Classic Style – A Glamorous Conversation with The Vintage Hat Shop

Funny enough, this is Ms. Jeannie’s second post dedicated to hats and her fifth mention of them in previous fashion related posts. You see, dear readers, Ms. Jeannie has a great love affair with hats, which she is just now realizing.

She only owns three herself: a bright green celery colored garden hat, a wide brim, floppy, shoulder to shoulder straw beach hat and a fancy derby hat which she recycles every year through the magic of ebay – hardly the dynamic collection of a hat lover!

But what Ms. Jeannie has come to realize is that the thing she might just love most about a hat is the ability to subtly express oneself through a color, an adornment, a slight placement of angle. Whether you want to hide from the sun under your big brim or show off your flamboyant style in an eye-catching fascinator  – a hat can speak volumes about its wearer without her having to say anything at all. Magical!   So when Ms. Jeannie came upon this quote by Martha Sliter – she could completely relate:

“A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor, and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothing and wearing a costume; it’s the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it’s the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over, and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat.”

Well said Martha! A piece of magic is a hat! This got Ms. Jeannie to thinking about the past – back to nostalgic times when women (and men!) wore hats everyday and millinery shops lined the streets of every city. Now those physical brick and morter shops are few and far between but thanks to Etsy, we can still enjoy vintage hat shopping in our new and modern way – online!

Vintage Hat Forms – photo courtesy of Greg Lang via pinterest

Lucky for us – one of Ms. Jeannie’s readers is Cindy – the dynamo behind The Vintage Hat Shop on Etsy. With over 100 hats currently for sale and over 700 hats sold in just over two years, who better to sit down with to discuss the state of the hat union than her?!  Enjoy this stroll through fashion history as Cindy gives us all a glimpse behind the curtain of a true vintage hat shop….

Vintage 1940s Tilt Hat in Gray with Bows from theVintageHatShop

Ms. Jeannie:  How did your Etsy shop come about?

Cindy from The Vintage Hat Shop: I get asked that question a lot. I knew that when I opened a shop on Etsy I wanted to concentrate on just one item. Hats just seemed to work for me—they are unique, ship easily, and I like the types of folks that buy hats. I love hunting for unusual and stylish hats.

1930’s Halo Hat Clamshell Turban from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Explain a little bit about sourcing your hats – do you have to do a lot of mending and cleaning to do or do you look for hats that are only in pristine condition?

TVHS: I have my own certain criteria for hats—I won’t buy a hat that has a foul smell, is soiled or needs a lot of repair. I do replace elastic back bands, remove veils, do a bit of minor mending. I iron a lot of ribbons. And I go through many lint rollers.

MJ: Your shop spans many decades – do you have a most favorite time period? 

TVHS: I like the ’40s hats myself. I just think it was such an interesting era and the hats are a reflection of the times. The styles were rather “gutsy” and dramatic. So many supplies were in short supply during the war and innovation was the key. I admire and respect that. Such a variety of fashion styles are available from that time period.

1940’s Tilt Slouch Hat in Lavender with Ostrich Feathers from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Are you just as interested in hat related paraphernalia, like hat pins, hat boxes, etc as you are hats?

TVHS: I am interested in hat related items but I seldom buy them. I have too many interests and I make myself concentrate on just hats. The hat pins that I have were passed on to me by family members.

Miniature Dobbs Hatbox – from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Kate Middleton seems to have brought some new attention to the hat industry, are most of your clients from the U.S. or overseas?

Some of Kate Middleton’s hat collection. Photos (clockwise) courtesy of: marieclaire.co.uk, graziadaily.co.uk, allhatnocattle.net, zimbio.com, hatsca.com

TVHS: I have clients all over the world. I have sold hats to folks in 27 countries—(yes, I keep a list!) About a third of my sales are international. I have hat dealers in 3 countries that buy from me for their shops. Australia is the country to which I ship the most hats.

MJ: If you could put one of your hats on any famous head, living or dead, who would you choose?

TVHS: Some of my hats would look great on Lady Diana. Can you imagine!

Actually Cindy – Ms. Jeannie can imagine this! She thinks Diana looks splendid in your 1960’s sequined pillbox hat!

MJ:  What is your most popular selling style of hat? And most popular decade?

TVHS: That’s a good question, but I haven’t quite figured out the answer yet! There doesn’t seem to be one decade that is consistently popular. Right now I am selling 1960’s cloches that look like they came from the 1920’s. For awhile 1940’s tilts were very popular. The tilt/slouch look from the 1930’s consistently sells well.

Vintage cloche hat with 1920’s style (one of Ms. Jeannie’s favortes!) fromtheVintageHatShop
1940’s Vintage Saks Fifth Ave Forward Tilt Hat from theVintageHatShop
1930’s Tilt Slouch Hat from theVintageHatShop

MJ: At the moment, there seems to be just a few men’s hats in your shop – is it harder to find men’s hats then women’s, do they sell more quickly or do you just have a natural affinity for a more feminine style?

Men’s Newsboy Cap from theVintageHatShop

TVHS: I like men’s hats but I don’t seek them out. Men want their dress hats to fit exactly and it is very hard to size them. Most of the fedoras that I find are a small size. So I rarely list them anymore. I do sell newsboy caps which can be worn by either men or women.

MJ:  In your shop bio, it reads that one of your buyers was Polo Ralph Lauren – how exciting! Have you seen your hats in any of their campaigns?

TVHS: No, but I haven’t been looking . Guess I should check that out.

MJ: What is your most favorite hat currently available in your shop?

I like the 1930s maroon tilt slouch hat. I like the quiet simplicity with a touch of classy style. But my favorite changes often.

1930’s Maroon Slouch Tilt Hat from TheVintageHatShop

MJ: Tell us a fun hat buying story in regards to one of your customers…

TVHS: Last week I sold two hats to Loretta Young’s daughter-in-law. Loretta Young loved Lilly Dache’ hats and one of the hats purchased was a black velvet Dachette turban. The hats will be used at a Loretta Young 100th anniversary exhibit at the Hollywood Museum in LA that runs from December through April. She even encouraged me to attend!

Loretta Young (1913-2000) was an American, award winning film and television actress. Photo courtesy of fanpop.com
Cindy’s hats are la-la bound! See them on display at the Hollywood Museum. How very glamorous! Photo courtesy of thehollywoodmuseum.com. Click the photo for more info.

Two of my 40s hats were purchased to be worn by extras in the movie “42”, the Jackie Robinson story starring Harrison Ford now being filmed in Macon, GA. You can bet I will be going to see that movie!

Movie Poster for 42

Many of my hats have been purchased for vintage weddings, theatrical productions, professional photo shoots and to women that like to dress in a vintage style. Today I sent a hat to a woman that is going to a Gatsby themed wedding and wanted a vintage cloche. You just never know! That’s what makes it so fun.

MJ:  Do you have a favorite “hat” movie? “Hat” actress? “Hat” actor?

TVHS: I like the 40s movies and actresses—Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman. I can’t pick out a favorite hat movie! What guy wears a hat better than Frank Sinatra?

Clockwise from left: Bette, Katharine, Frank and Ingrid (okay Bogie – you too!)

MJ: Why do you think women’s hats fell out of fashion as a regular, everyday accessory?

TVHS: A lot of people attribute the demise of hat wearing to hairspray! When women get their hair all “dolled up” and put on hairspray so it stays in place. They don’t want to ruin their “do” with a hat. I know on the days when I go hat shopping by the end of the day I have “hat hair”. It isn’t pretty.

MJ:  What do you look for in a vintage hat?

TVHS: I look for a hat with class and style. Sometimes I buy hats I don’t like because I know there is a market for them. But usually if I just don’t like a hat at first sight, I don’t buy it. And I love most any hat that tilts.

MJ: Do you wear hats yourself?

TVHS: Now you would think so, wouldn’t you? But in reality I seldom wear hats. They just aren’t in fashion in this area. (Which makes them available for hat buyers!!). But I do come home and try on every one that I buy. Shhhh. Don’t tell the family, they already think I am hat possessed.

