The height of Chicago’s millinery scene was in the 1940s. African-Americans such as Miss Minnie Coleman (left), clerk, and Miss Selma Barbour (right), managed the Cecilian Specialty Hat Shop, 454 East 47th Street, Chicago, Illinois. Many women at the time trained to be milliners, which considered a respectable career until hats lost popularity in the 1960s. On the north side, there was Bes-Ben Hats, which had a boutique at the Drake Hotel.
Hats by both the Cecilian and Bes-Ben were often worn at Easter church services. Women could keep their hats on while men were expected to remove inside the premises as a sign of respect. Pews often had discrete little clips to hold the hat. Those clips can still be found on old pews today. The Easter tradition particularly thrived in 1940s when war-time restrictions limited the amount of fabric that could be used in attire, but not hats.
Chapeaux continued to be popular during the 1950s and 1960s with Chicago as an important training ground for milliners. Raymond Hudd’s reputation as a celebrity milliner rose during the 1960s – he made Phyllis Diller’s hats. Halston got his start as a Chicago hat designer before he segued into designing couture clothing in New York City.
Hats became less popular for various beginning in the 1960s. Now Chicago is the only place in the U.S. where milliners can take classes for college credit (the Art Institute of Chicago).
Image: “Miss Minnie Coleman (left), clerk, and Miss Selma Barbour (right), manager of the Cecilian Specialty Hat Shop, 454 East 47th Street, Chicago, Illinois,” this 1940s photo show two African-American women in the South Side shop where they worked. Many women at the time trained to be milliners, which considered a respectable career until hats lost popularity in the 1960s. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, fsa 8e04945)
About the author: Mary Beth Klatt, a Chicago native, has been interested in fashion since she was a child and liked sketching models with a box of crayons. She has taught sewing at Vogue Fabrics, the Midwest’s premiere fabric source and Columbia College, the city’s premiere arts college. She’s currently writing an iPhone app for yarn, a companion to another fashion-related app: ✄ Fabric U ✄.
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