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Degas_The Milliners_Getty

Degas, The Milliners. 1882.

For those of us who love our hats the current exhibit on at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco is a must see.

Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade is an exploration of hats in Paris reflected in the works of Impressionists including Degas, who himself came from a fashion oriented family, Renoir, Cassatt, Manet, and Toulouse-Lautrec among others.

Degas_Portrait of Zacharian_Private Collection

Degas, Portrait of Zacharian. 1885.

Each of these artists took an interest in the making of hats and the women who wore them. Among the 40 works of art are images of milliners at work, hat shops, and women in conversation donning spectacular chapeaux often draped in ribbons or topped with colorful plumes. But what about les hommes? They are represented as well looking oh so dashing in top hats, bowlers, and boaters too.

The array of paintings come from Musée d’Orsay, the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the St. Louis Museum of Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Hats were an essential accessory at the time for both men and women. Business was booming with 1000 milliners working in the city of Paris during the hat’s peak, 1875-1914. The hats themselves were glamorous as were the ladies who wore them, but for the milliners and shop girls life was hard work and long hours – a part of the story Degas in particular wanted to tell.

Degas_MKT_38I liked seeing the large and beautiful posters of the era by Toulouse-Lautrec, selling products with ladies in hats. In each room there are also display cases of hats. A collection of 40, including boaters and bonnets, bowlers and everyone’s favorite – the Picture Hat, which has a very large brim and is often adorned with lace, silk flowers, feathers, birds, you name it!

The exhibit is a manageable size allowing for a second walk-around, if desired.  The day I visited I was a little taken aback by what I fear might be a growing trend in museums – selfies and photos of oneself taken by another.

There was an older woman all dolled up in a hat, who asked other attendees to take a photo of her in front of EVERY SINGLE piece of work in the exhibit. My friend and I were looking at one painting when this woman walked right in front of us and stood by the piece, posing for a photo completely oblivious to our presence. A group of young girls were darting around taking selfies in front various works. It was an interruption to our experience and I have to wonder if these photo-hounds have any real interest in art.

I understand that museums are trying to appeal to everyone and apparently allowing selfies is one way to get people in the door, but at what cost? I think we have a problem when it becomes all about the viewer and the art is simply a background for someone’s photo.

That aside, as an appreciator of art and museums, and one mad woman for hats, I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit.

Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade on now through September 24, 2017 at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Click here for more details.

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Image courtesy of Schiffer Publishing.

Image courtesy of Schiffer Publishing.

We ladies love our hats. Well, at least some of us in the 21st century do. But in times past most women enjoyed sporting a handsome hat and even if they didn’t, the proper chapeau was an essential element to a well-conceived ensemble. Everyone wore a hat, ladies and gentlemen alike.

For modern-day hat gals, Schiffer Publishing has just come out with Decades of Hats, 1900s to the 1970s, by Sue Nightingale. A handy reference book, Decades of Hats opens with an introduction by Ms. Nightingale, an avid vintage clothing collector, offering a brief overview of women’s hat history – trends over the decades and what societal events influenced the trends. That’s most of the text, the bulk of the book is reprinted illustrations of hats with descriptions from catalogues and magazine ads.

A serious hat enthusiast could spend quite some time on each page poring over illustrations of bonnets, cloches, caps and pills. Something interesting that I noticed was that the beret hit the scene in the 1920s and shows up in every decade after (the beret is a mainstay for me). Decades of Hats is also a useful guide for costumers and folks who like to dress up for period events. Flip to the right chapter and discover numerable examples of what was worn when. Milliners and designers will find great inspiration from studying the illustrations, and fashion history buffs would reach for this book repeatedly.

Decades of Hats, 1900s to the 1970s by Sue Nightingale is a welcome addition to any fashionable’s collection.

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