Anna Blanc wore a six-inch hairpiece made from the tresses of a yak. She had crowned the abundant puffs and curls with the largest ostrich feather hat in Los Angeles. The look was dramatic, the latest from Vionnet at the House of Doucet, and a terrible choice when running for a train.” So begins my historical mystery, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, set in 1907 Los Angeles. In the novel, a socialite buys off her chaperone and, using an alias, secretly gets a job as a matron with the LAPD. She proceeds to solve crimes.
I don’t get many chances to doll up. I do my best work in my pajamas, and rarely dress before noon. Then I deliberate, shall I wear my husband’s old sweat pants . . . or maybe just stay in pajamas, Howard Hughes style? When I go to writer’s conferences, I usually have a friend dress me. This fashion indifference is a luxury afforded me as an author. No one watches me write.
And then came my character, Anna Blanc, a super-rich socialite who knows couture. To Anna, fashion is a sacrament. Honestly, I felt a little lost in my own novel. When I started writing the book, I couldn’t tell a Victorian gown from an Edwardian frock from a dog sweater. I’m a stickler for accuracy, and began collecting pictures of clothes from the 1900’s so I could dress Anna and her love interest in the manner they were accustomed. (You can find a few thousand of them here on my Pinterest page. This enabled me to be obsessively precise with regard to Anna’s clothes.
Hats, I discovered, were especially fabulous in the 1900s. They dramatically outsized women’s heads, stacked with fruit, ribbons, feathers, or even whole birds. Women developed steely neck muscles simply from holding them up (they’d have to, right?). I found the hats so inspirational, I started the book with one. Here are a few I liked especially. Guess which ones made it into the book? For more pictures of hats, check out my hat board.