The Power Of Hats

(Illustration: Adele Nichols)

To say my love affair with hats began in the 1990s when I started collecting millinery would be inaccurate. As a child, each Sunday, I stood on a pew backwards, mouth agape, facing a sea of beautiful hats. Presumably, there were people beneath them, but all I saw were the hats. Even now, I have difficulty looking people in the eye, having trained myself to seek the beauty above. Indeed, some mysterious power resides in hats.   

Three of anything constitutes a collection, and finding three crushed but beautiful antique hats is how the Mobile Millinery Museum came into being. As the archive grew to house over 3,000 artifacts, I can vouch for the power hats imbue. I once showed a 1940s flowered tilt hat to an audience, eliciting a teary response from a woman who remembered her mother, in a similar hat, peering down at her as she was wheeled out of surgery. “Mother having taken time to look pretty in that hat,” said the woman, “told me I would be alright.”  

(Illustration: Adele Nichols)

Once, a museum donor laughed when she handed me an orange floral topper she had made herself. “I attended court in this for a traffic violation,” she explained. “but the judge told me since I could light up his courtroom in such a hat, he wouldn’t give me a fine.” 

On another occasion, I hesitated over showing a fragile blue feathered number by designer Philip Warde. A woman in my audience showed excitement at seeing his valued creation, because as a milliner, she had taught Warde the art of blocking hats and then followed his career. Hearing that hats were regaining interest, she was determined to restart her millinery career at the age of 90!  

My favourite hat? It is always the next spectacular piece I discover.  

Norma Shephard is Director of the Mobile Millinery Museum, which she relocated to Lunenburg this year. Learn more online at


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