Laura’s mother’s daisy-trim black hat—an elegant accessory that evokes the family’s high social class—influences Laura’s behavior and values throughout the story. The hat, therefore, shows the corrupting nature of wealth and beauty. When Laura first learns of Scott’s tragic death, she begs her family to cancel the party out of respect to him. Instead of agreeing or even acknowledging her daughter’s request, Mrs. Sheridan changes the subject of their conversation by declaring her daisy-trim hat “much too young” for herself and putting it on Laura. She holds up a mirror, but Laura refuses to look; however, when Laura accidentally glimpses herself in the mirror wearing the hat she immediately reaches the same conclusion as her mother, that the party must go on. In this circumstance, the hat represents Mrs. Sheridan’s indirect but decisive influence over Laura; captivated by her own beauty, Laura is drawn back into the decadence and refinement of her upbringing and away from her new sympathy for the working class. Furthermore, as Laura begins to question her own judgment about the Scotts, she decides that Laurie’s opinion will be the decisive factor in whether the party should continue: “if Laurie agreed with the others, then it was bound to be all right.” She approaches him to ask whether they should stop the party, but she drops the idea when he compliments her hat. The hat, then, is a clear distraction from Laura’s moral intuitions, leading her back to frivolous and selfish concerns. As Laura begins to think for herself, rejecting the restricted world her family has set up for her, the hat nevertheless offers her the opportunity to return to the comfortable lifestyle to which she is accustomed, trusting and imitating her mother but overlooking the Scotts’ pain in the process. When she visits the cottages, Laura is ashamed of her hat, which symbolizes her wealth to people who will never have the privilege to experience the aesthetic extravagance of the garden-party. When she apologizes to them for her hat, she seems to be rejecting her privilege and aligning herself outside her family.
Hat Quotes in The Garden Party
“It's only by accident we've heard of it. If some one had died there normally—and I can't understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes—we should still be having our party, shouldn't we?”
Laura had to say “yes” to that, but she felt it was all wrong.
“Mother, isn't it terribly heartless of us?" she asked.
“Darling!” Mrs. Sheridan got up and came over to her, carrying the hat. Before Laura could stop her she had popped it on. “My child!” said her mother, “the hat is yours. It's made for you. It's much too young for me. I have never seen you look such a picture. Look at yourself!” And she held up her hand-mirror.
The lane began, smoky and dark. Women in shawls and men’s tweed caps hurried by. Men hung over the palings; the children played in the doorways. A low hum came from the mean little cottages. In some of them there was a flicker of light, and a shadow, crab-like, moved across the window. Laura bent her head and hurried on. She wished now she had put on a coat. How her frock shone! And the big hat with the velvet streamer—if only it was another hat! Were the people looking at her? They must be. It was a mistake to have come; she knew all along it was a mistake. Should she go back even now?