Friday, November 7, 2014

Costumes, Hats and Other Odd Traditions

Let's start today with a quiz. Complete the following sentence: Tuesday was ________.

Most of you will have finished that off with phrases like "rainy" or "a pretty good day". But if you are Australian, you definitely said: Tuesday was Melbourne Cup. Still lost? It's a horse race. More accurately, it is the horse race that brings the nation to a standstill.

For a race that lasts less than 200 seconds, that is a pretty impressive feat. Not only is it a public holiday in Melbourne, but the rest of the country shuts down (officially or not) from about noon onwards in order to drink champagne, watch pop stars perform, and wear funny hats.

I have no trouble with dressing up. It's fun. Goodness knows, I tried my hardest to spread the gospel of Hallowe'en last Friday. And the local kids were game - just clueless.

*knock knock*
I opened the door. "Hello, kids! What great costumes!"
We stared at each other for a moment.
"So," I prompted, "what do you say?"
"Thank you," they chorused.
"Very polite, but not yet. First we say, 'Trick or treat.'"
"Trick or treat."
"Well done. Here you go, here you go. You didn't bring a bag? Erik, pass me another plastic bag. There you are, put your candy in that. Good night! Happy Hallowe'en!"
Every single time.
Experienced players in the Hallowe'en game.
But the fancy hat phenomenon escapes me. I own one hat that I like, and it doesn't help me much in my current locale:
My head might catch fire if I tried to wear this in PNG.
When the invitation arrived for the local Melbourne Cup party, my Australian neighbours were quick to give me a primer. (There are advantages to being a foreigner - everyone expects you to be totally ignorant of their local customs, and they are usually right in that assessment.) The conversation always went this way:

"Are you coming to Melbourne Cup on Tuesday?" asks Nice Neighbour.
"Yes, I'll be there," I say. "Noon, right?"
Nice Neighbour nods. "Now, do you have a hat?"
"No-o-o, but I'll make something."
Nice Neighbour nods again. "Some of the ladies have extras, if you need one."

Pfft, I thought to myself. I can manage a hat. The kids will help me. I knew, of course, about hats and horse racing in a vague sort of way. I had seen photos from Ascot - fantastical tipped-to-the-side creations ranging from a few feathers to replicas of Big Ben. In Brisbane, the local department store featured a rack of fascinators - smaller fancy headware usually built around a hairband. The girls and I used to get a kick out of walking past this display, and wondering who would possibly buy one of those odd things.

On Monday night, we sat down to make my hat. I planned to keep it simple - a few pipe cleaners, some paper flowers and we're done. Indy, however, embraced the project. She emerged from the craft drawer with ribbons, pins, a tiara, and blue cellophane.

"Oh! Put this on! Mom, tape this down!"
As Stylish passed me the occasional tastefully-tied ribbon, Indy grabbed a fedora and went to town. The production only stopped when I told her it was time for bed.
"Just let me add a horse," she said, scribbling and cutting as if in a fever. "There. It's beautiful, Mom!"
"It is certainly something," I said.
Front (veil up)
Left-hand side
Right-hand side
I am the very picture of modern elegance, I think we can all agree.
It's a wonder I don't dress like this every day.
Tuesday morning I whipped up some appetizers, grabbed a bottle of emergency gin (always be prepared), and set off. I had accepted a ride down the road, as I was reliably informed we all needed to look "fresh" for the party. My fellow car-mates looked rather glamourous; I was glad I had pulled my one black dress out of the closet. I couldn't extend my dress-up as far as my feet - high heels and I have a cold and distant relationship these days - but I thought I was doing pretty well.

We arrived at the party and, sure enough, hats everywhere. Pink fascinators. Satin festooned with flowers. A few ladies had raided their gardens to put together beautiful fascinators of their own, all orchids and greenery and tropical flowers.

As I gazed around the room, I realized that everyone else at the party had played it straight. Clearly, Melbourne Cup hats were not to be trifled with - they certainly weren't intended to be your six-year-old's evening craft project. I shrugged. Oh well. Indy and Stylish had a whale of a time putting it together.

Everyone was, of course, very gracious. This is another bonus in the Being a Foreigner column - no one expects you to get it right. As the party progressed, I leaned the real reason behind those tiny fascinators. As it turns out, wearing a cellophane-wrapped fedora in the Equatorial heat becomes a little uncomfortable as the hours roll by, no matter how many gin and tonics you put away. Life lessons. But I gamely put the hat back on for every photo.

When the race was complete and the bets paid out, it was time for the hat prizes. My neighbour of the satin-and-flowers won a prize; so too did the gorgeous orchid creation. And who won Most Creative Hat? Indy and Stylish, of course. Their hat was definitely in a class of its own.

Indy's desk now sports our trophy - a small bunch of plastic flowers in a vase. She couldn't be prouder. I haven't brought myself to dismantle our creation yet, but soon enough someone is going to need that tiara for other purposes.

And may I never wrap my head in cellophane again.


Anonymous said...

I tip my hat off to the 3 of you-most creative indeed! Unfortunately your beautiful hat would not suffice here either as the mercury has dipped to freezing.
Love Mom

Karen said...

Amy you totally rocked that hat! I love it. Are the girls planning on expanding their line?

Amy Schaefer said...

I don't think we'll ever lack for unusual craft projects around here. Stylish likes to sew her own t-shirts. Who knows - maybe I have a couple of fashion designers on my hands.