Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What's new at the museum, you ask?

Hats. Lots and lots of hats.

I have been going through the giant boxes of hats the S.O. and I took down from the attic last month. Some of the hats are kind of interesting; others are just flat out bizarre.

The gem to the right, for example, definitely falls into the bizarre camp. The astute observer may notice that there is a tag dangling from it. Not surprisingly, that's a price tag and not a museum label. As far as I can tell, the museum got a whole lot of hats that were unsold merchandise from the Skogmos store in L'Anse. I've never been much of a fashionista, but I think it's safe to say that customers for a hat that looks like it's made from recycled trash bags would be few and far between.

Most of the unsold hats, in fact, probably date from about the same time period -- the mid to late 1960s, right about the time ladies hats followed the dodo into the dust bins of history -- and are made from strange, definitely plastic-like materials. Did the use of the such obviously cheap materials contribute to the failure of the hats to move off the shelves? Probably.

Not all the hats are strange. There were some kind of nifty hats in the giant box I've been slowly emptying. The one to the left is a good quality hat. It's covered with feathers that have been dyed teal blue and has some interesting detailing on the crown. I kind of like it. I could see wearing a hat like that if it was 50+ years ago and I was into hats. It was not remaindered from the Skogmo's attic; someone actually wore it. Who exactly that was is, of course, a mystery. As I noted in a previous post, most of the hats fall into the category of "provenance unknown." There must have been a good 3 dozen hats crammed into the cardboard carton. I think one had a note pinned to it indicating that a specific person "wore this hat to church every Sunday."

Of course, the unsold hats are easy. They have Skogmo's price tags so we know for sure they came from a store in L'Anse that is now known as Oralie's. Skogmo's was part of a conglomerate that also included Gambles hardware stores. When the parent corporation went bankrupt in the 1980's, the woman who had the Skogmo's franchise in L'Anse stayed open but changed the name of the store. And it's still open, which always amazes me. It has to be a case of the overhead on the store is so low -- it's been in the same building for over 70 years so odds are there is no mortgage -- that it doesn't take many sales to keep it profitable. I haven't been in that store in several years, though, so for all I know it's packed full of hip and trendy merchandise and business is booming. I doubt it, but one never knows.

There are a few hats that look like they may have been made locally. I've been told that a lady named Bonnie Michels was a milliner. In fact, there were a couple loose index cards in the box saying "Made by Bonnie Michels," but unfortunately those labels weren't attached to any specific hats. Which is a shame. I'd love to know if Mrs. Michels was responsible for a hat that has a snail crawling up one side -- or something that looks a lot like a snail. It didn't come from a factory. It's all hand stitched and there's no union label. All the hats that are obviously factory-made have union labels even if they don't always have designer or company names. 

The snail hat actually comes close to qualifying as a fascinator instead of a hat, but it'll stay on a person's head without help so technically it's a hat. Apparently fascinators can be as substantial as hats but qualify more as giant barrettes. They have to be fastened to the wearer's hair with hair pins or combs or they don't stay on.

The hat to the left is definitely a hat. It's a product of the Merrimac Hat Corporation of Amesbury, Massachusetts. At one time, Merrimac was the largest hat manufacturer in the country. You name the style of hat and they made it, everything from ladies hats to Brownie Scout beanies. Back in the 1940s Elizabeth Taylor did celebrity endorsements for the company. I'm not sure what time period this particular hat is from; when I Googled the company and went looking for images, it became apparent some styles of hats were popular across multiple decades.

I may actually be wrong, too, about when the popularity of hats peaked. According to one website, the best year Merrimac ever had was in 1949. It was downhill from there, and the company closed in the early 1970s.

In any case, I think I've catalogued about 3 dozen hats so far. I'm trying to pack the inventoried ones away a little more carefully than I found them. In an ideal world, like if we were a museum with a huge budget and proper storage, each hat would have its own individual container. As it is, I'm stuffing them with tissue paper to help them hold their shape, wrapping them in more tissue, and then stashing them carefully in fairly small boxes and totes. Theoretically, if they're packed really loose and not stacked on top of each other, they should look a lot better for the next person who looks at them than they did when I found them.


  1. I remember Gambles, used to be pretty good stores to shop in.

  2. They're not really for keeping your head warm , are they?


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.