Elegance in an Age of Crisis has closed (the last day was April 19, 2014), but you can still read the accompanying book and visit the online version of the exhibition. Below is the label text that was displayed in our gallery, featuring hats from the 1930s:
Hats were vital to the well-dressed woman’s wardrobe during the 1930s, and therefore received more editorial coverage than any other type of accessory. Millinery was a relatively inexpensive way to update an ensemble, and a simple change of hat could transform the formality of an outfit. A woman’s choice of hat was also thought to be an indicator of her personality.
The smart hat styles of the 1930s evolved from the closely-fitted cloche of the previous decade. Some of the most sophisticated examples—based on men’s hats—were worn angled over the face. Although their construction was often complex, their streamlined appearance complemented bias-cut clothing.
To showcase the wonderful examples of 1930s millinery from Elegance in an Age of Crisis, we bring you excerpts from Colleen Hill‘s (MFIT associate curator of accessories) essay in the accompanying book—”Great Chic from Little Details Grows: Women’s Accessories in the 1930s”:
During a time of severe economic depression, accessories were perceived as relatively inexpensive items that could be used to update and sustain an existing wardrobe. Vogue heralded 1931 as the “Great Hat Year” – not just because millinery styles were novel and interesting, but also because they “were a considerable factor in stemming the tide of depression that was another phenomenon of that momentous year.”
Hill goes on to describe the hat pictured below:
In the February 15, 1932, issue of Vogue, a short editorial was devoted to the trend for “diagonalistic” gowns – asymmetrical sheaths of silk by Mirande, Régny, and Worth that spiraled gracefully around the body. Similarly, many hats were designed to evoke movement in the ways they angled over the face and head. Rather than framing the face as closely as possible, these hats were cut to reveal the forehead, and were also meant to showcase longer hair. A cocktail hat of around 1933 from MFIT, sold at Henri Bendel, exemplifies this idea: a shallow, rounded brim sweeps down over the right eye, while a high, curving crown extends dramatically upward. The brim and crown are then topstitched and stuffed using a trapunto technique, the diagonal lines of which reinforce the hat’s angled silhouette.
…This design is expressive but relatively simple; it relies on a juxtaposition of materials (straw and silk jersey), and highlights construction (using the aforementioned topstitching) over applied surface decoration. While trimmings such as flowers and feathers had returned to some millinery designs after their near-disappearance in the latter half of the 1920s, they were markedly simpler than the elaborate embellishments seen on hats prior to World War I.
By the early 1930s, newly “masculine” hat styles began to make regular appearances in fashion editorials. Sometimes resembling a man’s bowler, other times paying closer homage to the fedora, they shared a quality of casual elegance, and could be paired with almost any daytime ensemble. The origin of this trend, like so many in fashion, cannot be traced to a single initiator. With the sudden ubiquity of the cloche in the 1920s, however, a number of men’s hat makers, already experts in producing felt hats, began to produce styles for women also. Greta Garbo (who worked as a model and a milliner’s assistant prior to embarking on her film career) also influenced women’s fashion with her taste for slouched felt hats. Rarely were any of these hats mere copies of menswear styles, however. Although not as severely modern as the cloche, their intricate folds, tucks, and stitching techniques were fresh and subtly complex. A 1933 advertisement for women’s hats by Stetson perhaps best summarized the style: “They look casual,” it asserted, but “considerable artistry is involved in achieving the spirited simplicity that is the secret of the new hats.”
Also dating to the mid-1930s, a hat in dark green felt showcases the decorative topstitching commonly used on later examples of masculine-inspired hats [below]. Rows of minute stitches pucker the felt, forming narrow ridges in geometric patterns. The brim of the hat is also stitched to the crown at the sides and back, giving it its unique silhouette.
By 1936, however, many of the simple, masculine hats were being replaced by designs of a dramatically different silhouette. Styles with exaggerated crowns, in particular, began to dominate fashion editorials. Some were quite elaborate, made from draped swags of fabric, or heavily trimmed, while others seemed to combine the streamlined look of earlier styles with the new silhouette. A brown felt hat from the collection of MFIT demonstrates the mix of old and new ideas, featuring a folded brim and a high, peaked crown that is highlighted by glove stitches in heavy white thread [below]. It was made by Florence Reichman, a New York milliner who specialized in “not too extreme millinery.” The hat’s donor, Janet Chatfield-Taylor, was a fashion editor at Vogue and thus would have been especially attuned to the ever-evolving trends in headwear.
Tweet us your thoughts on 1930s accessories with #1930sFashion, and if you haven’t made it in to see Trend-ology, the exhibition is still on through April 30, 2014!