Tag Archives: hats

Benjamin B. Green-Field, or Chicago’s Bes-Ben

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Chicago this spring was to see the Mainbocher exhibition (more about that later) at the Chicago History Museum. I had a feeling that there would be more of interest there than that exhibition, and I  was not disappointed. I was delighted to see that the fashion gallery was named for Chicago milliner Benjamin Green-Field, who worked under the label, Bes-Ben.

Benjamin and his sister Bessie, (get it? Bes, Ben.) opened a millinery shop in Chicago in 1919. The business was successful, and by the late 1920s there were five Bes-Ben shops in Chicago.  In 1939 Bessie got married and left the business. As WWII loomed, Benjamin had to get creative as materials began to get scarce and were eventually rationed. He began to incorporate non-traditional millinery materials into his designs. Everything from toy animals to playing cards became a part of a Bes-Ben hat.  Women loved them.

The Bes-Ben material is scattered around the galleries, but it’s not hard to recognize it when you see it.  This hat was designed in 1957 to celebrate the opening of an exhibition in Chicago of the work of Pablo Picasso.

In an area devoted to the industries and stores of Chicago, I found this display of five Bes-Ben hats.

“Women’s hat, black velvet with chenille bees, early 1960s”

Top: “Navy straw with applique butterflies, 1956”

Bottom: “Grey wool with floral embroidery, 1960s”

“Woman’s hat, black linen with embroidery and mirrors, 1958”

Bes-Ben hats did not come cheap, but at the end of each season all remaining hats were put on sale for five dollars each. The only catch was that you had to be outside the store at 2 am the day of the sale, when the hats were thrown out of the window.  Lucky catchers of hats paid their $5 and went home with a real prize!

Not only were his hats whimsical, Green-Field himself was a bit of a character. He wore this suit in the 1970s.

Today, Bes-Ben hats are highly collectible – the crazier the design, the higher the price tag.

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Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Museums

1940s Hat with Everything

So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaity into a world burdened with problems.

It might seem that the above words could have been written today, but actually the year was 1943.  The world was embroiled in a horrible conflict that required the citizens of the world to be brave, and to present a brave face even in the midst of fear.  Teacher and writer Grace Margaret Morton wrote the words in her book, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance.  They sum up perfectly the view many women both in the US and Canada, and in Europe took in response to fear and grave danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days looking at fashions from the 1940s, with a focus on the top and the bottom – the hats and the shoes.  By 1943 women’s shoes were terribly practical, with oxford styles and mid to low heel heights prevailing in the fashion magazines.  Colors were very limited, with most styles available only in black and brown.

Hats, on the opposite end of the scale, were fanciful and they varied widely in style.  Most prevalent was a modified form of the fedora, but women could buy hats in almost every shape and form imaginable.  Berets and turbans, tiny tilt hats that hovered over the eyes, and towering toques that had to be shaped on a stiffened form were available.

The difference in shoes and hats was based somewhat on the materials used to make them.  The leather for shoes was in short supply, but hats could be made in many different fabrics, most of which were not rationed.

As a sportswear collector, I do not seek out fancy and elaborate hats and accessories, but when I run across something really great, that I feel helps tell a story, then I can’t resist adding it to my horde.  Such is the case with this hat.

It has a little bit of everything.  The general shape is that of a Juliet cap, a form that was popular with young American women and teens.  But the creator didn’t stop with the addition of sequins and ribbon.  To the lower back of the cap, a looping fringe was added, perhaps simulating longer hair.

But what really sold me on this hat was the cut-out heart on the back of the cap.  This hat was a real attention-getter!

My new hat has three labels – the size, the store, Scherman Fifth Avenue, and a New York Creations label.  I could not find any concrete information about Scherman, but most of the hats I found for sale with the label were from the 1940s and early 1950s.  There was also a hat label for Eugene Scherman from the same era.  In addition, I located a reference to a E.H. Scherman hat shop located on West 37th Street in 1922.

I have no way of knowing at present if the three different references are related, but the search continues.  I would appreciate any information any reader might know or run across about Scherman.

