When I first began rescuing discarded millinery pieces from the bottom of thrift store bins in 1998, I learned that many a would-be museum donor had been turned away from mainstream museums. I heard again and again that their attempts to gift these facilities with their vintage and antique hats were all but laughed at. Most were directed to theatre groups, and told that the museum in question had no room to store hats (a legitimate concern), but these self same caretakers of our cultural history, were regularly exhibiting period costume ensembles without the complementary headwear they were originally designed to be worn with.
This, to me, is evidence of how far hats fell out of fashion, in the latter decades of the 20th century. Many have forgotten that until the 1970s, no self-respecting woman would be seen at a function without a hat. The many strict social imperatives around the wearing of a hat rightly contributed to the decline (some say demise) of the North American millinery trade, an important marker in fashion history. But this decline is an important cultural milestone in fashion history. For museums to ignore hats, that fashion accessory so iconic of the great age of millinery (1770 to 1970) is to do a dis-service to those who have grown up never wearing or even seeing a high-fashion hat.
Over the years, I have collected over 2500 high fashion 19th and 20th century hats, using them to establish the Mobile Millinery Museum, a unique travelling museum whose working hats have entertained thousands and raised funds for diverse worthy causes. A good portion of the collection can be viewed in my book, 1,000 Hats.
The museum has expanded to house a vintage costume archive, so as I continue to accept donations of long-ago hats, I am also collecting and preserving all manner of outdated clothing from Granny’s girdles to 19th and 20th century men’s, women’s and children’s clothing from all eras.
If you’re looking for a home for your unwanted vintage and antique clothing, accessories and textiles, look no further than the Mobile Millinery Museum and Costume Archive where we preserve, catalogue, exhibit and treasure all manner of fashions from a by-gone era.