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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Monday, August 5, 2013

WOMEN'S HATS (What Happened to Them?)

You know how it is.  You wake up in the middle of the night and your mind goes wandering through strange places and old memories.  Mine ended up thinking about hats, the millinery kind that women used to wear in the fifties.

I grew up in a small farm town in northeastern Nebraska.  From early on, I “worked” not so much for the money, but because Dad said it developed a certain kind of character.  I remember working in his creamery on Saturday nights writing out “cream checks” to farmers who brought their eggs and cream to sell.  Then it was manning the popcorn counter at the Gay Theater where we’d sneak peeks at the Sunday afternoon matinees (Remember, “Three Coins in the Fountain?”);  and then clerking at Felber’s Drug Store where I made fantastic Superdupers (three dips of icecream, layered with caramel sauce and chocolate syrup, topped with whipped cream, cashew nuts and a cherry), but couldn’t get the hang of all the pharmaceutical names.  I particularly didn’t understand why college boys became jittery when they asked for condoms.  They needn’t have worried—I didn’t know what the packages of “Big Boar” were for.

Swan’s Women Clothing on Main Street was considered to be the best store for the “better” clothes.  To be more fashionable, you’d go out of town to Norfolk or Sioux City to shop; and vice versa, their customers would come to Swan’s.  During my last year in high school and two years at Wayne State College, I worked at the store (my purchases always exceeded my pay).   New clothes from the Chicago markets for June would come in the latter part of January, Christmas merchandise arrived in July. 

Swans sold garter belts and nylon stockings with seams (seamless were just becoming available, and of course, no fashionable woman would wear seamless stockings—too casual, too radical).  The stockings came in thin, flat boxes and we’d spread our hand in the top of the stockings to show how sheer they were. Girdles were another matter—not just the kind that held your tummy in, but tight monstrous armor that took a full measure of imagination to help a lady into one in the dressing rooms. 

And voile dresses—soft, colorful print, dressy.  When sweater dresses were introduced, ladies were amazed and gobbled them up.

Then the millinery.  

What fascinated me were women’s hats.  Beautiful, elegant creations of finely woven straw, soft felts, satin, veils--colors to die for.  The hats were displayed on manikin heads along a room-wide mirrored wall.  Although the hats were meant for women and not a teenager, as they were unpacked I’d try each one on dreaming of the day I’d be old enough to wear one.

The hat I wanted most was a dark navy straw that fit snugly on the head with a long magnificent, multicolor pheasant feather sweeping wide from the front and a dark veil that reached to the chin.   I’d try it on several times a day until one Sunday, I saw it in church on the head of a lady sitting in the next pew.

So here’s the picture of Mrs. Hitchcock, with tight perm curls spilling over her forehead, fanning herself with the church bulletin:

A woman in her late forties, her body reformed (significantly) by a 
girdle, dressed in a navy and cream flowered, full-skirted voile 
dress with a round neckline and satin binding, nylons with the 
seams “straight”, navy pumps and matching gloves, and topped 
with my pheasant-feather hat!  

Ah . . . such dreamy memories.  Oh, Oh. I think I just heard a noise. It’s my alarm going off. Time for me to wake up, pull on my jeans and tee-shirt and get on with my day.



  1. What wonderful stories that bring bad a lot of good memories.

  2. Your memories brought back some of my own. Those were sweet times. I remember getting excited to go shopping for my Easter outfit because I would be able to get a hat and feel so grown up! I even wrote a blog myself about Easter bonnets. Enjoyed reading this so much, Bobi!