Hats Off To Hat Fever
Some products, resources, and books to
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
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
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
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
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