My metro carriage slowed to a halt and as usual I found myself checking out the advertisements plastered around the station. One in particular caught my attention. A horse race. And not just any horse race.
The Prix de Diane Longines is the horse race to be seen at. Glamorous head-wear bobs about the green lawns around the race tracks, with the Château de Chantilly serving as an impressive backdrop. It coincided with a friend’s visit so together we decided we would buy hats and join the upper class for a day.
After a looong struggle with trains (strikes – quelle surprise), we arrived at Chantilly station amongst a sea of suits, fancy frocks and incredible hats and made our way to the race tracks. It was all very civilised. Apart from the few old men who shouted desperately at the horses as they approached the finish line, everyone was more intent on their picnics and checking each other out. The horses it seemed, were just an excuse.
But the best part about wearing a hat all day was how people reacted to you. Not at the races where it was perfectly normal, but in Paris itself. After the races we returned to the city and went for a meal. On the metro, in the streets, in the restaurant people smiled at us, laughed at us and talked to us. The hats seemed to break barriers. It was strange…normally you would be embarrassed or self-conscious if you felt you were over or under dressed in public, but in this case it was funny. It felt like dressing up – the ‘costume’ seemed to say, ‘I’m opting out of real life today,’ and people reacted well to that. It was like giving a sign to the world that you just didn’t care, and no matter what people thought, you were intent on having a good time. Increasingly it seems that it is unacceptable to meet people in public, to go up and talk to strangers. However the hats seemed to break down that barrier and people lit up, stopped caring, and came to chat. When normal life gets too boring in future, or when social barriers are making me feel constrained, I have decided that I will be wearing my hat.
People worry so much about fitting in and keeping in with the crowd. When you decide you’ve had enough, put on a hat. Going to the races is optional.