STYLE: Hats off to those in the millinery

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Gabrielle Poshadlo

Millinery is something virtually no one knows how to do. Along with cobblery and silver smithing, the highly specialized art of hat making has gone the way of the Indianapolis street car.

In 1896, “Indianapolis of To-day,” a sort of Victorian city guide, regarded Miss A. Quigley as the city’s premier milliner. Her store, located on the current site of Ruth’s Chris Steak House on Illinois Street, was “commodious and elegantly equipped and in the assortment [were] the latest modes in trimmed and untrimmed hats and bonnets, also ribbons, plumes, flowers, silks, satins, velvets, and the latest styles of trimmings.”

At that time, demand for hats was such that Miss A. Quigley employed some 20 milliners.

In 1951, Roy Halston Frowick began a millinery career at Indiana University that would lead him to design Jacqueline Kennedy’s inauguration hat.

Milliner Emily Clark wears a cocktail hat she crafted out of sinamay, a material popularized in 1980s Europe. (IBJ Photo/Robin Jerstad)

Now it seems the average Hoosier scarcely owns a hat that doesn’t have a Colts horseshoe or other logo on it.

That presents a challenge for Emily Clark, 28, founder of the brand new company Emilliner. Clark, who wants to resurrect millinery in the Midwest, is confronted with a consumer base that’s changed drastically in the half century since hats turned heads.

Her Web store on Etsy.com is a far cry from Miss A. Quigley’s accessory wonderland of feathers and ribbons. She employs only herself and works out of the Irvington house she recently purchased with her fiancé.

An old kitchen table is littered with the trappings of the hat trade. A shopping bag brimming with every color of horsehair braid is lodged beneath, while the sinamay, Clark’s favorite material (a straw-like woven fabric) makes an unruly heap atop an enormous drum case turned hat transporter.

“The world is full of really great vintage hats because there used to be so many milliners. For every little town there were three or four independent craftsmen. Now the few that are left tend to be the only names people know,” Clark said.

While Clark isn’t sure why her accessory of choice has been elbowed out of daily attire, she’s positive it’s not for lack of hat appreciation.

“Hats attract a lot of attention. Whenever I wear one, everyone wants to know where I got it or at least make a comment,” she said. “You even have to be careful when you wear a hat to a wedding, since you don’t want to upstage the bride.”

Clark learned the trade as an apprentice under the famous London milliner Phillip Treacy, who designed hats for Chanel, Givenchy, and Valentino. In Europe, demand isn’t as much of a problem as it is here. But finding the proper accoutrements is.

“Millinery suppliers are even scarcer than milliners,” she said.

Things like fine silk netting and the brushed silk once used on formal top hats aren’t even made anymore. And the tools of the trade such as a hat block—the form a milliner uses to fashion the crown of a hat—need to be custom made and are very expensive. Clark is still on the lookout for an American supplier for a proper fabric stiffener.

“Even when you’re at the top in millinery, like Phillip, sometimes you have to settle for materials that are inferior to what you know used to exist,” she said. “It’s sad.”

Clark introduced her line of chapeaux at this fall’s Midwest Fashion Week in collaboration with designer Bernie Martin and said response has been overwhelming. But a strong response doesn’t always equal strong sales.

“Everyone recognizes my hats are better than anything you can get at H&M, but convincing someone a hat is worth $300 is a different story,” she said.

Clark was born into a generation that often doesn’t know the difference between a one-size-fits-all $20 fedora and one with a band size that fits the wearer. And the modern woman doesn’t think about a cocktail hat to match her little black dress.

But with hats like Clark’s at our fingertips, who knows? All that could change.

Heck, I have one already.•


If you’d like to share your own style ideas or know anyone who’s making waves in the fashion community, contact Gabrielle at gposhadlo@ibj.com. This column appears monthly.



Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Can your dog sign a marriage license or personally state that he wishes to join you in a legal union? If not then no, you cannot marry him. When you teach him to read, write, and speak a discernible language, then maybe you'll have a reasonable argument. Thanks for playing!

  2. Look no further than Mike Rowe, the former host of dirty jobs, who was also a classically trained singer.

  3. Current law states income taxes are paid to the county of residence not county of income source. The most likely scenario would be some alteration of the income tax distribution formula so money earned in Marion co. would go to Marion Co by residents of other counties would partially be distributed to Marion co. as opposed to now where the entirety is held by the resident's county.

  4. This is more same-old, same-old from a new generation of non-progressive 'progressives and fear mongers. One only needs to look at the economic havoc being experienced in California to understand the effect of drought on economies and people's lives. The same mindset in California turned a blind eye to the growth of population and water needs in California, defeating proposal after proposal to build reservoirs, improve water storage and delivery infrastructure...and the price now being paid for putting the demands of a raucous minority ahead of the needs of many. Some people never, never learn..

  5. I wonder if I can marry him too? Considering we are both males, wouldn't that be a same sex marriage as well? If they don't honor it, I'll scream discrimination just like all these people have....