The romance of hats lingers on in family photographs

By the time I reached my teenage years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, hats were doomed. We didn’t know that yet because the elegant and fashionable Jackie Kennedy had made pillbox hats so fashionable they were firmly on the heads of American women. Even Bob Dylan noticed and wrote a song about it — “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.”

Ladies who lunched or attended afternoon club meetings still wore woven straw and artificial flower and feather fantasy hats whenever they went off to their appointed social rounds. Journalist May Craig, a fixture at White House press conferences; Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood gossip columnists; Elizabeth, Queen of England; and even Maine’s very own Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, all served as high-profile hat-wearing role models.

The women in my family, both maternal and paternal, possessing a streak of independence of uncommon wideness and durability, did not always follow the dictates of the hat czars. But if the occasion had sufficient gravity — a funeral or a wedding — they did, indeed, wear hats, borrowing from one another or nabbing one for 10 cents at a church rummage sale.

At one point during the waning of the hat years, my mother enrolled in a correspondence course in hat making — perhaps the Academy of Millinery Design in Little Falls, N.J., as advertised in McCall’s Needlework and Crafts magazine of that era. Every so often she’d receive in the mail a box containing a hat devoid of decoration. The box also held a lesson, ribbon, feathers, flowers or veiling with which to decorate the naked hat. While I was at school, my mother sat at the kitchen table and worked on her millinery creation. When I came home, I served as her model, standing patiently while she fussed with a bow or adjusted the angle of the brim. After a few weeks, my mother declared she just didn’t have the patience to make hats and canceled the course. After that, she liked to say she was a correspondence school dropout.

That was a few years before the women’s liberation movement erased the cultural expectation that a woman was not properly dressed — and no lady — unless she wore a hat.

Recently, as I was trolling through a stash of family photographs, I came across pictures of my grandmother Beulah Leavitt Herrick, my mother, Ruth Herrick Hamlin, and myself wearing hats, each of us reflecting the fashion of our times.

Beulah’s hat is very much in the Gibson Girl tradition of the first decade of the 1900s. Her hat is woven of straw with a scalloped brim and rides elegantly atop her pompadour hairdo. It is decorated with an opulent cluster of silk roses. I like to imagine she was wearing that fetching hat when she first was introduced to my grandfather. In another photo a few years later, she is wearing a wool plaid cap as she stands by an enclosure and tends sheep.

Ruth acquired her hat in 1940, several months after she and my father were married. It resembles an upside-down bowl with a turned up brim and is made of wool felt. It sits to the side of her head and is held in place by a chin strap, echoing the shoe straps fastened across her ankles. The hat matches her suit, a fitted jacket and slim skirt. She also is carrying a bag and gloves to match her shoes.

I am wearing a hat of white felt with a deep crown. It has a turned up brim and is trimmed with a wide band of gold grosgrain ribbon. I bought it in 1966 at Zayre department store in Portland and wore it to church that Easter.

But by the 1970s, the only thing I ever wore on my head was a bandana tied around my long hair or a knit wool cap to ward off the cold.

The hats I wear these days protect me from the sun, a strictly utilitarian and not decorative use, but I always jazz up them with a bit of ribbon, a flower or a feather.


Artist Karen Gelardi will show how to make a scatter rug using a simple knotting technique 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St. in Portland. Bring one yard each of three or more fabrics and scissors. A rug making demonstration will precede the hands-on workshop. Tickets are $5. The workshop is open to all ages. For information, call 828-5600.

Silver Willow Gallery in Winterport is forming a beading (and other crafts) bee. The first meeting will convene 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at the gallery, 115 Main St. The bee, said coordinator Sue Berryhill, will be a social gathering where people may work on their current crafts projects, including beading, crochet, knitting and embroidery, and give and receive help as needed. The bee is free to attend. Bring a portable chair. For information, call the 223-1075 or email

Orono Quilters, a chapter of Maine’s Pine Tree Quilters Guild, meets at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, starting Sept. 12, at the Senior Center on Pine Street, behind the library, in Orono. A pizza party will take place at 6 p.m. before the meeting. Events and activities for the year will include sampler blocks, Show and Tell, holiday stockings for children in need, Christmas potluck, a retreat in Belfast in March and a Quilt Show in Old Town in May. Annual dues are $20. For information about joining the group, email or call Leslie Astbury at 862-3448 or Carlene Thompson at 848-4904.

Members of the Bangor Area Sewing Guild will gather at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Hampden Municipal Building, for its 19th annual meeting. After a business meeting and potluck lunch, the community is invited to participate in sewing for area children in our area — sew, cut, press or lend moral support. Attendees receive a gift, with the top door prize a year’s membership in the guild. For information, call Norma at 862-4367.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or email Don’t forget to visit her blog at