hat maker Angie Hall Sandifer, pictured Jan. 8,
2014, in St. Paul, Minn., the bigger the better.
She makes custom hats, large ladies hats, for the
most part for individual customers and shops in
St. Paul and New Orleans.
ó It took a long time before Angie Hall Sandifer
heeded her own words.
used to work a lot with kids ó Big Brothers, Big
Sisters, Girl Scout troops ó as a volunteer probation
officer," said the 50-something St. Paul, Minn.,
woman, "and one of the things I would tell them is
ĎAll you need to do is find your passion and follow
decade ago, she finally did just that.
most of her life, Sandifer wore many hats, figuratively
speaking. Now she makes hats.
floppy hats. Pert, stylish hats. Hats with feathers,
flowers, ribbons, beads. Hats like her mother and
grandmother used to wear to church in Gainesville, Fla.
Hats that her clients wear to Kentucky Derby parties, or
even the actual derby.
her company of one, Angieís Hats, produces scores of
handmade hats that are sold at Artists Mercantile in St.
Paul as well as at a New Orleans boutique. She also
makes custom hats in her Northern Warehouse Artists
Co-op studio in St. Paulís Lowertown.
definitely, absolutely have found my passion," she
said, cornrows framing her Mona Lisa smile.
passion is no simple procedure. The materials ó from
felt or straw base to flourishes such as feathers,
flowers, ribbons and rims ó have to be top-notch.
"You donít go to Michaelís to get a flower for
a hat," she said.
hats are handmade, except for occasional tasks on a
sewing machine. Over two days, materials are steamed,
heated, shaped, molded and blocked on a mannequin head.
the preparation for fulfilling clientsí requests is as
hands-on as the production. "I measure their head
and then we talk about the style, the fabric, the
feather, the flowers, the ribbon, what have you, if they
want it wired or floppy," Sandifer said. "And
then they come back for a fitting, and then if
adjustments need to be made, we do that."
of them come back for more.
Scharlau, a St. Paul hypnotherapist and performing
hypnotist, has bought about a dozen Sandifer hats since
spotting a couple of them five years ago at a St. Paul
wanted to combine the decor in one hat and the shape in
another," Scharlau said, "and she said, ĎSure,
I can do that.í She wants to really make sure you get
what you want."
buying some waltzing-around-town hats, Scharlau asked
Sandifer to make some for her performances as a
hypnotist. "She made three miniature top hats, and
on one of them the rim was made out of vintage neckties
because the shows have a retro feel."
makes the hats special, Scharlau said, is "a
luxurious quality. Iíll see people wearing one, and Iíll
recognize it and go talk to them. People have done the
same thing to me.
her bridal hats are off the hook. If I ever get married,
Iím totally, totally getting one."
her part, Sandifer would like to see women wear hats on
a lot more than just special occasions.
people put hats on, their whole attitude changes, their
whole persona," she said. "When you dress up,
you feel better about yourself. Weíre pretty frumpy
nowadays. We act different when we dress up, a lot
classier, more respectful. We stand a little taller,
speak a little clearer."
How did you end up in this profession?
I was working for Qwest, and they downsized in 2003.
They gave us retraining dollars. I was taking a desktop
computer class and started a project (an imaginary hat
company), building a website, brochures, fliers. And it
took on a life of its own. I went to different websites
and found these beautiful hats. I loved hats, so I
bought a line of hats to sell, but then I decided,
"I donít want to sell hats. I want to make
How did you train?
I found a master milliner teacher in Wilmington, N.C. I
went to her house from 7 to 3 every day and then came
back to my hotel and tried to duplicate what she had
shown me. It was tough. I was clueless, but I was
tenacious. I kept trying and trying and working at it,
and then one day some real hats showed up.
Does it take special skills?
Attention to detail, knowing your customer, what shape
fits them. Really just listening to the customer. A lot
of time you might have an idea for them, but you go with
what they say. Ö Iíve always been very organized,
very disciplined, very methodical about how to do
things. The balance (of elements in the hat) has to be
there, the proportion. I have to like it.
Are there sacrifices?
Since I started this, I have felt driven, truly
inspired, and it was like nothing or nobody was going to
get in my way. I was dating someone at the time, and I
would say, "No, I need to do one more thing; I need
to get this right." And it was like I didnít have
time for him. I was thinking, "Men will come and
go, but Iíve got to get this right."
Whatís the best part?
When the customer is thrilled. When they put that hat on
and then thereís a big smile.
The worst part?
I do get burned. I get steamed. Some of the straw, it
scratches me. The wire, I almost get poked in the eye.
Whatís your most popular hat?
Definitely the cloche, that Roaring Ď20s thing.
Do you make hats only for women?
I do a fedora that works for both genders, but my prime
customer base is professional Caucasian women, 40 to 60.
How has mastering hat-making helped you in other parts
of your life?
I never really thought I was a people person, but I
truly, truly enjoy working with my customers. I tell
them to come in, play with stuff, try something on. We
have a really good time doing this.
You work in an artistsí co-op. Do you consider
hat-making an art?
I think a lot of people do have a hard time accepting it
as an art. I had a hard time seeing it myself, but as I
move more toward the creative side, I get it.