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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hat Art

Hat design has come a long way since Renoir...or has it?
The first lady's hat?
Unless I miss my guess, I think the first wearing of a hat probably corresponds with the first use of crude polished metal mirrors whereupon some lady suddenly realized she was having a "bad hair day." The first lady's hat was probably green and inspired by the broad foliage and flowers of the banana tree (right, one of my own creations). Notwithstanding my prehistoric femme fatale, Greek ceramic vessels depict men wearing hats as far back as 380 BC (below, left). There's no indication of what the Greek women wore. For our purposes here today, we're going to accept the fact that men may have worn hats first, along with the fact that down through the history of hats, those worn by man, now and then, were, in a word, "borrrrring."

Vintage feminine headwear, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s.
Hermes Wearing a Petasos Hat
(Ancient Greek Attic red-
figure krater), ca. 380–370 BC
As for ladies' millinery, if nothing else, the boredom factor seldom arises as the broad array of designs from Paris circa 1940s and 50s (above) attests. Although ladies' headwear was an important part of the fashion accessories worn by every stylish miss and missus during the first half of the 20th century, by the end of WW II they were starting to wane in importance in the U.S., if not in Europe, where the French and especially the British continue to find them in favor. If I had to guess, I might venture that the streamlined designs of automobiles since the mid-19502 have tended to discourage the wearing of hats by both genders in this country (possibly in Europe as well). You'll notice in the examples above that broad brims and tall flowers or feathers had largely become a thing of the past. Compare them to Renoir's Woman in a Flowered Hat (top), dating from 1888.

Millinery Shop Paris, 1822, Alfred Edward Chalon
For at least the past two-hundred years, and perhaps as long as two-hundred years before that, Paris has been the haute couture center of the world, though New York City, London, and Rome have reduced the French dominance in today's world of fashion design somewhat). Of course, these days, high fashion usually refers primarily to designer clothing, though that hasn't always been the case. During the decades before WW I Paris Millinery shops such as the one depicted by Alfred Edward Chalon (above) were major draws along the city's fashionable Champs Elysees. Today, many of the most stylish women's hats Paris had to offer around the turn of the century would seem downright hilarious (below).

Even during the early 20th century, Paris cartoonists found plenty
to make fun of in the world of Paris millinery design (above-left).
They were compared to mushrooms.
I wonder what Paris cartoonist would make of some of the millinery designs seen on the fashion runways of Paris today. Of course, given some of the outlandish designer apparel seen today, perhaps they wouldn't even notice the hats.

Especially today, getting in and our of cars must be a challenge.
One of the strongest influences in terms of fashion design has come from those working as costume designers for the American motion picture industry. Insofar as hats are concerned, that has been especially true. I imagine it was no accident that women's hats reached their zenith in popularity during the period shortly before, during, and after WW II when Walter Plunkett's Gone With the Wind hats so skillfully brought out the best and worst in Scarlett O'Hara (below). His dresses didn't bring back hoop skirts, but his hats were widely copied by those young ladies who worshipped and adored Vivien Leigh's stunning headwear.

My favorite has always been the "Sawmill Hat" (top-left).
However, say what you will about Hollywood's influence as to fashion design, during the 1960s, Cecil Beaton's gorgeous black and white hat (below)designed for My Fair Lady starring lady, Eliza Doolittle's foray into the hat capital of the world, the Ascot Racecourse in England, had no such fashion influence. It did not bring back women's hats, much less effect their design appreciably (except possibly at Ascot). I wonder what Scarlett O'Hara would have thought of Eliza's hat.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle designed
By Cecil Beaton.

Britain's royal family, the undisputed
experts as to high-fashion headwear.


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