Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Glamour Shots: Mid-Century Hats


T&CC 1986.53.14, fascinator, Marti by Deb-Arn, California and Philadelphia, 1940-1960

by Ann Wilson

Usually, my main focus when photographing our objects is documentation. But recently, I gave some of our hats the glamour treatment. This came about because I needed a subject for my final project for a Studio Photography class I recently completed at Jefferson. Our hats from the 1950s and 60s quickly came to mind because they are some of our most fanciful objects. With their whimsical designs, use of faux floral elements, veiling, ribbon, feathers, and other fun materials, these hats each have a distinct personality.

My goal was to use lighting to treat each hat like a glamour portrait. Using a black mannequin to provide just the silhouette of a head, I posed the hats in front of a black backdrop. A spotlight aimed at the backdrop created an indirect halo around the hats. A disk-shaped reflective light called a beauty dish, often used in portraits, was placed on one side of the subject. A more direct grid spot light was placed on the other side. If I wanted to soften the texture of the hat, I placed a sheet of tissue over the grid spot to diffuse the light. I removed the tissue if I wanted to accentuate the hat texture. Here are the final results, along with some information about each hat.

This hat by Lilly Daché Boutique is fashioned on a base of stiffened green net. Featuring a crown of white flowers with green stems and an olive green ribbon, the hat is held in place with two small combs attached to its interior. 1950s-60s, American.

On the left is a hot pink, wool felt fascinator by Henri Bendel. A tail-shaped piece at the center back is trimmed with roses and ribbons. An elastic chinband keeps the hat in place. Circa 1941, American.

On the right is a turban shaped hat of intricately draped, light blue silk dupioni from the Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker, circa 1960s.

At left is a small, woven straw cap with a crown of leaves and berries. By John Wanamaker, Philadelphia, circa 1950s-60s.

At right, a capulet shaped hat with green feathers, velvet, and veiling. Circa 1953, creator unknown.

This beauty is by the hugely successful milliner, Otto Lucas, who ran a studio in London from the 1930s until his death in 1971. Among his famous clients were Greta Garbo and Wallis Simpson. This hat features fuchsia fur felt with a gorgeous texture that I tried to accentuate with undiffused side lighting.

The hat on the left, by Miss Alice for Bonwit Teller, is covered with green leaves and pink and white flowers. The base is stiffened green net. Interior combs on each side help keep it in place. 1950s-60s, Philadelphia.

The toque shaped hat on the right is a Norman Durand Original covered with lavender net draped over light purple silk flowers, with green leaves and brown pods or nuts. 1950s-60s, American.

This fascinator features silk velvet leaves in a rich gold color, topped with stemmed iridescent berries and yellow/green velvet ribbons and bows. The label reads “Marti by Deb-Arn, California and Philadelphia.” 1940-1960.

The toque on the left is draped with black veiling dotted with pink flocks. Circa 1950, creator unknown.

At right is a toque draped in pale peach silk georgette, trimmed with small silk flowers. The design is reminiscent of a beehive. Hat by Joseph Horne Co. Millinery, Pittsburgh, circa 1955-1965. Fun fact: Andy Warhol worked in the display department of a Joseph Horne’s department store in the summer of 1947.

To browse the hundreds of hats in our collection, visit our collection on JSTOR.

Special Collections Technician, Textile & Costume Collection, Thomas Jefferson University

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