By Myra Lee Adams Goff
An interesting change took place recently in one of the Sophienburg Museum’s displays. Switching from one end to the other, the shoe display was changed to hats and all details of millinery. The hats on display belonged to NB women, made of straw, horsehair, and velvet. The decorations are wonderful; ostrich feathers, ribbons, beads, flowers, dyed snails and jet black beads. Did you, like me, think that “jet black” was merely a color? Not so; jet is a dense black coal that can be polished and used for jewelry.
Records show that hat making was a big business and there were several in NB. Anna Huebinger had a shop upstairs at Eiband and Fischer and later on San Antonio Street close to Henne’s. Our photograph is of milliner Minnie Reinarz who in the early 1900s ran a millinery shop on East Mill. The amazing thing about Minnie is that she lost her right arm in an accident and thereby did all that intricate work on hats with only a left hand.
The museum display was put together by the collection ladies under the guidance of Program Director Keva Boardman.Our hats off to you, ladies. Boardman says that the choice of hats that a lady wore could tell you a lot about society and what was going on in the lady’s life at the time. For example, does the lady want to appear prim and proper? Then place the hat squarely on the head (no feather, please). Does the lady want to appear fun-loving? Then place the hat cocked to one side. Feathers and other frivolous items will do fine here. And finally, to show that a lady was in mourning, the hat must be black with a veil hiding the face and certainly no feathers here.
According to history, hats were the property of men until the late 1700’s. When you look up the etymology of “hat” you find that an ancient word for shelter or protection was “hast or hutte”. The German word for hat is “Hut”. In the past we would belt out the song “Mein Hut er hat drei Ecken”, or “My hat, it has three corners”. This song was possibly written to dispel the unpopular and insulting term “square-headed German”. Think about it; you can’t put a three cornered hat on a four cornered head So there!.
Women’s hats were a must at most social gatherings up until the 1960’s. Even here in NB, hats could always be seen at church and in downtown stores, even grocery stores. I can remember my grandmother wearing a hat every time she left the house to visit friends and relatives.
Believe it or not, hats, like foot binding, led to legislation in the past. A law stated that no hat could be decorated with whole birds or whole wings, only feathers.The killing of birds for that purpose became a business and the Audabon Society fought for twenty years to make that practice illegal.
Another law regulated hat pins that held the hat on to the head. Used as a lethal weapon, stabbings and scrapings sometimes happened. This puts a different meaning to the statement, “Like me, like my hat”. Laws in the early 1900s regulated how far the pin could protrude and required hat pin protectors. Galveston even restricted hatpins from being worn on public transportation. Although not made into law, firm suggestions at theaters encouraged women to remove their hats.
In the 1920s when the controversial “bobbed” hair for women became a sign of rebellion, hat pins and their laws were forgotten. The hats of that era, called cloches were bell-shaped and close-fitting and required no pin.
Will hats become the rage again? Never say never. This year alone, I have been to three functions where the entertainment was to wear your favorite hat.