A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

July 1997

1920's Hats

by Dr. Tina Brewster Wray, Curator of Collections


"Another popular shopping place and Auburn business success ... what is known as the Auburn Hat Shop, an up-to-date and Modern Millinery Establishment conducted by Mrs. E. Hall and Miss M. Wachtman. ... A large line of millinery is always on display appropriate to the season and their styles and prices will always be found to meet all competition of any of the larger cities."

Washington Co-operator, Dec. 13, 1923 

1920's Hats

Fashion always reflects the values of its time, but perhaps none with such clarity as the styles of the 1920's. The end of World War I and women winning the vote set the stage for a focus on youth, the pursuit of pleasure and the casting-off of many of the previous era's social, economic, political and moral restrictions on women. Reflecting these changes in women's roles and behavior were significant changes in women's fashions. Corsets were abandoned and hemlines rose to the knee, giving women greater freedom of movement. Clothing was loose-fitting and favored lightweight materials that draped and moved with the wearer. The fashionable ideal was a slim, boyish figure that Vogue described dryly as having "a curveless similarity to a boa constrictor."

In the 1920's women's hats mirrored the changes in dress styles. Most of the wires and stiffening were taken out, leaving them lightweight, flexible and more comfortable than their predecessors. Rather than having their own shape, they conformed to the shape of the woman's head. ClocheThe most popular hat style of the period was the cloche -- a soft (most often felt), close-fitting helmet-like hat with a small brim -- which copied the new sleek bobbed hairdos. Hats for sports and casual daytime wear were trimless and low-key, set off with a plain ribbon or other minor garnish. Evening cloches and formal spring and summer hats with droopy wide brims were embellished with a wealth of detail that included beading, applique, embroidery and festoons of ribbons, feathers and artificial flowers.

Although inexpensive hats could be purchased through mail-order catalogs and at the large chain stores, wealthier women, or those seeking a hat for a special occasion, would go to a local milliner whose handcrafted, high quality hats reflected her artistic interpretation of the latest Paris styles. In the 1920's, Auburn had two millinery stores, one of which was the Auburn Hat Shop, owned and managed by Mrs. Emily (Wachtman) Hall. Mrs. Hall was born in Tacoma, and in 1915 began working as a trimmer in Miss Richards Hat Shop at 319 West First St., Auburn. In 1918, Emily bought the store from Miss Richards and renamed it the Auburn Hat Shop, which she ran with the assistance of her two sisters, Minnie and Lilly. In 1921 they moved to 25 East Main. Betty Bradshaw Ulleberg recalls visiting the Auburn Hat Shop with her mother,

"It was a small place filled with hats -- hats on stands and piles of soft berets on the counters. At the rear of the shop was a tiny sitting room area where Mrs. Hall would serve tea to her customers. She had her workroom behind a curtain in the back. I remember the shop as being warm and comfortable -- it was a social place for the ladies of Auburn to meet."

The business was sold to a Mrs. Steele in 1926.

The Auburn Hat Shop will be featured as one of the new exhibits at the White River Valley Museum. The display should include a large selection of hats of the period, both the cloche-type, and formal large-brimmed hats. Unfortunately our collection of hats from this era is quite small, so we would like to make a special request for donations of 1920's hats to help create an exhibit which is visually rich, realistic and informative. Call me at (253) 288-7438 if you know of available twenties style hats.

Dr. Tina Brewster Wray