Let’s chat about hats
Nov 11, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
I’m very fortunate to have a lovely collection of vintage hats. Some pieces were my great aunt’s, others were my grandmother’s and a few are amazing thrift store finds. There’s something about the craftsmanship and silhouette of a vintage hat that make it like an objet d’art. Their uniqueness makes me aspire to fill a display case, cozy up to a cup of hot cocoa and just admire each gem on a daily basis!
While I adore them, as someone with fine hair I’ve never felt comfortable wearing them. I always struggle to recreate the volume required to give these hats the proper foundation. If I’m lucky enough to work wonders with hairspray, my next obstacle is placement. Since our society has trended toward casual attire, there aren’t a lot of awesome hats to observe in the wild. The options for a look book are limited and that can make me feel less secure. Today as I was admiring my collection I decided there’s no time like the present to calm my nerves! Knowledge is power, so let’s chat about hats and learn more about their history & the traditional way to wear them. As you read along, be thinking about your favorite topper…
We’ve talked about this style in a previous feature, but can you blame me for adding it to our list again? The sweet hat I have in my collection is slightly more rare as it includes a veil. For a hat that eschews adornment, the petite bow and veil are like an added treat. Beyond the color and style, I also love the label in this hat. For a collector, finding a label is like uncovering a precious clue. This particular label reads “United Hatters Cap & Millinery Wrks” and helps me date the hat to the midcentury time period. (Check out this great article about deciphering union labels!)
So who were the people that made my hat? Well it turns out the history of this union itself, which was active from 1934-1983, provides some insights. If you want to dig in more, I invite you to read the digitized copy of “Spotlight on a Union” by Donald B. Robinson. Published in 1948, it gives us a snapshot of post-war America’s social and economic climate. As Robinson talks about the union, which was formed on the shoulders of a previous organization, he highlights something pretty cool. The union was unique in that it defied stereotypical classifications. While other unions operated in clear terms, this group was effective because they would protect the employers in conjunction with improving worker’s conditions. In these current divisive times, I find it encouraging to learn of this legacy of cooperation. Bottom line: labels always carry a message. In the case of my darling pillbox hat I feel like the label invites me to be a collaborator.
Inspiring historical context aside, how do you rock the look? The good news is you have a few options. The first option is the more regal and reserved, which is to wear it toward the back. Think Jackie O. If you’re feeling bold you can simply wear it right on top of your head. This look really lets the elegant shape of the hat shine. Lastly, if you’re feeling a bit sassy you can tilt. Wearing it at an angle and on the side adds a playful vibe to any ensemble. For great information on how to get your hat to stay in place, check out this fab blog post!
There’s something romantic and graceful about the bandeau style. Maybe it’s my specific example, but I have found this design to be the contrast to the quiet pillbox: flowers, lace and trim – oh my! It’s only fitting that the bandeau was meant to be worn for a night out on the town. While the history of this look dates back to ancient times, the bob cuts of the 1920s brought the bandeau back into the spotlight. As hairstyles trended toward more volume, the bandeau came along for the journey. This style is worn like a headband, kept in place by pins or combs.
Bandeaus sprouting flowers were most common during the 1950s, which matches with what I know about my little hat. The bandeau paired well with costume jewelry and elegant gowns. If you flip through vintage wedding photos from the 50s or early 60s, you’ll see several brides wearing this style of hat. An excellent example of how treasured these hats are can be found here, in the permanent collection of a museum. Looking at this hat, I can almost smell the roses. Next time you need a pick-me-up, I recommend donning a bandeau and escaping to a paradise of your own making!
If I had to describe my half hat, I would probably say it’s closest to the back half of a cloche. Turns out that’s a fairly close description! The half hat was the darling of the midcentury fashion world. Most agree it’s the brainchild of milliner Lilly Daché. Lilly was a prolific designer who is famous for her work with turbans, berets, snoods, and organic shapes. Her half hat burst onto the scene, becoming the “must-have” accessory of 1941. The style worked for both daytime and evening, with some designs incorporating sequins or halo brims. (Audrey Hepburn in her theatrical debut wore a gorgeous example of the half hat.) The variations in half hats are astounding – but in general you’ll want to look for a style that covers a portion of the head and is tighter-fitting. Like the pillbox, you can wear it straight or at an angle. And like the bandeau, the half hat also became a favorite for the midcentury bride.
The options with this style feel endless and perhaps one of my favorites is the eggshell. Designed by Audrey’s best friend, Givenchy, it was made famous by Queen Elizabeth during a 1954 tour of Australia. Click here to see all the fabulousness. In looking at this picture I realize I have this style in my collection as well. I remember playing with it as a little girl, wondering how you were supposed to wear such a hat. The hat’s red sequins always felt so over-the-top to me, but with Queen Elizabeth as my guide I am inspired to find the perfect dress to pair with my hat. I guess it’s time to grab the hairspray and hutzpah!