Past Treasure of the Month – September 2013

Vintage Ladies’ Hats
An assortment of early 20th century ladies’ hats from Galveston millineries (image courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center).An assortment of early 20th century ladies’ hats from Galveston millineries
(image courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center).

Galveston had a number of millinery shops, even from its early days. In fact, the first wife of island philanthropist Henry Rosenberg — Letitia (Cooper) Rosenberg — operated a millinery shop on Market Street prior to the couple’s marriage in the 1850s. By 1874, six women listed themselves as milliners in the Galveston City Directory and in 1899, there were nine milliners who operated shops on the island.

Among these late 19th century milliners were the Rex Bord Millinery Firm and the Simon Millinery. Rex Bord was located on Postoffice Street between 22nd and 23rd. It opened around 1890 and was in business until 1931. Simon Millinery was located near 20th and Market Street and operated from about 1895 to 1911. Though each of these firms was owned by men, it was Mrs. Rex Bord and Mrs. Harry Simon, respectively, who managed retail operations.

Independent millinery shops were eventually replaced by larger department stores which included divisions devoted to hats. One such example in Galveston was Nathan’s which touted itself as “Galveston’s smartest shop for women.” Nathan’s opened its original single-story shop in 1927 at 2217 Postoffice; it later expanded and occupied a new space nearby. The millinery department at Nathan’s featured a fine selection of ladies’ hats, one of which is part of the Library’s display this month.

Hats have been worn by both men and women for centuries. Hats are worn to protect the head against the elements, for religious ceremony, as an indicator of military status, or simply as a fashion accessory.

Decorative hats for women became popular in royal and aristocratic circles in the late 16th century. Millinery, or hat making, has traditionally been a female occupation. The term “milliner” originated from the Italian city of Milan, the source of the finest quality women’s hats in the 1700s. Milliners created hats and bonnets outfitted with lace, trim, and other decorations. Hats were considered an essential accessory to complete a stylish outfit.

By the early 1800s, women’s hats became larger and more ornately decorated with flowers, feathers, and fabric trims. By the end of the 19th century, new hat styles were introduced. Some of these featured flat crowns or wide brims. When short hairstyles became fashionable for a new generation of women in the 1920s, hats which hugged the head and emphasized bobbed haircuts became popular.