Glad Hatters Millinery business is heads-up

April 06, 1995|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

Milliners have a mission. That is to restore hats to the status they had 40 years ago when women were defined by their hats. Today, however, milliners place emphasis on well-being rather than fancy. They want to bring us to the belief that wearing the right topper goes a long way toward building positive thinking. They may have something there. Like many other old remedies that prove to be effective, a hat regimen could be the answer to lingering winter glums.

So here we are in the middle of Straw Hat Week, which the millinery industry has designated as the time to put away wool caps and felt fedoras, and the cold hangs on. Undaunted, two hatmakers new to the Baltimore scene look to the salutary side. Their hat treatments can cost from $40 to $400 -- much less than a spa and they last for years.

Kit Fellows has been busy preparing her customers for the fresh air and blossoms that spring up in celebration of Easter and Passover.

At Kit's Millinery Salon and Supplies in Pomona Square, hat believers have been preparing.

"I sell designer hats and hats of my own invention, but many of my customers bring in straw bodies and we trim them up," she says. "I also refurbish a lot of old hats. They have so much #F character, it's a shame to let them go."

Ms. Fellows isn't so much concerned about where hats come from, only that they be worn, and worn beautifully.

"I cultivate my clients," she says. "Some people coming in here don't have anyone to take them across the hat threshold. Mother used to show us, but many younger women now don't know how to do it."

She builds confidence. She coaches.

"I start them out with a small brim and when they start feeling comfortable and used to wearing hats I take them into something more dramatic."

It's not just a fashion statement she encourages, however, but the sense of well-being hats bring to a woman.

"Fine hats are certainly expensive," she says, "but people should see them as an investment in health, physical and mental. Many women are going back to hats for health reasons; they have to stay out of the sun, and hats are absolutely essential to women who suffer hair loss because of chemotherapy."

On that issue, Ms. Fellows is a gentle yet strong crusader. "Wigs are hot and uncomfortable, hats are light." She is leading the battle to have hats covered by insurance plans.

"My clients walk out of here two inches taller," she says proudly, "not because of a high crown but because of the lift in their spirits.

Spirits and spirituals are high at Coutured Veiling, the hat shop that opened last fall in the 400 block of Eutaw Street. There's a run of church ladies picking up their Easter bonnets.

David Lee is the full-time hatmaker, and partner William Boston is in an apprenticeship -- his day job is being the principal at Holabird Elementary School in Baltimore.

Splendid hats make an impression, and they impressed Mr. Lee at a very early age. He was brought up in the church, and his mother, a stylish and devout participant, was a strong believer in smart hats.

As a child he started making hats from scraps of fabric and trim and hasn't stopped since, although these days he buys his materials from fancy New York suppliers.

His hats attend church regularly. "I do custom work for weddings and I'm also busy around Easter time. One of my biggest rush seasons is around August before the national Baptist convention. Some of these ladies want a hat for every -- I mean, every -- night of the convention," he says. "They compete and try to outdo each other. That's why I don't dare to duplicate."

The shop displays confections -- plumes, glitter, sequins. There are tiny hats and flying saucer-sized extravaganzas.

The shop is homey, set in a new strip of shops in the bustling Lexington Market area. Customers pop in and out, regulars and browsers. It was a blessing in disguise when the fabric business David Lee worked for in New York went under.

"I bought all kinds of luxury fabrics for little and started serious hat-making," he says. After four years in Baltimore he still has some of his start-up scraps. "I can't bear to throw anything [away]," he says.

Those scraps and pieces are transformed into smiles as women try on David Lee's hats in the mirror.

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