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Buying Vintage Hats & Millinery

We love vintage hats here at the Eternal Headonist, and so should you, it's such an easy way to be part of the glamour of a bygone era without actually having to time-travel! An era when hats were all the rage and you were practically tripping over high quality hat makers and milliners. When it comes to hats there's some truth in the old adage that "they don't make things like they used to" when hats on the High Street today are often cheaply made overseas, and may never have been near a milliners studio (a modern hand-made or couture piece is another story though!) 

It's also fair to say in many cases it would be near impossible to get hats of vintage quality and uniqueness made today for the the price you can pick up a quality vintage piece - some traditional millinery materials aren't even manufactured any more, and those that are, usually are of a lower quality than those found in the past. So buying vintage is a great way to pick up a quality item of millinery art for a fraction of the price a brand new piece of "haute mode" (that's the millinery equivalent of "haute couture") headwear would set you back. 

Buying vintage and re-using and repurposing beautiful hats of the past is also a more environmentally concious approach to fashion.  

The milliners to look out for: 

There were some amazing milliners back in the day, New York, Chicago & Paris in particular were hotbeds of millinery activity and are where many of the late, great milliners originated from.

Some of our favourites include (roll call!);

From New York; Mr John, Jack McConnell, Adolfo, Hattie Carnegie, Frank Olive, Lilly Dache, Sally Victor,  anything under the "New York Creation" label, and if you can ever find one, William J, which famously was the millinery label of the now legendary New York street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. Yes! He was a milliner... can you even begin to imagine???!

From Chicago; the one and only Bes-Ben (perhaps our favourite all time milliner before the likes of Treacy & Jones appeared on the scene), Cecilian and Raymond Hudd

From Paris; the millinery queen and inventor of the cloche - Caroline Reboux, the originator of the turban (in the fashion sense) - Madame Paulette, and our favourite surrealist fashionista Elsa Schiaparelli. Of course all the great Parisian fashion houses had their own millinery lines which are worth looking out for.   

Interestingly many of the great American milliners were actually European immigrants, displaced during the war time era. Hattie Carnegie, Adolfo and Lilly Dache are to name a few of such millinery migrants, and Schiaparelli also spent time in the US during the war, although famously returned to Paris to fin Dior's "New Look" had irreversibly changed fashion landscape. 

And finally from Australia; William Beale and his Mr Individual label, Thomas Harrison, Roland Bernard and Whitmor Modes are some of the better known Australian milliners. 

Issues to look out for in vintage hats: 

When buying vintage hats you have to take into consideration that these pieces have been around for a lot longer than you probably have so will probably not be in their original pristine condition, but luckily if these pieces have been stored well, chances are they will have aged a lot better than their human counterparts! 

There are a few condition issues to be aware of when buying vintage; 

Moths - Oh moths, the vintage collector's arch nemesis, they love clothes and hats almost as much as we do. Look out for moth nibbles in a vintage felt as if there are moth eggs still in it they could run rampage on your whole hat collection. Online sellers should disclose moth damage (ask them if they don't) and check the hat first if you are buying it in a store. However all is not lost, as a precautionary measure if there is any sign of moth damage we always put the hat in plastic bag and store in the freezer for 2 - 5 days as this should kill any remaining eggs.  

Broken veiling - veils are as delicate as they look, and vintage veils were made of natural fibres such as silk and prone to degredation far more than the modern nylon veils. If you buy a hat with a damaged veil, determine whether the damage is really visible and affects the look of the hat, and also whether you want to keep it on. Often the veil can be removed or replaced without affecting the value of the hat... although you might want to think twice on a really collectible hat. 

Shaping - Some mis-shaping of hats can be put right with a little steam. However, steam can also wreak havoc on your precious vintage hat so only use it if you know what you are doing with it. 

Our vintage condition scale:

We will never sell vintage items below "Very Good" vintage condition as we want our Headonists to always be sure they are receiving top quality items. We scour the globe in search of the best vintage pieces and are extremely diligent in our selection to ensure we only sell the highest quality items to you. As we are milliners, where possible we will steam, clean, repair and re-shape vintage items unless such repairs would damage or affect the value or provenance of a designer hat.     

Near Mint - Items appears brand new and never used, with no signs of damage or use 

Excellent - Item is in excellent condition and shows only very minimal signs of wear and little or no damage   

Very Good - Item is in very good condition, it may have minor signs of wear or damage, but nothing that is noticeable when worn 

Vintage items by their very nature will show some sign of wear and imperfection and we will do our best to point out all defects in the product description, so you can make an informed decision about your vintage purchase. We also make sure that our pricing reflects any defects in the hat.    

Sizing of vintage hats: 

Why are vintage hats so small? It's a question we hear often and one we also ask ourselves, have human heads really gotten so much bigger over the last 50 - 100 years? Well the answer is perhaps they have! A 2012 US study comparing skulls from the mid 1800s with those of the 1980s suggested that skull sizes have increased over the last 150 years growing in height over 6.8%, perhaps attributed to the greater nutrition (or obesity!) we have these days. But the small hat story has another angle and it could also be to do with the hats themselves rather than the heads; many materials used in millinery such as felts and straws change shape in response to environmental conditions such as moisture and heat, and often over the years they can shrink. So it might not just be that you have a big head, the hat might actually be smaller than it once used to be!    

For this reason, when buying vintage hats don't just go by the size labelled in the hat as it might not be the size it once was. If you are buying the hat online make sure the seller provides you with an actual measurement. We always do this with our vintage items so there are no surprises when your hat arrives in the mail.  

How we price our vintage hats:

There are 4 aspects we use when pricing vintage hats; 

i) Who it was made by and how collectable their work is ii) The quality of the design and workmanship iii) The condition of the piece iv) The rarity and uniqueness of the piece

We try and ensure that are pieces are priced fairly using thes parameters so you can be confident that you are really getting what you pay for when you buy a vintage hat from us. 


So as you can see there are plenty of reasons to buy vintage millinery with confidence, and you can usually be sure that whatever you buy, you'll be the only person with it!