LOCKPORT – Top hats, bonnets, floppy hats and hats made from the entire breast of a bird, feathers intact.
These and more are part of the exhibit of vintage hats and accessories at the Will County Historical Museum and Research Center in Lockport. Styles range from the 19th century through the 1970s.
Susan Marbes, exhibit co-curator, said about 40 hats are in the spring and summer exhibit, which will be on display through August. The fall and winter exhibit also has about 40 hats. These will be available for viewing through mid-November at least.
“I like hats,” Marbes said. “I didn’t grow up with hats, except for church.”
During the Will County Historical Museum and Research Center’s 35 years, people donated a variety of hats, clothes, accessories and even looms, Marbes said. So why not exhibit them so the community can enjoy them?
“People don’t wear hats nowadays except for utilitarian hats,” Marbes said. “These have more character and flair to them. How much hats meant to women – it was part of the total woman.”
Dating the hats by era was the biggest challenge. But longtime area resident and former teacher RoseMarie Devine helped out quite a bit, Marbes said.
“She remembered going to hat shops in Joliet,” Marbes said. “She’s an ex-teacher, so she’s very knowledgeable.”
The way to date a hat, Marbes learned, is by the brim. From the 1800s to the 1960s, the brims gradually shrunk, Marbes said. The older hats with the widest brims were the hardest to categorize, she added.
Cloche or flapper hats were popular in the 1920s and 1930s, although they made a reappearance in the 1960s. Cloche hats are bell-shaped and have a brim, Marbes said. From the 1930s to the 1950s, brims gradually disappeared.
“I think hats were gone by the ’50s and then became playful things worn by Janis Joplin and those who wanted to stand out,” Marbes said.
Hats draw the viewer’s gaze to the face, Marbes said, which is the role of hairstyles now.
“The hairdo replaced the hat,” Marbes said.
It’s hard to know why men stopped wearing hats. A tall tale attributes it to John F. Kennedy, with the logic of, “If he doesn’t need to wear a hat, I don’t either,” Marbes said.
More likely, changes in transportation contributed to the change in headgear. The less men walked to work – or walked from the train station to work – the less they relied on hats to keep them warm and dry, Marbes said.
“Now that I have a car, I don’t need a hat,” Marbes said.
MaryEllen Godinez co-curated the exhibit with Marbes. Volunteers Christine Creadon, Devine, Ralph Sporck and Sandy Vasko contributed.
“MaryEllen did all my accessorizing – the jewelry, the gloves to give it that ‘pop,’” Marbes said.
Marbes invites the community to see the exhibit – and to wear a vintage hat if they own one.
“And tell us your story,” Marbes said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Exhibit of Vintage Hats and Accessories
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday to mid-November
WHERE: Will County Historical Museum and Research Center, 803 S. State St., Lockport
ETC: Spring and summer exhibit runs through August; fall and winter exhibit runs through mid-November. Call for tours at other hours.
ADMISSION: $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and $1 for children and students. Free for members.
GIFT SHOP: Many items, including: historic children’s games and toys; books and publications about Will County history; handmade bonnets, aprons and collars; Civil War hats; Native American artifact kits; and Lockport Canal Days collector plates.
INFORMATION: Call 815-838-5080 or visit willcohistory.org.