Retail is an interesting mistress. Keeping a small shop unique requires constant attention, and many small shops are working on holiday open houses this time of the year trying to lure shoppers from the big box stores. A stroll in a multi-dealer shop reveals the mirror image though that happens as shopkeepers try to keep up with what is selling. It is a challenge to be creative, innovative...to think outside the box as I tell my students.
But, alas, unique is the bottom line...or, in the case of this week's post, off the top of the head...we are talking hats! My one picker had a stash of hats for me last week! After 20 plus years in the business, I have never seen the same hat! It is interesting to think how personal the hat choice was.
Let's look at the history of the hat. In the late 1600s, women's headgear began to emerge in its own right and not be influenced by men's hat fashions. The word 'milliner', a maker of women's hats, was first recorded in 1529 when the term referred to the products for which Milan and the northern Italian regions were well known-- ribbons, gloves and straws. The haberdashers who imported these highly popular straws were called 'Millaners' from which the word was eventually derived.
By the mid 1800s, Swiss and Italian straws, together with imitation straws made from paper, cardboard, grass and horsehair were available to women, along with the introduction of velvet and tulle. The bonnet dominated women's fashion as the century progressed, becoming very large with many ribbons, flowers, feathers and gauze trims giving an appearance of even greater size.
By the end of the century, although bonnets were still prevalent, many other styles were to be found, including wide brims with flat crowns, the flower pot and the toque - feathers and veils abounded.
Although early in the 1900's most hats were enormous and adorned with flowers, feathers, ribbons and tulle, by the mid 1920's women's hair had become much shorter with the shingle cut and the cloche, which hugged the head like a helmet with a very small brim, had come into fashion. Now, after World War 1, there was suddenly such a proliferation of styles and materials that many women had to rely on the advice of milliners.
This hat is from Merrimac, Amesbury, Massachusetts, in the 1940s the largest manufacturer of trimmed hats and hat bodies in the country. They made broad-brim beaver hats, fedoras, Girl Scout caps, original Mouseketeers beanies, and some smart little rolled-brim hats endorsed by a very young Elizabeth Taylor. Founded in 1856, it survived until the early 1970s. Its buildings are now the Hatters Point Condominiums.
From the 1930's to the 1950's it could be said that New York, with its many European immigrants had become the world's leading millinery city, with department stores such as Sacs Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman leading the way with their own millinery workrooms.
By the 1950's the arrival of ready-to-wear clothes was robbing the milliners of their crucial part in the world of fashion. Equally during the War many women, who had not previously worked, found themselves employed and were then loathed to lose their new-found freedom and independence. This new situation meant, however, that they no longer had so much time or energy to spend on being fashionable.
In the 1960's the hat was once again overtaken by wigs and hairdressers, who colored, back-combed and sprayed women's hair into exotic 'sculptures'. Both men and women also realized that they could dress less formally and the hat was inevitably a temporary casualty. However, in the 1980's and 90's there has been a revival of interest in women's millinery. This was instigated, to a large extent, by public figures such as the late Princess of Wales's enthusiasm for wearing hats.
I am always fascinated by the labels in some of the hats...they are as intriguing as the hats themselves.
Then, the hats...not one alike...
And, if you are in the area, here is a hat to match the cover of the new Romantic Homes magazine!
So, just as these hats reflected the women who wore them, so should shops represent their owners...the small shop does not have to follow corporate dictates, and the owner can wear whatever hat fits...and trust me, those of us in business wear many hats!
I know many people love to decorate with hats but not wear them, and that reminds me of this quote from Erma Bombeck:
"I have a hat. It is graceful and feminine and has a wide brim with a red ribbon around the band. It gives me a certain dignity, as if I were attending a state funeral or something. People are generous in their compliments. Someday I may get up enough courage to wear it, instead of carrying it."