hats from the Minnesota Historical Society’s
digital photo archive, ranging in year from 1910
to the 1940s and 1960s.
the feathers on these hats are subtle — a single
plume. Others are gathered in giant puffs. And one hat
boasts three stuffed hummingbirds.
Minnesota Historical Society staffer has digitized 717
women’s hats from the organization’s massive
collections, making images of their brims and grand
embellishments available to the public. They range from
straw hats donned in the 1860s to pink pussy hats women
wore during women’s marches in 2017, nodding to
historical realities and political moments along the
Stephanie Olson, a collections associate, more than a
year to pose, photograph and post all the hats. Some
have popped up in recent exhibitions, she said, but most
go unseen, stored in temperature-controlled cabinets.
“A very small portion of our collection is ever on
display,” she said.
was also inspired by a more personal reason: “I really
like hats,” she said.
fellow hat lovers can pore over boaters, pillboxes and
chic 1960s turbans via the Historical Society’s
searchable search.mnhs.org photo archives.
a black velvet Merry Widow-style hat that spans 22
inches. Felt cloche hats in a rainbow of colors. A pink
satin hat covered in delicate ivory beads.
think they’re cool and beautiful,” Olson said.
“The ones that we have, most of them are in such great
the 1860s, women in the United States wore bonnets. Hats
were constructed out of straw, so “most wouldn’t
have survived,” Olson said. But the Historical Society
has a few, plus others from that era made of velvet.
decades, headcoverings were popular and essential.
“Before 1905, you wouldn’t leave the house without a
hat,” she said. They were also wide — to shield
wearers from the sun. Once cars became covered, hats got
smaller so they were easier to wear inside an
interesting to see how they evolved,” said Olson, who
has worked at the society since 2012.
more than any other clothing accessory, headgear “has
played an important role in defining cultural values and
social status throughout history,” according to the
book “Women’s Hats of the 20th Century,” by
Maureen Reilly and Mary Beth Detrich. The “glory
days” spanned 1935 to 1946, the authors claim, after
the Great Depression and before World War II, when women
could acquire the latest fashions. “New designers
stepped into the spotlight with an array of styles that
glowed with wit, charm and elegance,” the book says.
the era of the tilt hat, angled steeply and often
adorned with a pouf of veil.
uses former owners’ notes, the hats’ labels and a
host of books and documents to date each headpiece for
the digital archive, narrowing most to a decade.
and in person, people have become more interested in
seeing vintage fashion, Olson noted. “My personal
feeling is that TV shows have helped,” including the
British historical drama “Downton Abbey,” set in the
hat heyday of the 1910s and ’20s. “People see these
fantastic clothes and realize, oh, those are real
Olson is digitizing designer fashion. She began by
focusing on Minnesota dressmakers — the state boasted
several prominent designers from the 1870s to the 1920s
— but has since broadened her project to include the
collection’s Oscar de la Renta and Diane von
easier to photograph, though. Dresses involve fragile
materials, full mannequins and underpinnings, including
the hats, I could do several in a day,” Olson said.
“With the dresses, sometimes I’m working on a single
dress for a week.”