Welcome to Fantasy Week, where we indulge all our grandest daydreams about what we wish to do when this is all over. After a year of pandemic life, we’re fantasizing about globetrotting, throwing ragers, and dressing like we truly give zero fucks, and imagining a world where we’re all vaxxed and the world is our big, briny oyster.
Hats shouldn’t exist on the gender binary, but somehow, they always have. The first thing to know about designer Courtney Bagtazo is that she makes “accessories for everyone.” Since 2013, Bagtazo’s handmade orange sherbert pillbox caps, snow bonnets named after Zelda Fitzgerald’s mom, and dandy seagrass boaters, which she sells under her eponymous brand Bagtazo, have been worn by her own community: the clubbers, the queens, the weirdos. Bagtazo has always used friends as photographers and models, but her accessibly out-there designs have been popping up in more and more strangers’ Instagram Stories—from Lizzo’s stylist to RuPaul contestant Gigi Goode.
Bagtazo’s brand presentation is pretty femme, but it’s not gendered. It can’t be, when you don’t believe gender exists. “I’m not saying [it’s ‘for everyone’] to capitalize on queerness, the way that a lot of brands do now,” Bagtazo says over Zoom from her apartment in Brooklyn, where she’s been living for five years since leaving her native California. “When I met with a PR team, they were all, ‘If you want to be gender-neutral…” and I was like, ‘That’s not what I said.’ What I’m saying is my friend’s three-year-old wears cowboy boots and a skirt and paints his nails black. In Oakland, [young] Black boys wear their grandmas' turbans with hoop earrings. That is what I mean.”
Bagtazo says that while growing up, her high school style was “privileged/suburban/theater nerd/dancer/dark wave/goth/punk/ska/chola/thrift store.” She found her people through the arts. “Queerness is not an aesthetic. Being a weirdo is not something you choose,” she says.
She experienced the pressure “to go to school, get a job, have a house, all these classic things,” and chose the bohemian way out: getting by as a barista, a nanny, a barber’s assistant. She was working at Mollusk Surf Shop, a San Francisco institution, when her boss tasked her with blocking a sun hat out of shredded scrap fabric. After making 200 in her bedroom, Bagtazo realized that millinery—or hat-making—came naturally. She made three styles of her own, and brought them to a trade show along with jewelry, which “nobody gave a shit about” in comparison. Bagtazo’s designs started garnering attention for their sophisticated eccentricity.
The SS21 collection, dropping March 26, is called “Jacquerie,” a French word for community-oriented action or uprising, in reference to a peasant revolt against nobility in the early summer of 1358. “I was designing [these styles] last year when people were starting to band together and there was a unifying voice happening,” Bagtazo says. She’s 37, and remembers the collective pushback against the status quo happening during the Bush years, an energy dissipated by Obama’s palliative presidency. “I felt like, ‘I don’t want to be a downer at a party, talking about all these injustices and how shitty everything is.’ It felt like we didn’t have the permission, then suddenly it was a green light to go.”
Bagtazo Wilton Hat, $600 at Garmentory
The Black Lives Matter movement of summer 2020 was the largest protest action in U.S. history partly because of the societal repercussions of COVID-19. After months of isolation, people were jobless, desperate for connection, and infuriated with the government’s neglect of its vulnerable. When health professionals declared institutional racism a public health crisis worth showing up (masked) for, millions of Americans (and protestors abroad) poured into the streets.
In a reopened future, where the clubs may again be stuffed with our sweaty selves, will we be similarly game to show up? There’s two camps: the ones holding on to their elastic waistbands for dear life, and the ones who would sleep in stilettos if it meant a return to seeing and being seen. Bagtazo is unsurprisingly among the latter. “I’m dying. I want to go to the opera, I want to go to the ballet, I want to go to the Met and I want to go to the fancy French restaurants. And yeah, I’m going to wear my vintage fur, my gloves and my hats.” In quarantine, she’ll wear a sweatshirt under her zoot suit, though not without teal eyeliner—that's just her style.
Bagtazo Pallenberg Hat in Rose Quartz, $299 at Garmentory
The impact of a hats depends on the wearer: FKA Twigs in a leather Valentino bucket hat looks very different from the fisherman original. Bagtazo doesn’t believe that only some people can pull off hats; in fact, she blames John F. Kennedy, the first president who did not deign to wear one for inauguration, for the declining popularity of the statement headpiece.
“Up until the 60s, everybody wore hats. Everybody. Poor, rich and everything in between. We were also kind of bringing it,” she explains. “It makes sense to me that a lot of people now aren’t comfortable in a hat because most of them bring a look.”
Turnstyle Hat, $299 at Bagtazo
And she has given careful consideration as to the settings for which her hats are best suited. For those who always end up at the center of the rooftop party’s dance floor, there’s the exaggerated Wilton, named for the Koreatown street that acts an unofficial boundary between the “east side” and “west side” of what was the grungy part of Hollywood when Bagtazo was living there in the aughts. The Bibi Garden, a flat brimmed gaucho named after the actress who plays Anna in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, is the choice for beach-lounging and sun protection. (Bagtazo studied philosophy and visual anthropology, and keeps an excellent blog of art and culture references.)
Bagtazo Ecolier Beret, $100 at Garmentory
Bagtazo also makes hats to order, like the pink Capuchon worn by C’etait Bontemps, Brooklyn’s “pastel priestex of burlesque and drag.” “I think a lot of drag performers relate to the need to keep a light air about drag and performance, and that hat, my now signature accessory, really keeps the thought at the top of my mind,” they say. “Bagtazo hats really live in your style story and have their own at the same time.”
Until Bontemps and others can perform live again, we’re prepping our outfits. The Bagtazo site is currently 20% off using the code “YES” at checkout, because, as the maker tells me, "YES I am looking forward to hanging out again.”
This story includes product links that may generate affiliate commission for VICE.