“Excuse me miss, but may I ask where you bought that hat?”
The year is not 1813. It is 2015 and I am standing in line at a Subway sandwich shop desperate to get my Italian herb and cheese on. The guy pinching my turkey into the mandated closed-book shape is covered in prison tattoos and has piercing murdery eyes. What if we fall in love because of my need for processed deli meats and his passion for hats? It seems unlikely.
“This old thing?” I say, pointing proudly to my head. “FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK!” Beside me my friend Jesse visibly braces herself. I got the hat from a PR company who sent it as a demo. The inside has a ring of velcro where you can affix the accompanying high-quality waist-long blonde extensions, and since its arrival I have been insufferable.
There’s no denying that the long blond wig makes me feel sexy, like maybe if Taylor Swift and Lady Godiva spawned a miniature sex goddess and that goddess is me. The hats I’ve been unsure of - until now. Rather than explain all this, I just say, “Oh, the internet.” The guy making my sandwich pauses and shakes his head reverently. “I never seen a fitted ostrich leather hat before.” I blush. Clearly ostrich leather attracts the notice of a superior quality of people. His sartorial acumen is erotic. “Actually,” I coo, “it’s adjustable?” The sparkle goes out of his eyes. Our love was not to be.
“So who are you when you wear this one?” Jesse asks me. I finger the side-pony I’ve swept my long extensions into. “Well,” I say, “clearly I live in Miami and I own a flower shop.” As I say it I realize it’s true. I find myself pining for the sun and and the bay. Suddenly I am patient, expansive, and confident and it shows. I’m making small talk with everyone in my neighborhood: A proud small business owner who sails a sunfish on the weekends and drinks beers with her ex who is sleeping on her couch while he’s waiting for his court date. I love playing pretend.
In college I collected wigs, costume jewelry, and makeup shades that didn’t suit me. I spent an entire summer at the beach in New Jersey with my family wearing loudly colored polyester leisure suits I’d bought at Goodwill. My head wrapped in equally blaring scarves, sunglasses on my nose, and gold-plated Cheeto earrings (well, that’s what they looked like) dangling from my ears, I transformed into Lady. My water was sipped from a martini glass, my speech was a blaring mid-Atlantic accent. I embodied an imaginary 60-year-old retiree from Maryland living off the wealth of her three dead husbands.
“LADY WANTS A KIT KAT!” I’d bray, lounging poolside, sending my terrified baby brother scuttling off to do my bidding.
It’s not revelatory to say that sometimes it is easier to live inside someone else’s skin than it is to live inside your own. I probably was peripherally aware of this when I was dressing up like Peggy Lee and crooning ‘Is That All There Is?’ to my stuffed animals at 18, but my Mel Gibson cutout didn’t seem to mind. Then I stopped collecting wigs. Not because of some serious self-insight, but because of an inconvenient moth infestation.
This, however, did not stop me from trying to find other more typical ways of hiding. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I went full pixie and forced myself to accept my face and body and insides that anything really began to change in a way that was more than pretend.
Since I recently decided to grow said pixie cut out, I haven’t been compelled to run through the streets shouting “BEHOLD MY GORGEOUS MAJESTY,” no. My current hair is somewhere between Hugh Jackman’s mullet in Chappie, and a look I like to refer to as the “Swank,” as in Hillary. So when the PR rep for Adorna, the company responsible for these hats and hairpieces, reached out and asked if I’d like to try them, I basically leapt through my computer screen to give an emphatic yes.
“You guys,” I yelled at my roommates and household pets the day the box of goodies arrived. “I got fake hair in the mail today!” The Milano collection by Adorna is not, sadly, a box full of wearable Milano cookies (Pepperidge Farm, if this is a product you’re testing, please contact me). Instead, it’s a velcro-attached full-wig piece that fits easily and painlessly into one of their hats. It’s basically long, luxurious gorgeous hair for people who cannot be arsed with salon-installed extensions. And who like hats. People like me. Me, or spies. These wigs would be great for spies. Take your pick.
Flirting with former convicts who now make sandwiches is not something they suggest on their website. Miami also goes unmentioned. Instead they suggested popping on one of the hats and ponytails to go to and from the gym. The sort of woman who can do this probably also has her name written out in crystal beads on the seat of her sweatpants. I don’t mean to look down on this woman, but I’m not her. The idea intrigued me all the same, especially because my messy, moplike head has me feeling a bit self-conscious these days. They graciously sent me two other hats in addition to the ostrich. One was a felted burgundy fedora, and, my favorite, a casual, shortbrimmed black fedora with an inexplicably massive black pearl pinned to it. For fashion, one presumes.
I wish long hair didn’t immediately make me feel like a sex goddess. If my nipples were even a smidge smaller I might have felt absolutely fine trotting along topless with this thing on my head. Maybe I tried this out in my room by myself. Maybe I decided that if there is anything that is opposite of being as sexy as a naked woman with long hair it is a naked woman with long hair wearing a tiny fedora or trucker hat.
And so it was that I put on clothes and took to the street. The black hat on and a pale pink lip and I felt like a really shy former Delia’s model. I walked over to a coffee shop in Park Slope that I never go to and pretended to be avoiding public recognition. A woman I don’t know accidentally bumped into my table and spilled my chai - a drink this former Delia’s model apparently drinks.
“Oh,” she said, “sorry!” She hesitated for a moment when we made eye contact, I quickly looked down and hid in my hair. The perils of celebrity life, y’all.
I went across the street after that to a used clothing store and sighed as I dug through the racks. Because I am a former Delia’s model, nothing is small enough and the used Doc Martens remind me of happier times.
My third incarnation involved the wide-brimmed red fedora. I put on a burgundy leather jacket, a layer of deep berry colored lipstick and whipped the hair into a messy braid. I was alt Carmen Sandiego and I was on the run.
About halfway down the stairs of my building I decided that my incarnation of Carmen Sandiego was actually a detective who was smarter than Sherlock Holmes: Becca Sandiego. I was alert. No, I was hyper-aware. I was on the prowl for crimes to solve. Criminals to put to justice.
I walked over to the police precinct by myself fully intending to go inside and offer them my services. Instead at the last second I lost my resolve and just lingered at the front steps. An officer was coming in carrying a tray of coffee. “Can I help you with something?”
I wasn’t Becca Sandiego after all. I was Becca Stokes in a wig lurking outside of a police station. It’s time to the send wig back to its maker. For lo, I’m not a detective, I’m a dork whose passion for playing pretend temporarily fused with her deep mullet-based insecurity.
I don’t know about donning these things to go to and from the gym, but I do know that the transformative power of costumes and characters still holds sway with me and probably always will.