Oh man. This hat. We hear so much about this hat that we kind of want one for ourselves, if only for the hilarity factor. Check out this juicy description:
A purple velvet flap came down on one side of it and stood up on the other; the rest of it was green and looked like a cushion with the stuffing out. (3)
Seriously, we can't even picture it. But, aside from the fact that it doesn't sound like anything Chanel would see, what's the deal with it?
Well, for one, Julian's mother has a bad case of shopper's guilt, debating whether she should keep it or not and finally says, "I'm going back to the house and take this thing off […]. I was out of my head. I can pay the gas bill with that seven-fifty" (10).
Julian's mom may be a penny-pincher, but she's got her reasons; she's a single mom with two mouths to feed, and probably not a ton of income coming in. (We never do find out if she works; we're guessing not, or at least not very much.) So, for her, that hat was a splurge, something she doesn't do often because she can't. That hat symbolizes not upward mobility or superficiality, but the opposite—it shows that Julian and his mother belong to the white lower-middle-class.
The saleswoman who sells the hat to Julian's mother tells her that she "at least won't meet [herself] coming and going" (6). You know, because it's so ugly that no one else will buy it. (Nice sales pitch, BTW. We're going to try that when we need to get rid of some of these at a yard sale.)
But it turns out that the saleslady is wrong. Carver's mother sports the same hat. And the cool thing is that, for Carver's mother, that hat is a sign of her upward mobility. For her, it's a triumph that she can shop in the same store as any white woman.
Is this giving you any ideas about the title of the story? Check out "What's Up with the Title?" for some of our thoughts about it.