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Hats Off To Hat Fever
Some products, resources, and books to enhance hattedness
By Terry McCormick

Every once in a while a person gets the opportunity to feel smug, superior, and on the cutting edge of fashion. The current boom in hats has provided me with such a chance, and I intend to wallow appropriately. As a passionate hat lover and wearer for many lonely years, it makes my heart fill with joy to see hats enter the mainstream once again. Hat departments are turning up in Saks and Newberry's, K-Marts and Bon Marches; and vintage hats are beginning to sell to a wider audience than ever before. Nearly every craft market has a hat booth now, with customers buzzing around trying... and buying! Some of the new hats are quite nice, too. Not nearly as charming as my vintage chapeaux; but many are definitely wearable. Here are some great new products, resources, and reference books for identifying, restoring, and simply enjoying, vintage hats:

Hats, a stylish history and collector's guide, by Jody Shields, Clarkson/Potter, 1991, $25.00, is a new, and welcome book about hats, 1920's through 1960's. It is extremely informative, showing the styles typical of each period, details to check for authenticity, fabrics and materials used, and many of the best known designers. Reference books about hats are rare birds indeed; so I strongly recommend getting this book if you are buying, selling, collecting, or displaying hats. I have seen so many mistakes in dating hats that I'm fairly sure, with the exception of serious hat-lovers, most people are pretty shakey on their vintage hat facts. This beautiful book, illustrated with photos both vintage and modern, will provide some useful guidance.

The Hat, Trends and Traditions,MadeleineGinsburg,Barrons, 1990, $21.95, is an overview of hats from early history to the present. Unlike many books that try to cover too much in one volume, this one gives good, useable, information about hats from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. At the same time, it doesn't short-change hats from this century. It would be a good companion to the Jody Shields book. If you have to make a choice, and are involved with hats previous to the 1920's, this one is the better selection.

Here is a honey of a book for lovers of hats from the Edwardian (1901-1915) or late Victorian period; and for anyone making or restoring hats: Edwardian Hats, The Art of Millinery (1909), Mme. Anna Ben-Yusuf, reprint by R.L. Shep. It's simply wonderful. You may never intend to make a hat yourself, but you will learn a lot about the construction of Edwardian hats - an invaluable part of accurate dating. If you are making new hats, whatever the style, or retrimming old ones, you will find easy to follow instructions. Once upon a time most women made hats and bonnets at home routinely; so useable directions for hats and trims were necessary. At least as valuable are the directions for authentic trims. Instructions include silk and velvet flowers, how to attach feathers properly, shirred bonnets, making straw hats, working with wire frames, and many more unique touchs. It's available from R. L. Shep, Box 668, Mendocino, CA 95460, $27.00 (including shipping), California residents add sales tax.

Up till now, the hat book I have most strongly recommended is Hats, Fiona Clark, Batsford Accessory Series, 1982 (out of print, but available through some costume book dealers). It is a wonderful book, although difficult to obtain, and covers hats from the 17th century to 1960's; and has a section on men's hats. Rare indeed. If you can get a copy, do so, as it has a great deal of information on early hats that you won't find anywhere else. Hats in Vogue, Christina Probert, Abbeville Press, 1981, (out of print) is abiton the fluffy side, but has some useful information, and lovely pictures.

Several years ago I wandered into an antique shop where I found an unusual hat which had clearly seen days of glory; but was now squished and tattered into an unrecognizeable glob. My heart went out to it, and I brought it home to end its years with some dignity in a hat box; out of the sight of those who might laugh at it. Or worse, use it for a Halloween hat. I assumed that it was a hopeless case, because who restores antique hats? Janene Smith does, as it happens. I gladly handed the sad old hat into her loving custody, along with a divine Edwardian that needs some loving care, and a one-of-a-kind cloche with problems. If you also have antique hats that deserve restoration, call Janene at 503-245-3919; she's happy to work with mail order clients. Janene also makes and sells reproduction vintage hats, gives lectures and classes on hatmaking, hat fashion shows, and sells (and buys) hats at vintage clothing shows and by mail.

Some vintage hats we find are not quite so far gone as my old pet hat; but have lost some of their shape and are on the saggy side. Too good to get rid of, but not really spiffy enough to wear proudly. To the rescue comes Kahl & Sons, the Original Felt Hat Stiffener, $9.95; which I found in a store that carries Western wear. Following the label instructions, I brushed the hat to remove loose dirt, then sprayed with the stiffener. I found that by using several coats, and letting the hat dry in between, I had good control over the final degree of stiffness. Once the hat had the amount of body I wanted, I steamed it, and pushed it back into shape with my hands. Voila! A good looking hat!

