Hat lady on a mission to bring back lost style
Madelyne Imrie didn’t have to attend a royal wedding to learn that a hat can be a crowning glory. Her mother was a milliner. Her father made dresses. She grew up surrounded by style makers and appreciates sartorial flourish.
So when she learned the “hat lady” was bringing her exhibition to Clair Hills Retirement Community in Waterloo, Imrie donned a cheery chapeau to match her dress.
“We always wore hats,” says Imrie, 94. She remembers having a special hat perched on her head when she met Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto in 1997.
Imrie came to the hat show with a hat box containing the going-away hat she wore after her 1953 wedding. She joined a mainly female audience to listen intently as Norma Shephard talked about the history and social relevance of hats.
Shephard loves wearing vintage items. Hats are a fashion piece for her, but they also reflect major changes in the social evolution of women and society, she told the audience.
Shephard explained the provenance and social context of each headpiece as it was gently removed from its hatbox by her white-gloved husband, Jim.
“All of our foremothers used to wear hats,” she said. Women nodded in agreement. But hats fell out of fashion in the 1970s for reasons including social and religious changes, beehive hairdos that didn’t work with hats, and the popularity of casual dress.
“I’m doing my best to bring them back,” Shephard said.
As founder and director of the Mobile Millinery Museum, Shephard has collected more than 2,500 hats, storing them in a climate-controlled facility in Burlington.
She showcases a selection of vintage millinery for special events. The historian and author of several books about fashion and hats is also the subject of a biography about her millinery passion. “The Hat Lady” was written by Patricia Boyle.
Shephard’s travelling exhibition comes to life when hats are placed on models such as Clair Hills staff members Paula Parejo and Carine Brunet. The two young women brought a youthful perspective.
“I felt pretty glamorous wearing the hats that I modelled for the show. It made me think that we as a generation are missing out,” Parejo said. “Some of the styles were so light and comfortable, I think those styles in a regular wardrobe would have dressed you up without even trying.”
Shephard started collecting hats almost 30 years ago. It distressed her to see beautiful items discarded in thrift-shop bins. Beyond the beauty and fashion, there is a story of the individual who owned each hat, and the era in which it was popular.
Shephard identifies three major stages in the women’s movement that are associated with hats: