Hats and gloves were the order of the day as the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum held its “Hats On Parade” Tea and Hat Fashion Show on Saturday, June 16.
The Tea ran in conjunction with the Museum’s new hat exhibit in the Jeanette Lyons Room, presented by the Costume Council.
Kaye Spilker, curator of costumes and textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gave an informative lecture on hats through history.
“A hat is the most noticeable fashion item you can wear, as the onlooker’s attention is drawn to the face. The old saying goes, ‘If you want to get ahead and get noticed, then get a hat,’” Spilker said at the opening of her lecture.
Spilker covered the etiquette and formality of hats, different styles of hats throughout the ages, how the times, both political and economic, changed the style, shape and size of hats, and how feathers became fashionable almost to the point of wiping out certain species.
“During that period of time, (1886) one in 1,000 people worked in the plumage trade and it is estimated that more than 5 million birds were killed to decorate hats in America,” said Spilker.
According to Plume Trade Frank Chapman's 1886 Feathered Hat Census, “during two walks along the streets of Manhattan in 1886, the American Museum of Natural History's ornithologist, Frank Chapman, spotted 40 native species of birds including sparrows, warblers, and woodpeckers. But the birds were not flitting through the trees - they had been killed, and for the most part, plucked, disassembled, or stuffed, and painstakingly positioned on three-quarters of the 700 women's hats Chapman saw.”
The North American feather trade was in its heyday.
Whales were also slaughtered for their bones, which were used in women’s foundation garments and millinery work, and fur from animals including monkeys was used to make everything from coats and hats to boots and hand bags - fur and feathers as fashion were the rage.
According to Spilker, the term “mad as a hatter” came from the process of curing beaver skins which were made into top hats. Mercury compounds had to be used in this process which was most unhealthy for the hatter, affecting the nervous system and causing them to tremble and appear insane. Mercury poisoning is still known today as “Mad Hatter's disease.”
“At the turn of the 20th century in 1900 a lady didn’t venture out of the house without a hat or gloves. In the Edwardian age, the only people who went without a hat were beggars. Even suffragettes did not dare to go out without a hat. But as time passed and World War II began, hats became less practical as people had to rush to air raid shelters and had to drop everything.
From the 1930s to the early 1960s New York became the world’s leading millinery city, with department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman leading the way with their own millinery workshops.
The temporary demise of the hat came in the mid-60s with women wearing wigs and hairdressers coloring, back-combing and spraying a woman’s hair into exotic sculptures - big hair.
Hat designer Simone Mirman continued to design fashionable hats through that period, creating fun versions of the 1960s helmet hats encrusted with plastic gems, and ultra-modern leather or plastic helmets with clear tinted PVC visors in 1966. But fashionable hats were on the wane.
The wearing of hats was somewhat revived in the 1980s and now in the 21st century fascinators have made a resurgence, as witnessed at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Following Spilker’s talk a tea was served, featuring finger-sandwiches and delicate pastries. Models walked through the tables wearing an array of hats from the 20th century. Kathleen Graves, vice president of the Costume Council, coordinated the fashion show.
Prizes were given out to participating contestants. Annette Goodman won the prize for “Craziest Hat” - a turtle hat - but the competition was interesting. Betsy Phillips won for “Best Borrowed Hat Worn With Her Own Outfit” and Jan Butler won “Best Overall Hat and Gloves.”
Happily there were few feathers, animal skins or whale bones at this event. Fashion has come a long way.