As I was writing this up, I read the Kahl label carefully, and discovered that this product is manufactured right here in Corvallis, Oregon! I called Col. Kahl, and he told me this is the only hat stiffener available to the public. It is used by professional hat makers, and is just beginning to be marketed nationally. The firm also sells a home hat steamer ($9.95) and hat brush; and will give some felt hat advise if you call with questions. If the stiffener is not available in your area, you can call 1-800-272-1166, or write Kahl & Sons, P.O. Box 166, Corvallis, OR 97339 to order directly from the manufacturer.

Have you noticed that a surprising number of people are starting to take up hat making; either for sale or for themselves? Most are experimenting with their own methods, varying from the primitive to the inventive. This last year I've bought four delightful hats at street craft markets. Most of the major commercial patterns (Vogue, Simplicity, et al) have at least one pattern for hats. I tried a couple of them, but wasn't satisfied; so I devised a hat pattern for myself, starting with the brim from a 1920's hat pattern. There is a lot of creative scope and fun to be had with making hats.

If you've been considering giving hatmaking a try, you'll find From the Neck Up, Denise Dreher, available from Madhatter Press, P.O. Box 7480, Minneapolis!, MN 55407, useful. This book is in lesson form, and tells you how to make a variety of hats, vintage and modem styles, like a real milliner. You can follow it step by step; or, as a friend of mine recommends, look up tech-niques and tips to help you with your own patterns. The book is also helpful when you are restyling vintage hats, and includes a supply list. It's $20.00 plus $2.00 shipping, and takes 4-6 weeks for delivery. It is available at a discount in orders of 10 or more, for those who want to sell it or use it for classes.

Have you dreamed of being a real, honest-to-goodness, pro-fessional milliner, with your own label (watch out, Lily and Hattie!); but haven't any idea how to get started? Wonderful World of Hats is the place to contact. Jessie Rasmussen, a professional milliner, has created a homestudy course, that includes a hat kit to make up and a video for each lesson. If nothing else, you will own 12 new hats by the end of the course. Jessie offers to critique the hats you make as you go. Send $3.00 to Wonderful World of Hats, 897 Wade Rd, Siletz, OR 97380, for a catalogue giving more complete information about the course. Jessie no longer carries hatmaking supplies, but does share resources with her students.

Hatmaking supplies are extremely difficult to find, whether you want them for refurbishing old hats or making new ones. Most millinery supply firms will only sell wholesale, requiring you to buy a gross when you only want one or two. Jessie Rasmussen kindly shared this source, which will sell in small quantities to individuals: Manny's Millinery, 26 W. 38th, New York, NY 10018, (212)840-2235 or 2236. I called Manny's to ask how a person goes about getting a catalogue. I was told that they will, indeed, sell to individuals; but you have to enclose a business card or letterhead, plus S2.00 to get the catalogue. "How," I asked, "does a non-business person get acatalogue?" "The same way," was the answer. So, I assume if you send yourname and address and S2.00, you will get a catalogue.

Dazians, which is a costume mail order supply house, also carries buckram hat forms, and some fabrics that are very useful for hatmaking. Send for a free catalogue, 2014 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75201 (214)748-3450.

By the by, if you have vintage hats living in your house, don't forget to line the boxes with acid-free tissue paper. If you stuff paper inside the hat to help it retain its shape; make sure that is acid-free also. Hats are just as susceptible to damage from cardboard and untreated paper as any other textile or fur. (Yes, I said fur. Many older hats are made from fur felts, particularly the finer ones.) Moth treatment of some sort is also important.

Before writing off hats as "not your thing," try on several different styles. Remember that a little goes a long way in a hat. The wide brim may look glamorous on the stand, but overwhelm most wearers. Start with small hats, and work up to the larger ones. If you don't wear hats because they feel uncomfortable; you probably haven't found your size yet. When you wear a hat that fits properly, you will forget you've got it on.

Absolutely no other piece of apparel will do more to create an individual look than a hat. Whether you aim for glamorous, funky, casual, neat and tidy, pleasant, businesslike, or chic; the right hat will set your style immediately. This goes for men as well as women. Once you've found the right one, you'll never return to unhattedness. Speaking as a person who shares living space with hundreds of hats, I can testify that they multiply like rabbits... only faster. However, a multiplicity of hats definitely beats a multiplicity of many other things: ants, bills, and problems, to name but a few.

Copyright 1992 - All Rights Reserved, Terry McCormick, Vintage Clothing Newsletter