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ADS Hats

Style that goes to your head

Long gone are the days when proper ladies and gentlemen were never seen in public without a hat, but people today still like to put on a new bonnet at Easter. Until the other day, I didn't even know that there were "hat holidays", but Lis Smith of ADS Hats on Valencia in the Mission said that following Easter, the Kentucky Derby is the most popular day for hat purchases. But with a month and a half of rain in San Francisco, there hasn't been much use for a hat to keep the spring sun out of our eyes.

Whatever the customers' impetus for shopping over the weekend, ADS Hats was jumpin' when I walked in. A mixture of couples and groups of friends were browsing through the store, smiling and laughing as they tried on hats, ranging from the classic to the creative. Maybe it's because there's something liberating about trying on a new hat, imagining you are someone else or in another place, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The reasons that people come into the store are as varied as the inventory, ranging from finding a suitable chapeau for Sunday service, to tracking down the right one for a fancy dress party, to keeping the sun out of your eyes on a hot day or the heat from escaping your head on a cold one.

According to Lis, what makes their store unique in comparison to other local hat stores is the range of inventory, from fun to fashionable to formal. On any given day, about one third to a half of the inventory is from local designers in addition to brand name and smaller designers from throughout the United States. The store also carries creations by ADS Hats owner Elina Davenport, whose collection Alternative Design Studio includes pill box hats like one in olive green accented with curving purple lines for $34 that caught my eye.

ADS Hats' tagline is "hats to make your head spin", which I think fits them perfectly. As you walk into the store, a colorful array of hats in a dizzying assortment of styles lines the walls. To your left along and behind the counter are the men's hats, which consist of, but are not limited to, the four basics: fedora, porkpie, top hat and bowler; ranging in price from $40-$250. A large portion of these men's hats are from the well-known hat maker Makins, and are each made by hand in a range of colors, materials and inventive patterns, like the black and taupe two-tone panama porkpie for $145, or the embossed and dyed reptilian orange and black leather for $285. Examples of other men's hats you can find are a smaller modified panama hat for $155 or an orange and black felt fedora for $165 from another local label Brimming Over that never puts out two hats alike.

These are serious men's hats -- you won't find any baseball caps here. But if you want to start off with something simpler, turn to the back of the store where you'll find more unisex designs from the trendy Kangol line. The selection includes a tweed-knit pinstripe gaffe (think private detective/secret spy) in tobacco with peat stripes for $60, a classic furgora cap in multiple colors for $23 (on sale), or a pea green random rip pull-on cap with peak (knit cap with brim) for $34.00.

The women's hats are showier, like bright peacock feathers, and run in a wider range of styles. You can conjure up a "La Dolce Vita" feeling with a large black wide brim hat with a sewn bow for $65. When the sun does finally shine here, you can keep it out of your eyes with a large candy colored sun hat in pink, red, or orange from the San Diego Hat Company for $45. I have one of these and it's great because you can crush it up and throw it in your bag and it will unfold easily into its original shape for a day at the beach.

If you need something dressy and arty, there's the jewel-like pill box hat in red, orange and gold from another local designer, Tuka Threads, for $95. For a day at the races or a formal wedding, there's a sky blue hat with six roses from Toucan Collection for $95.

Along the wall, I spotted all varieties of berets, cowboy hats, knit skull caps and more. One hat that caught my eye in particular was one that looked like a large frosted pink rose from a little girl's birthday cake, but was in fact a stitch rosette cloche from Angiolo Frasconi for $45. ADS Hats also has a small selection of fun baby beanies to keep your little cherub's noggin warm, like a crocheted purple dragon or ripe red strawberry from Day Lee Designs for $25 each.

Though it's not a service that they offer the general public, ADS Hats will stretch any hat that you purchase from them for a custom fit. Even if you don't plan on buying a hat, it's fun to just come in to browse and try on a new head covering. Though, I doubt you'll leave the store without finding something you want. I sure didn't.