Dianne Feinstein hatless at Obama's inauguration

Barack Obama campaigned — and won — largely on a message of hope. And, on surveying the masses present for his inauguration last week, one group of Americans has every right to feel hopeful — hatters.

Whether it was Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop's blood-red fedora or Aretha Franklin's jaw-dropping chapeau, it's clear that hats, like transparent government and articulate presidents, are poised to make a comeback. "I've had women coming in here saying, 'I want the Aretha.' And I've got it in my front window," reports Ruth Dewson, the owner of Mrs. Dewson's Hats on Fillmore.

Peg Purcell of Hats on Post is anticipating a boost in business, too — but she can't help thinking about how many cap-obsessed women would be beating a path to her door if things had gone the way she thought they would. Purcell, you see, was commissioned by Senator Dianne Feinstein to craft a pair of hats for the inauguration — meaning billions of pairs of eyes should have been on Purcell's handiwork as Feinstein hosted the Super Bowl of inaugurations.

And yet Feinstein decided the hats, like Leon Panetta, were something she could do without. When we talked to Purcell last week, she hadn't yet heard from Feinstein or her daughter, Katherine Feinstein Mariano, whom Purcell actually dealt with in person, as to why the senator didn't wear either of the handmade hats. Purcell speculated that maybe they didn't fit (DiFi, after all, never came to the shop to try them on), or the former S.F. mayor chose to follow the lead of Michelle Obama, who went hatless.

"You cannot imagine how much work went into matching that hat to Dianne's outfit," Purcell said with a chuckle. "I found out what she was wearing, I went out with her personal shopper and picked out the right reds — she was initially going to be in her red St. John suit. But I also made her a black cloche [like] what Angelina Jolie wore in Changeling."

We tracked down Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran to set the record straight about why his boss didn't wear the hats. He says one didn't fit (as Purcell feared), and the other didn't match the new outfit the senator chose to wear to the inauguration. But Duran assures us that Feinstein thought "both hats were beautiful."

Purcell wouldn't divulge how much Feinstein paid to commission the two hats, but did ballpark it at "in the three digits per cap." She sighed and laughed again. "Literally, this would have been a feather in my cap."

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