To say that Claudia Bratton is tickled about her new business would be an understatement.
She bubbled with enthusiasm as she described Miss Tickle Hats, the collection of more than 300 hats that she decorates with feathers, buttons, ribbons, jewels and any other bauble to make each unique.
Ms. Bratton will be selling them at an Inspire Pop-Up party from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at Uncorked, 432 E. Haley St., and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Cold Spring Tavern, which is a benefit for the San Marcos Pass Volunteer Fire Department.
“I’ve worn hats my whole life. I have a baby picture of myself in a hat,” said the 75-year-old grandmother, who retired in 2015 after 16 years as executive director of the Summer Solstice celebration. “I designed many of the headdresses and hats for parade participants, and I created a special ensemble for myself to wear on a float every year. Even though I’ve retired, I still ride on one of the floats wearing one of my creations.”
Two years ago, Ms. Bratton designed headdresses for a Frida Kahlo float to honor the famous Mexican artist.
“There were nine other Fridas on the float, and we all wore the same headdress, a skein of yarn on a headband with flowers to represent Frida’s hair with braids on the top of her head,” she said.
The talented Ms. Bratton, who paints, prints and does mosaics, said she was inspired to launch Miss Tickle Hats in 2016 when she saw an ad on craigslist.
“A woman in Nipomo was selling her antique shop and had 60 vintage hats for sale. I bought all of them,” said Ms. Bratton. “I like to put a feather inside or outside every hat as a joke that if the wearer is ever in a ticklish situation they will have a feather to get them out of it.”
The name of her business comes from “a New Age teacher” she had dinner with five years ago in London.
“We were having such a good time he told me he was going to name me Miss Tickle,” said Ms. Bratton.
Her best sellers are the Fiesta Fascinators, which are tiny sombreros on wide headbands decorated with ball fringe and other adornments. She sells them during Fiesta for $25 to $35.
The general price range is from $25 to $500.
“I buy the hats wherever I see them. One of my first, which was enormous and fun, I found 10 years ago at Vices & Spices on Upper State Street. While I was admiring it, my dermatologist, Dr. Tom Van Meter, came in. He told me to buy it because it would be good protection from the sun, and he was right,” said Ms. Bratton, who had a hard time deciding about a personal favorite.
“There are about two dozen, but if I had to choose just one, it would be a black felt hat with hearts shaped of red felt from the 1920s. It belonged to my dear friend, Nathalie Boschko Brown. She was a world-famous violinist who died at the age of 97, but when she wore the hat she became a coquette and called herself Coco Brown,” said Ms. Bratton.
During her travels, she is always on the lookout for hats and decorations for them.
“San Francisco has great ribbons. I bought a umber of hats when I went to Kansas City, Mo., every year for the Fourth of July,” she said.
To display them, Ms. Bratton often hangs the hats from chicken wire in picture frames.
“I call them Art for Your Head,” she said.