MJ:   Can you tell us something a little “extra” about these 5 hats from your shop (Ms. Jeannie’s favorites!)… 

Favorite #1: Vintage 1960’s velvet cloche with 1920’s style from theVintageHatShop

This hat has a great memory. I purchased it on a trip to see my family. We had such a terrific time that day. Now it is off to London.

Favorite #2: 1960’s Bucket Tilt with Coralie Faux Fur from theVintageHatShop

 I purchased this hat because the color was unusual. And the feather looked like a bird!

Favorite #3: Vintage Cloche Hat with 1920’s Style from theVintageHatShop

There is an antique shop that I stop at often, they don’t know my name, they just call me “The Hat Lady”. I found this hat there. Could anyone pass up a 1920s cloche in this condition?!!

Favorite #4: Vintage 1950’s Turban Style Hat from theVintageHatShop

Turbans are very popular right now and this is such a great color. It has more of a structured shape than other turbans that I sell.

Vintage 1960’s Tilt Slouch, Beret Style with Rhinestone Pin from TheVintageHatShop

What a classy way to do a winter hat! That beading adds just the right touch of interest.

MJ:  What was your most exciting hat acquisition story?

TVHS: Last summer I went to a local estate sale. A widow had died 15 years ago at age 90 and her nephew was just cleaning out her home. She was meticulous about her belongings. Her hats were exquisite! I got some from each decade 1910s-1950s. One of her hats was made by a local milliner, that will go to our county museum. I have two of her hats that I just can’t quite bring myself to list. I am a sentimentalist at heart. I had such a great time that day! And I was so honored to pass her hats on to collectors that would also treasure them.

MJ: You have lovely models in your shop! Tell us a little about them.

Meet the Vintage Hat Shop models…Jo & Jo!

TVHS: I had searched for months for a new mannequin. I had been to antique shows, and every shop in our area but just couldn’t find a mannequin that suited my style. I had decided to order a new one on line and just make it work. My husband and I decided to go out to a small town for a Friday night dinner and parked next to a tiny gift/antique shop. The mannequin gal with the dark brown hair was in the window! The shop was closed for the night and the next day was the last day for the season. You can bet that I took another trip back to that store early the next morn and purchased her. I went to the same shop again this spring and bought the redhead. Oh, and of course many hats, too!
It makes me happy each time I use them. I have named them both Jo—after a classy aunt.( yes, she wore hats and loved them!)

MJ:  What style advice would you give to the first time vintage hat buyer?

TVHS: Buy hats you love of course. But the real secret is to give your hat a good tilt. For the “oo-la-la” factor.

Other interesting tid-bits from Cindy’s world:

Currently on her bookshelf: 

Recommended Books from Cindy: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan, and The Measure of A Man by Sidney Poitier

Currently listening to:  Country music on the radio. 

If she could luncheon with anyone famous living or dead, she’d choose: Eleanor Roosevelt 

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) – First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, civil rights activist, author and public speaker.

Of course Eleanor would be the one in the hat!

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations. To read other interviews in this series, simply click here.

 

Plume Traders: How Barn Swallows Affected the Victorian Hat Industry

You know the saying…one thing always leads to another? Well ever since Ms. Jeannie wrote a  blog post about the history of  starlings she has been noticing the variety of birds that live  in and around her garden. Not that she ever didn’t notice the birds before – but now she REALLY notices them. Their colors, their size, their nesting habits, their songs…fascinating!  Her blog post also spawned similiar noticings and conversations among her friends, so much so that that they have sort of formed a little bird observation club of sorts. An occasional picture here, some observations there, a musing in-between.

One such friend,  just yesterday, brought a nest to Ms. Jeannie that needed to be removed from the underside of his portico. Here it is upon arrival at Ms. Jeannie’s…

Can you identify this nest?

After seeing a family of birds hatch, grow, and leave the nest,  and seeing no further activity over the next 2 weeks, he figured the nest was empty and ready for demolition. But to his surprise, upon careful removal, he discovered…

Three eggs!

This bird’s nest belongs to the barn swallow, which like the starling,  is one of the most common birds. So common in fact, that swallows can be found on every continent except for Antarctica.

