La Jolla's 'hat lady' on a mission to polish the Jewel

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

It takes guts to wear a hat.

If you don’t believe it ask Esther Viti: She’s never without one.

“When you walk into a room everyone looks,” said the high-profile, flamboyant Viti. “Wouldn’t you? Usually I’m the only person in the room with a hat on.”

Viti said her hat “goes on when I get up in the morning and stays on all day.”

“If I take my hat off and keep my mouth shut — you wouldn’t know it’s me,” she quipped.

Viti, who never goes out of the house without a hat, said wearing one is automatic.

“Everybody knows me now as the hat lady,” she said. “They never forget me. How could they?”

Viti is an ardent social activist and a member of the community’s Streetscape/Design Committee, a joint committee of Promote La Jolla and La Jolla Town Council. Since recuperating from a diabetic coma she suffered a couple of years ago, she’s been on a mission to polish the Jewel. Leading by example, she heads volunteer clean-up crews the third Saturday of each month which remove trash, debris and litter throughout the Village’s streets and gutters.

Sitting in her living room recently wearing one of her favorite chapeaus — a broad-brimmed lavender-colored one —Viti pointed to racks along her walls displaying just a few of her approximately 100 hats.

“I can create them into over 200 hats,” she revealed, picking up a plain, unadorned one and quickly transforming it into something much more elaborate using rabbit furs or ostrich feathers. “I can put flowers on here,” she said. “If you don’t have imagine — you cannot create. If you want to be successful — wear feathers.”

Viti will wear any color hat except lime green.

“That would make me look green because I have olive skin,” she noted.

A golfer, Viti wouldn’t go out on the course without her sun visor. Her hats also travel with her.

“I have a big case like a base drum that has a handle and a lid,” she said. “They’re just part of my ensemble.”

“I’m Catholic and we had to wear hats in church,” said of her early experience with headwear, though she’s only worn hats full-time since 1988 after moving to La Jolla from Arizona.

Sometimes Viti changes hats during the course of the day, wearing a different one for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“Why not?” she asked. “That’s what I’ve got ‘em for.”

The way she mixes and matches her headgear keeps everybody guessing. “They’re taking wagers on what hat I’m going to wear tomorrow,” she said smiling. “You never know what I’m going to wear because I never wear the same hat twice.”

People have a lot of fun with Viti’s hats.

“I get five to eight compliments a day,” she said. “Even young kids. All ages. I’ll be walking around and someone will yell from out of a car, ‘I love your hat.’ ”

For Viti, wearing hats is not style: It’s lifestyle. “I’m hooked,” she concluded.


Volunteer for cleanup day

  • 9 a.m. to noon the second Saturday of each month
  • Sign in at the corner of Ivanhoe and Wall Streets to clean up Wall Street before the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the La Jolla Post Office.
  • Supplies and refreshments will be provided.
  • Questions? Contact Esther at (619) 742-1373