Mirror, Mirror: Critters go to their heads

Kid favorites Bert and Ernie adorn hats sold at Bella Turka in the Shops at Liberty Place.
Kid favorites Bert and Ernie adorn hats sold at Bella Turka in the Shops at Liberty Place. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 11, 2012

This year, cold-weather fashion is all about fun.

I am talking specifically about critter hats, also referred to as spirit hats. They're the colorful furry friends atop the heads of kids (and some adults) all around town.

There are rabbits with floppy ears and dogs with red noses and long tails. Lions have bushy manes and serious whiskers, and the owls - probably the most popular of all - feature lifelike, deep-set eyes that look like they might just blink.

The look has crossed over to the celebrity realm. Snoop Dog and Rihanna were photographed last year in duck and tigress headwear, respectively. Anna Sui dressed models in kitty cat hats on Spring 2012 runways.

"During the holidays people were buying five, six, even seven of the hats as Christmas presents for their little ones and themselves," said Clare Pelino, who co-owns Bella Turka, a specialty boutique in the Shops at Liberty Place, with her husband, selling the matching hats and gloves for $38 a set.

Bella Turka has been selling a line of animal-inspired hats and gloves hand-knit in Peru since last winter. In addition to animals found in the woods, her collection includes zombies and childhood favorites such as Bert, Ernie, and sock monkeys.

The trend got its start a few years ago in art-fashion circles and blossomed with the popularity of knitting. Before long, artisans were selling the cold-weather cloches (and gloves and hat-scarf combinations) in children's specialty shops and at art festivals. Type the phrase animal hats in Etsy.com and more than 7,500 crafters' names pop up.

Here in Philadelphia, the hats have made regular appearances at Old City First Fridays for at least six months.

"I've re-upped my order for the hats about six times," said Karen Clarke, owner of Fiona's Childrenswear in Northern Liberties. This season, Clarke has sold more than a hundred hats by 32 Degrees, a handcrafted hat line that she discovered at the Manayunk Art Fair, at $29 each.

"They have completely outsold everything else I have," said Clarke.

This year, the hats really took off when they moved beyond craftland to the trendiest of mall specialty stores like Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters. Angry Birds hats were quite popular over the holiday season. (I'm thinking of getting a red one.)

Fashion has a way of reflecting what we need. These cute hats are a way to bring a little pop to our world at a time when politicians are fighting, urban crime seems high, and summer is still so far off.

One recent frigid afternoon at the Philadelphia School in Center City, animal hats ruled. There were a plethora of pink-snouted pigs and black-and-white penguins and monkeys. There were a few cupcakes - I saw one chocolate and one strawberry, both with sprinkles - and several hats with rubbery spikes protruding.

These weren't quite fascinators, but the focus on headgear was fascinating. I spotted a mom wearing a furry gray squirrel hat with a long tail.

Twelve-year-old Ava Forman was all bundled up in a white unicorn hat complete with long purple horn.

Forman, who was hanging out with hat-clad homies Toby Shore and Sophie Starr, has five of the hats, including a monkey and a panda.

"They are warm, they are popular, and they are just sooo cute," she said.

And in the world of fashion, cute always works.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215 854-2704, ewellington@phillynews.com, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.

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