 

The most extreme hats of WWII were those worn by French women.  To learn more about how the French used hats as a protest against German occupation, listen to this Missed in History podcast with fashion historian April Calahan.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II

The Milliner and Her Hats

Sylvia on the right, 1920s

 

I received some more photos of  Sylvia Whitman Seigenfeld, the designer behind the Suzy label, from her daughter.  It seemed a bit odd that I wrote about this important milliner and she was wearing a hat in none of the photos!  Thanks to daughter Susan, we can now see that Sylvia knew how to sport a hat.

1930s

 

1930s or early 40s

 

Late 1940s or early 50s

 

In the last photo we see Sylvia wearing an uncharacteristically fussy hat.  I wonder what she thought about the hat of the woman sitting across the table from her.  Now that’s a hat!

I want to thank Susan Novenstern again for all the information about her mother and for the fantastic photos of her. Her generous sharing adds to the historical record and helps eliminate confusion about all the Suzy millinery labels.

This points out once again just how important the internet has become in doing historical research.  Susan found my original post on her mother’s label after someone posted a link on her facebook page.  Others have found my posts after doing a Google search on a family member who was in the fashion business.  It is just amazing the connections that are being made today that were impossible in the last century.

For those of us who blog and who post in other places on the internet, we just never know who might be reading.  It’s exciting that information can be so easily found and shared.

Sorry that there are no links today, but I only had a few to share so I decided to wait a week before doing the post.   If any of you run across an interesting story about clothing or textiles, I always appreciate an email with the link .

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Filed under Designers, Rest of the Story, Viewpoint

1920s, 1930s Parkside Hat

This hat serves as a lesson that not every piece of historical clothing fits the rules of what defines an era. These photos were sent to me by Mary Jane of Poppy’s Vintage Clothing because she thought I’d love the label.

And she was so right!  Even though this was not a hat for golf, Parkside was using the image of a golfing woman in what was a popular way to promote products in the 1920s.  Susan at Witness2Fashion wrote a post several months ago about how the image of a golfing woman was commonly used in the 1920s as a symbol of the modern woman.

Which leads us to the problem of dating this hat.  The style of the hat seems to be very early 1930s, but the label and the way the hat is constructed on the inside seem to say 1920s.

Until the 1930s, hats were generally fully lined.  The label was usually a large woven piece that matched the rest of the lining.  Such is the case in this hat.  As the cloche began to shrink in the early 1930s, hats were generally not lined, and had a small woven ribbon label sew in.

The image of the woman golfer also looks to be 1920s.  She is wearing a cloche and knickers.

This hat is sort of a cloche, but the back looks to be a bit short.  It is possible that it was meant to be worn more on the back of the head, as the last 1920s brought about a slow trend toward showing a bit of the forehead.

I looked in all my sources to see if there were any hats like this one shown for the mid 1920s or later, but I pretty much did not find any examples.  As the 1920s came to a close, hats were almost helmet-like, with tiny or no brims at all.  This helmet cloche did not disappear on the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1930.  Even in 1931 it was still occasionally seen in fashion magazines.

So when exactly was this hat made?  I’m not enough of a hat expert to say, but my best guess is late 1920s or early 30s.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

Made in the USA: Hats by Satya Twena

Late last year I ran across an interesting Kickstarter campaign.  A young hat designer, Satya Twena, was hoping to save one of the last two remaining hat factories in Manhattan.  Twena had been working with hats made at the Makins Factory when she heard that the factory was closing.  Her business had become dependent on the factory, so she decided to try and save it.  She ran a very successful Kickstarter, and the factory is once again up and running.

Contributors to the campaign got to pick out a hat, and I finally settled on this navy woven straw fedora.  It’s a bit different from the hats I usually wear, but I liked it and thought, “Why not?”

There were dozens and dozens of hats to choose from, but I’m very happy with the one I got.  It fits perfectly and looks snappy.

The hats are made the old fashioned way using vintage machines and hat blocks.  The materials are hand blocked using steam and skill to fashion the shape.

I’ve noticed lately that Twena’s company has been getting a lot of press coverage, including Glamour and Lucky magazines, along with the  Today Show.  If you are interested in a new, top quality hat, there are plenty of styles for sale on the Satya Twena website.

And I even found a photo of me wearing the hat several months ago at the Liberty antiques Festival.  I added a scarf for a bit more color.  Seriously, I had women stopping me wanting to know where I got the hat.  One even tried to buy it!

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Filed under Made in the USA, Proper Clothing