January is already half over, and there are only about 2 more weeks to see Hats: An Anthology by British millinery designer, Stephen Jones, at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem MA. The exhibition closes on February 3, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing a real treat. I’ve gone twice!
Though hats (other than baseball caps) have recently made a bit of a comeback with the current popularity of the hipster hat, they haven’t really been part of American culture since the 1950s. But I’ve always loved hats, and in the late 1970s I wore big picture hats that I dressed up with flowers purchased in the “trimmings” district in New York. Sitting in a hat box in the basement, I still have a sophisticated wide-brimmed autumn hat that I bought at Galleries Lafayette in 1992 on a trip to Paris. I should really wear that hat.
The show at the PEM, in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, is historical, contemporary, comprehensive, and most of all, fun. Stephen Jones has brought together more than 250 hats from his own collection, from other contemporary and historic (e.g. Dior, Schiaparelli) millinery designers, and from the V&A collection. The hats range in age from ancient hats (a jester’s hat from the 15th century, pilgrim hats from the 17th c. etc.) to contemporary haute couture hats (the fascinator that Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the opening of the film, Sex In The City). They vary in purpose from:
- hats that are part of a uniform: a British police hat, David Ortiz’s Red Sox baseball cap
- hats that provide protection: a 1960s plastic rain hat, 1970 bathing cap, a samurai helmet, 18th century bonnets
- hats that provide warmth: knit hats
- hats that signify cultural, ethnic or class membership: fez, turban, top hat, tri-corne
- hats for sleeping: ancient Asian sleeping hats richly embellished with embroidery.
But the majority of the hats are for personal adornment and self-expression. Many of the hats, especially those designed by Jones, are whimsical, witty and sometimes even shocking.
The hats are presented either on perches or manniquins behind huge glass windows that look like a milliner’s shop windows. So we’re seeing the hats as someone would if they were shopping during the hey-day of hats. The hats are grouped thematically by form, material or inspiration: e.g. Animal Kingdom, Feather, Felt, Geometry, Salon etc.
In the center of one of the rooms is a milliner’s workshop that contains all the tools, fabrics, embellishments, and inspirations of the trade. Millinery hats are hand-made rather than mass-produced, and there is a video that shows how a hat is sewn by hand. On the walls of a couple of the rooms are screens playing old-time videos on How To Choose a Hat and hats for the new season from the 1930s and 40s. Very amusing.
In order to further engage visitors, the show has an area where you can try on a variety of contemporary hats. And at the end of the exhibit, you can go to the photo booth, take your picture and have a variety of hats from the exhibit digitally placed on your head. Some of the visitors’ photos are displayed on the wall. Too funny!
In addition, hats from the PEM’s collection are displayed throughout the rest of the museum. Hats from contemporary designers (including some local designers) are for sale in the gift shop. The museum has had a number of trunk shows and hat-designing and crafting events over the past few months to accompany the show. Right now, the museum is offering a couple of membership promotions: join before February 3 and receive a $10 gift certificate to spend in their fabulous gift shop on a hat or something else from their terrific collection of clothing, jewelry and decorative objects, or join at the Patron level and receive a copy of the comprehensive exhibit catalogue.
So, if you can, get yourself to Salem and see the hat show before it disappears.
Do you have a favorite hat? Post your photos along with your reply!
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