Paul Rennie – Travelling Hat

Image Karen Rennie

This bright red cotton sun hat is Paul Rennie’s travelling hat. In addition to the usual summer excursions around the coast, it’s been to Japan and Africa over the last few years. There’s nothing too remarkable about that; except that I am the world’s least likely traveller…

That doesn’t mean I’m not curious. Indeed, one of the big problems when I go anywhere is that I tend to wander off, following my nose and disappearing from view. That can be very frustrating for the people with me. The red hat allows me to be seen from a distance, so that I am rarely out of view. That’s a practical and useful thing.

One time, in France, I left the hat in a restaurant after lunch. I called them once we got home and they kindly posted it back to the UK. I think they put that down to a sort of desperate eccentricity; but I was pleased to get the hat back.

One of the surprising things about this hat is that so many people seem to like it. I often get stopped when I’m wearing it, and people usually say something nice about it. So, the hat also works as a terrific ice-breaker. It’s just a brightly coloured sun hat; I’m always a bit shocked that it seems so unusual or eccentric to so many people.

Even in Japan and Africa, where people have a very different sense of local style, the hat held its own. One of the most exciting aspects of our visit to urban Japan was that, the ubiquitous presence of suits notwithstanding, the Japanese have a highly developed sense of personal style. This manifests itself in many ways; not least their appreciation of a simple coloured cotton sun hat.

In Africa, bright colours are much more the norm. Nevertheless, the hat seemed to make people smile. We were a bit off the beaten track, travelling by railway, between Dar and the Cape. So, perhaps it was the sight of an old white man in a comfy sun hat that made people smile.

Paul Rennie is a cultural historian and curator, working in the field of communication design. He is subject leader in context for graphic and communication design at Central Saint Martins. London. Together with Karen, he curated the vintage gallery, Rennie Seaside Modern in Folkestone. He has written about the Festival of Britain (1951), and about the history and development of communication design.