Barn Swallow

Lying somewhere between the shades of cobalt blue and windsor blue,  barn swallows are made up of beautiful blue feathers along their back and wings with white to orange belly feathers and long pronged tail feathers (like those extra long meat forks!).

Back in the 1800’s, because of their bright colors, barn swallows were hunted exhaustively for use of their feathers in the millinary business. Ladies hats were big business back then, which led artisans to continuously try to one up each other in the creativity department. Seeking more and more exotic inspirations, birds proved just the ticket to create hats both remarkable in size and stature.  Other common bird feathers besides the swallows included egrets, bobwhites, herons and terns.

Here’s a millinery supply catalog page from 1901. Note the starling (whole bird) offered for sale in the bottom left corner.

Millinery Supply Catalog. 1901. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

Understandably, hats were an important staple in every women’s wardrobe. In an era where women dressed in similar colors and clothes, hats were a creative outlet for self expression.  Like the artists who created them, women continuously sought the most unusual arrangements. Dead animals included. By the 1870’s, whole birds were being perched on top of women’s heads with wings fanned out in all sorts of elaborate stylings.  Here are several feathered hat examples…

Antique Cabinet Photo from VintageAntiqueLane
Antique Photo of the Hatcher Sisters from phunctum
Victorian Lady Photograph from nancesnostalgia
1800’s Cabinet Card from SusieQsVintageShop
1870s Cabinet Card from HappySteiler

By the late 1890’s – early 1900’s, plume trading was a very lucrative business bringing at times $32.00 an ounce and esculating as high as $80.00 an ounce during peak trading.  And it wasn’t just for women’s fashion, either. Men’s fedoras were also being embellished with feathers as status symbols of economic prosperity.

Fortunately, thanks to an 1886 editorial printed in Forest & Stream Magazine by naturalist, George Bird Grinell,  the devasting effects plume trading was having on barn swallows and other birds was brought to light for the American public.

George Bird Grinell (1849-1938)

It seems women really hadn’t thought through this whole bird business. Being blinded simply by the sheer beauty of the fashion, they forgot to consider where these feathers came from, how the birds were treated and why they were winding up on their heads.   Thanks to the editorial though, women all over New York City roused to the cause. Through boycotts and informational tea parties, word spread  and  awareness eventually led to the founding of the National Audubon Society in 1905. Today the Audubon Society  is still dedicated to the conservation of birds, wildlife and healthy ecosystems. Fantastic!

Ms. Jeannie is thankful that people were watching out for the barn swallows a hundred years ago. Without their valiant efforts, she might not get to enjoy them in her neighborhood now. It’s lovely to see bright flashes of blue zip through the air before you and always so unexpected. Every time, she sees one – it is like the first time. A little extra thrill in her day!

Barn swallows have been a source of inspiration for many areas of art, not just the hat industry. Check out the following swallow themed items, Ms. Jeannie found on Etsy. These are some of her favorites…

Painterly Barn Swallow by Claire Hartman
Barn Swallows Cuff by UniqueArtPendants
Swallow Mini Bowls by AmandaMBarr
Bird Linocut Cards by SwallowNestArtStudio
Bird Stamp Ring by ardent1
Lampworked Glass Barn Swallow Necklace by amnflamework
Be Still and Know Art Print by LisaMDSkinnerArt

If you notice barn swallows in your area, snap a photo and send it to Ms. Jeannie! Please include your location so she can  share your sightings with everyone.

Have a birdy day!

BLOG UPDATE!

A reader from the Palm Beach Gardens area of Florida wrote in about this phenomena that occurs in his neck of the woods…

Something confusing you would be interested in. About every so often, at lest once a month, A huge , I mean huge, flock of birds of all varieties gather on the lake and ring the shore. It consists of birds from pelicans to herons to cranes, etc. As if they are holding a convention. I’ve tried to research this phenomenon to no avail. Any ideas?

Ms. Jeannie is on the case to see what sort of gathering this might be. She’ll keep you updated on what she finds, but in the meantime, if you can help solve this mystery, please share!