Let's tip our hats to David Gildea, of Stevenson, for making "a very good trade."
In 1989, when the Soviet Union preached perestroika, Gildea was one of 30 students at Washington and Lee University in Virginia who went on a school trip with a professor to Moscow.
There, the young Gildea traded his running shoes to a Soviet officer, in exchange for the officer's imposing visor hat and belt with a big buckle.
Now 44, Gildea, a real estate attorney, can't find the belt. But he still has the hat, which he wore Saturday at "Hats Off to Hampden Family Center," a gala and fundraiser for the nonprofit center on The Avenue.
Gildea didn't look at all out of place among a sea of guests at Gutierrez Studios in Woodberry, wearing Dr. Seuss hats, beetle hats, cowboy hats, fascinators, Roaring '20s hats, straw hats, black hats with bows, parrot head hats, fedoras and berets, in keeping with the theme of the benefit.
And no one cared if they looked a little silly, because there was nothing silly about the thousands of dollars they were raising to help the Hampden Family Center provide everything from after-school enrichment and tutoring programs for area schoolchildren to lunches for senior citizens.
They bid heartily at silent and live auctions on a wide range of goods and services, ranging from paperback books, public speaking classes and tattoos to baubles from Radcliffe Jewelers, box seats at Ravens football games and free tickets (and limo rides) to concerts by Madonna and Coldplay.
"I'm a little nervous," said "Captain" Bob Kent, of The Orchards, who wore his Titanic cap. "They've spotted some ice ahead."
Photographer Ellen Briggs, 46, of Towson, came as Glinda the Good Witch from "The Wizard of Oz."
Briggs made her hat from a lampshade (turned upside down) and also carried a homemade wand.
"Glinda has to have her wand," Briggs said.
Jim Campbell, of Medfield, former Baltimore school board chairman, wasn't nearly as particular. He wore a cap from the Broadway show "Anything Goes."
"It's the only thing I had," he said.
But ultimately, it wasn't all about the hats for Stacey Vandiver, 42, of Guilford, co-owner of Soul Body, a barre, pilates and yoga instruction studio in the Bare Hills Racquet and Fitness Club.
It was about Madonna.
Vandiver and a friend, who wouldn't give her name and called herself "a silent bidder," won four tickets to see Madonna at the Verizon Center in Washington in September. They emerged exultant from an entertaining bidding war, and won with a whopping bid of $3,700.
Why pay that much?
"Why not?" Vandiver crowed above the din. "We all love Madonna."