makes many of his own hats by hand. I bought my wedding shoes from Mr. Song, and my mom-in-law lines up with hundreds of other Detroit first ladies (that’s pastor’s wives, to the uninitiated) every month for his crowns. She was fantastic, he is fantastic, and I think the hat trend is hot.
    But I’m a bit large of head; will a hat just emphasize that?

    Comment by emmme — February 9, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

  3. A good bowler is a wonderful thing, but don’t forget to try other fine examples of male millinery and see which one is best for you. I do okay in a bowler, but look pretty fabulous in my grandfather’s Homburg. Oh, and I totally rock a shorter top hat. A good fedora is a must have for many a woman, too.

    Oh, and I discovered lately much to my surprise that I look really snazzy in a bicorn. I’m on the lookout now for a really nice one I can wear in public. So don’t be afraid to try something a bit unexpected.

    emmme, the key to the right hat is a combination of shape, proportion, and correct fit…just like any other piece of clothing. If you’re just trying out the whole hat thing for the first time, head for a place that specializes in them and try on every different style you can find. Try different colors, different widths of brim. Really look in the mirror. Ask one of the salespeople what they would recommend for your face shape and coloring. And then look at it and see whether or not you like the effect.

    Mr. Twistie is quite generously sized in the cranium as well as very round of face, and he rocks a well-shaped topper like nobody’s business! He wears a beret most days, and looks great in it, too. Hats are not just for those of us with compact heads.

    Oh, and I absolutely second Plumcake’s advice about picking up a copy of Crowns. It’s a fabulous book and an inspiration.

    Comment by Twistie — February 9, 2009 @ 6:55 pm

  4. I could probably pull the derby look off. I’ve been told I look good in hats.

    I can’t do blazers though. I would look like Frankenstein’s monster without the neck bolts and green skin.

    Comment by Bree — February 9, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  5. *sigh*

    I love hats. I have a good face for hats, especially with decently wide brims. I ROCKED hats in the 80s when they were readily available for cheap. But alas and alack, I’m allergic to wool and fur, which means quality hats are risky for me.

    But, I still sigh over my (male) coworker’s stunning Borsalino “crush safari”. That is a fine hat. Weightless, stylish fur felt.

    Comment by CanadianChick — February 9, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  6. The bowler looks good (but I wonder where you’re getting them at that price; all the decent ones around here are imported from England and at least twice that much) but you MUST wear a relatively strong lipstick with it in order to bring the rest of your face up to the formality of it. That’s not a hat you can dress down.

    You can dress it up very nicely with some veiling, though.

    And I’m saving up for a custom-made tricorne. For whatever reason, I look absolutely fabulous in tricornes, and there’s no point getting a cheap hat if you live where it rains all the time.

    Comment by raincoaster — February 10, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  7. Ah, now I know why the hats are so cheap relative to the ones in Vancouver: I’ve been looking online at the riding hats, that have reinforced crowns. Also, the only shop around here that carries these hats carries them from Herbie J and that ilk, so no bargains there.

    Comment by raincoaster — February 10, 2009 @ 1:46 am

  8. I will respectfully disagree with my esteemed colleague on one item. The bowler needs strong makeup, not necessarily a strong lip. The lip must be finished but I’ve had much success with a very smoky eye (smokier than you’d think) and a finished natural lip.

    Rain, try Stacey Adams. Excellent quality, very traditional.

    Comment by Plumcake — February 10, 2009 @ 4:28 am

  9. I love hats, but Plumcake’s advice on how to wear the bowler makes me hesitate. All hats migrate to the back of my head, and slightly to the right.

    Would you use a hatpin to keep it in place?

    Comment by TeleriB — February 10, 2009 @ 8:56 am

  10. Oh. I can (and do) rock many a hat. I look smashing in my fiance’s fedoras, and I have my own collection as well. I have two cloches – and yes, I look damned adorable, makeup or no.

    And I’ve been known to rock a bowler with no makeup as well – I think that if you have a strong enough face/personality that it carries it just fine. But if you are worried you don’t have what it takes, then you probably don’t…I think a lot has to do with the right carriage.

    I shop for hats by which hat flirts with me heaviest from the shelf/hat tree/display. My purple cloche was whispering dirty dirty things to me, and my giant floppy sunhat promised me a magical summer (and it WAS).

    And I not-so-secretly really want an imitation Fierce Inauguration Hat.

    Comment by De — February 10, 2009 @ 10:58 am

  11. Ooh! De! I’ve had hats whisper naughty things to me, too! Over the summer I picked up the cutest little green cloth cloche with a butterscotch-colored buckle that positively made me blush in public with its insinuations. Every time I wear it, I get compliments, too.

    You’re also right about attitude playing a big part in hat wearing. Never be timid about wearing a hat. It’s a bold statement in today’s world, and needs a touch of chutzpah to back it up.

    Raincoaster, I, too, desperately need a good tricorn. They do things for my face that you would not believe.

    Comment by Twistie — February 10, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  12. For more information on how to wear a bowler hat, see Lena Olin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. There she channels Magritte to turn the hat into a symbol of existential irony. . . while wearing precious little else!

    Comment by Anon — February 10, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

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