A Hat for Tea Time

Working with a limited cache of materials on a tight deadline, a deadline which came on the heels of months of tight deadlines does not make for ideal working conditions. This was the situation when Polly was asked by a magazine stylist to create a hat for a photoshoot.

In June, soon after the Kentucky Derby rush Polly received a commission from Tea Time, a magazine devoted to “the many delights of taking tea”. She was asked to fashion a Victorian style hat to be used as a prop in a photo illustration for an article entitled Hats off to Mrs. Beeton, a piece about Beeton’s Book of Household Management, an 1861 publication on the proper running of a household.

“As I was swamped with orders, I had limited time to design this hat.  I literally had to use items that I had  on hand, which forced me to be very creative. I’ve always enjoyed special design projects.” 

After researching hat fashions of the era, Polly chose a chocolate brown parisisal straw for the body of the wide brimmed hat. Then she began to dig. With stores depleted by filling Derby orders and no time to order more supplies, the hat would have to be assembled with materials on hand. A quick scavenger hunt through the small studio first yielded a swath of cut panne velvet in the perfect shade rich brown. Then, she looked to feathers. Ostrich, pheasant or peacock? Ostrich feathers were a definite, as followers Mrs. Beeton’s advice would have used ostrich feathers as knick-knack dusters. If one phrase describes the Victorian approach to design that would be “too much is never enough” therefore the best answer seemed to be, “all of the above: ostrich, pheasant and peacock feathers.”

As for flowers, a couple of nosegays in aubergine velvet were unearthed. But the hat still lacked a focal point and needed an element of bright color to offset the rich browns and plums. Since none of the silk flowers which are the mainstay of her more elaborate designs were available in an autumn palette, Polly took a large scrap of pumpkin hued silk and used milliner’s magic to fashion it into a cabbage rose that could have been the pride of any Victorian English garden. One of the real treasures from the Singer “I may need this someday” archive was a cluster of glass beaded grapes which when added to the hat provided a subdued bit of bling and served to bridge the dark tones of the hat and the brighter orange rose.

Tea time magazine was delighted with the result and featured a full page photograph of the hat on page 24 of the September/October issue. This issue is currently on the stands, we invite you to admire the result of our scavenger hunt and enjoy the usual entertaining and informative fare Tea Time has to offer.

We are so pleased with the hat, we gave it a name, Fall Romance and entered it in the Polly Singer fall collection.

by Jan Masters Yon