Fremont County, Iowa

"Ladies Hats"
by Sherry Penny

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of July 20th

The invention of hair spray, and the practice of “teasing” hair, brought on big pouffy hair styles in the late 1960s, thus bringing on the demise of ladies hats. While a few young teens may wear a ball cap today, most women never wear a hat anywhere anymore.

Once upon a time, all ladies from two to eighty years of age would have a new spring hat at Easter time, along with gloves and handbag that matched. One was expected to wear a hat to town, to church, and to funerals. Hats defined who we were by color, style and shape.

The simple sunbonnet helped settle our country and was a hat easily sewn by all women. It was utilitarian mainly as it protected the fair skin of our pioneers on their westward trek. Pioneer women may have had two in their meager wardrobe--one for everyday, and one for “good.”

As towns became settled and businesses opened, eventually, a milliner would set up her shop in the town. Here one could commission that “one of a kind” bonnet. The milliner had all sorts of silks, velvets and furs from which to choose. Lace, feathers, ribbons and flowers could set one hat apart from others. You knew you wouldn’t see yourself coming down the wooden sidewalk. However, the usefulness of the milliner disappeared when department and clothing stores began stocking hats for men and women, although some had their own milliners for special customers for a number of years.

Ladies hats have gone through several fads through the years. Early Victorian days showed hats with large rims, flowery feathers, and baubles. When the horseless carriage appeared, so did hats bedecked with wide ribbons that tied under the chin so the hats couldn’t blow away at such “high speeds.”

The 1940’s spotlighted what came to be known as “picture” hats. Many were made of natural straw or stiff felt and featured extra wide rims that framed the face. They were great for picnics, and looked especially fine with shorter dresses and seamed nylon hose. Then came the era of Jackie Kennedy and her “pillbox” hat. Do any of you remember having a pillbox hat?

Hats were eventually fazed out of wardrobes, because they didn’t work with the bouffant hairdos of the 60’s and 70’s. They were either packed away in attic trunks or thrown out with the trash. Little girls used them to play dress-up occasionally, but no longer could one spend an enjoyable time at Spurgeons, or J. C. Pennys trying on hats in front of huge mirrors.

Today, hats of yore can be found at antique malls costing three or four times their original price. There are, of course, some great hat collections around and one can find many an old gem in museums.

One exceptional hat collection belongs to JoElla Travis of Sidney and she has agreed to share it on July 25th at 2:00 P. M. at the Gathering Place in Sidney. She will delight the public with a display of her many hats and she will tickle your memories with her program that will include stories of the most famous ones. We are calling it a "Dessert Party, or Tea Party" and fancy desserts will be served. For reservations you can call 374-2320 but last minute walkins are welcome as well. Admission is only $5.00.

The Gathering Place, is one block east of the Sidney court house.

Oh, and wear your fanciest hat if you’d like. That will make the afternoon even more fun.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau