Haven for hats

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In days gone by, hats sat perched atop the head of any fashion conscious woman.

Women today don hats for special events such as the Kentucky Derby and weddings. They don’t, however, consider them an integral piece of their wardrobe.

Trisha Echols of Shelby cherishes the day when they did.

“They didn’t go out of the house for church on Sunday without wearing a hat,” Echols said.

Echols inherited her first two hats –– crocheted pieces in burgundy and mustard yellow from the 1920s –– from her own mother. She now holds in her possession 70 vintage hats from the 1920s to more recent pieces from the 1980s.

Looking through her collection, she longs for the hats given away.

“I began to realize how much I wish I had more of my mother and grandmother’s hats, so I started my search,” she said.

Echols makes her discoveries at flea markets, estate sales and in friend’s closets. She said each discovery envelops her with excitement.

“I love finding something completely different from what I have,” Echols said. “I just think they are so pretty –– some are plain, some are fancy –– I love the detail that was put into making the hats.”

The oldest pieces in her vintage collection include three hats from the 1880s to 1890s. She even owns a black velvet cape to match one straw bonnet.

Fashionable women throughout history directed the latest shapes and fabrics, Echols said.

Jacqueline Kennedy made the pillbox all the rage, while Princess Diana elegantly put millineries back to work in the 1980s when she brought hats back in fashion.

Echols gushed over the pieces in her own display.

“This black one, covered in daisies, I call it my ‘Driving Miss Peggy’ hat,” she said.

Miss Peggy is 97-year-old Peggy Smith of Birmingham. Smith is Echols’ aunt and the founder of the Fleur de lis Garden Club, which Echols spoke to about her collection last week.

The women in the club span generations, but all oohed and aahed over Echol’s display.

“I used to just have boxes of hats in the top of my closet,” said Lucie Ellard of Mountain Brook. “It sort of elevates you to wear a hat.”

The women of Fleur de lis lament the days when a hat displayed a person’s flair for style.

Mary Gann of Vestavia stood a little taller, wearing around a black and cream feathered cap.

“When I see women today wearing hats, I still think they look elegant. I might just sneak out with this one,” Gann said laughing.