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TOPPING IT OFF. Hats complete the head-to-toe look

BERET, bowler, cloche, fedora, fez, hood, pillbox, sailor, tam, toque, turban. No matter how you say it, it means hat. And hats may be getting a toe in the fashion door this fall. This season, hats are not merely a means of hiding a less-than-lovely hairdo or keeping the ears warm. And they're not just for older women who still adhere to the white-glove-and-hat dictum.

This autumn, hats are making strides as an honest-to-goodness fashion item -- with no practical strings attached. For the first time in years, the put-together woman is being encouraged to look for a hat at the same time she's buying the rest of her ensemble. Then she'll be making a total fashion statement, from shoe to chapeau.

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Berets are big news, and so are tams, both being similar in style. They're decorated with dangling coins or sparked by big brooches for the crown-jewel look. They come in all fabrics, too: velvet, paisley, tartan wool, and felt, with satin cornering the evening market. Felt fedoras are worn for sport or to court, a favorite with female lawyers. And the after-five scene sees hats decked with an array of trim-tulle, gilt braid, and fake jewels, to name a few.

At least a modicum of credit goes to Great Britain's Princess Diana for bringing hats back, with nods to rock singer Madonna for head belts. While there are a variety of styles to choose from, the broad-brimmed hat has definitely been left in the closet for now. Prices range from as little as $20 to well into the hundreds.

One glance on the streets tells anyone that hats are not arriving with tornado force, but they're making ripples across the country, due to the demise of the androgynous trend and the adoption of a more feminine appearance. It's not easy to attain that head-to-toe flow of fashion. But from magazines, mannequins, and style shows, women are gaining the know-how for topping it off with a hat.

One hint: When buying a hat, don't be content to simply sit before a mirror, matching face and chapeau. Stand up. In a full-length mirror, check the overall image. It should be one of harmony, made by a blending of shape and contour, color, and pattern.

Most of the information for this article was contributed by Betty Taylor in Chicago, with additions by Mary Lawlor in Boston and Evelyn Radcliffe in San Francisco. ]GRAPHIC]PHOTOS: Stetson beret; Fedora by Dobbs

Beret: Having a round, flat crown of varying width. Today's style is adapted from the beret worn by the Basque people of the western Pyrenees. Often made of felt, the beret can be worn back off the forehead in a halo effect, or tilted to the side, pancake style. Bowler: Hat with a round crown, similar to a derby, but having slightly wider brim with accentuated roll at the sides. At one time it was worn mainly with formal riding clothes.

Cloche: From the French word for bell. The hat's crown has a bell-like shape with an even brim, turned down. Popular in the 1920s and, with a variation, in the 1950s.

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Fedora: Low felt hat with lengthwise crease in the crown and a soft, medium brim.

Fez: Brimless felt hat popularized by the Turks.

Hood: Soft cloth that covers the head and neck, either separate or attached to cloak or coat.

Pillbox: Round with flat top and straight sides, like old-fashioned boxes for holding pills.

Sailor: Flat crown and straight brim of various widths.

Tam or tam-o'-shanter: Broad, round, floppy, with fitted headband. The tam is of Scottish origin and is kin to the beret.

Toque: Small, close-fitting, brimless. Its fame was established in 16th-century France. Worn by both men and women, the toque then was generally of black velvet with full crown and a small, rolled brim. Often ornamented with plumes.

Turban: Originally, a scarf or length of cloth wrapped about the head. Its adaptations include a soft crown with rolled or draped brim.

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