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Three cheers for great chapeaux

I can't really say when or where or exactly why I started this love affair I'm carrying on

the one with hats. For nearly two years now, our readers have glimpsed me each week sporting some sort of hat in my mug shot.'

If my head is bare and I show up to cover some community event, I'm inevitably asked, "Hey, Angie, where's your hat?" (I figure it's good now and then to let people see I actually DO still have hair, thus squelching the old wife's tale about how routinely wearing hats makes you go bald. Tisn't true.)

I certainly have no shortage of hats to choose from. Look on top off the chifferobe in our bedroom and you will find stacks and stacks of them

straw hats, hats made of felt and corduroy, flannel and velour, even a couple of paper ones. There's also frequently a chapeaux tossed on the post of the bed, left lounging on the couch or crouching in the broken rocker in the den.

Hubby claims it's starting to look a lot like a millinery shop around the old home place.

I can't really argue the point.

It seems as if I've become addicted to the darned things. Unlike my other obsession (chocolate), hats, at least, are not fattening. And as addictions go, hat collecting's been a fairly cheap one.

I have paid as much as $25 and as little as a buck for a hat. (On average I'd say I've spent no more than $5 or $6 apiece for them.) I just love those three little words, "red tag sale." I've gotten some pretty cool hats that way.

Hats help keep me cool during our long, steamy summers and warm when it's frosty outside. They protect this sensitive Anglo-Irish complexion of mine from transforming into premature prune-face status. My hair color holds up longer.(The sun fades more than your drapes, hon.)

And, yes, when I'm having a bad hair day (and haven't we all had one of those?) a hat can be a great little cover-up. (Add big dark sunglasses and a bright lipstick and babe, you're on your way.)

Those are the practical reasons to wear hats. But it's the somewhat less tangible qualities of this apparel item that I truly love.

Think of the final scene between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in that wonderful movie, "Casablanca". As they bid farewell to one another in the swirling fog, a luminescent Bergman gazes adoringly into Bogie's eyes, her face framed by the feminine curve of her hat brim. I can't think of that scene without thinking of that great hat.

Then there's the original southern belle, Scarlett O'Hara, as portrayed by the lovely Vivien Leigh. Imagine the famous barbecue scene where she's wearing the dress that "shows her bosom before evening" (as Mammy so eloquently puts it). You can't think of that white and green confection without picturing the matching broad-brimmed bonnet with its wide ribbon tied fetchingly beneath her chin.

The always-delightful Audrey Hepburn's doe eyes were all the more noticeable when she framed them with some elegant or outrageous piece of headgear. Today more and more of the younger generation of actresses are discovering the joy of hats.

A hat, after all, can be very dramatic, bringing an air of mystery, a subtle hint of intrigue to the wearer. It can add style, elegance, and yes, humor, to an outfit.

(Just try to imagine the great 40s musical star Carmen Miranda without her fruit-topped turbans.) Hats can be outrageous

or outrageously feminine.

Hats can be fabulous on guys, too, make no mistake.

Think Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, the Duke in any Western, or Bogie in one of his private-eye fedoras-wow.

Be warned, however. When you put on a hat you say to the world, "Look at me," so it helps to have a certain degree of self-confidence and personal panache if you plan to wear one.

Maybe that's why it took me almost 40 years to develop this passion. I just had to grow into it.

I was checking out at a local supermarket one day, and the older gentleman bagging my purchases nodded in approval at my chapeau of the day. "Now I really like that hat, young lady…I wish more ladies would wear them again," he commented.

Thank you, kind sir. I tip my hat to you

and wish the same.