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Explore the Art of Mid-20th Century Millinery in “Hats Off” July 12, 2020


Hats and hair accessories designed by renowned American fashion designer Halston are on view now in Hats Off: Halston Hats from the Masterson Collection. Assistant curator Misty Flores takes us behind the scenes of creating this exhibition at Rienzi, the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts.

The Curatorial Process
For Hats Off, I pulled heavily from archival material at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. They feature a collection of Halston drawings from his time at New York department store Bergdorf Goodman. I was able to pair some of our hats with their design drawings, and that was exciting.

I consulted with Audrey Schilt, who served as one of Halston’s design assistants at Bergdorf, and I was able to attribute previously unknown design drawings to her. She provided some interesting insight into his creative process. Lesley Frowick, Halston’s niece, graciously allowed access to her Halston archives and lent objects to the show. That input allowed me to gain a better understanding of Halston as a designer.

Halston’s View
Halston was an inventive and technically brilliant milliner. He used mirrors, feathers, fringing, jewels, and flowers to decorate hoods, bonnets, coifs, and helmets. Halston believed that hats were integral to the completion of an outfit. He treated his hats, like his clients, with the utmost care and attention to detail. He viewed his hats as sculptures, and of his time at Bergdorf Goodman, he said, “sculpting hats taught me how to think about fashion in three dimensions.”

That Famous Pillbox Hat
When Jackie Kennedy attended the 1961 presidential inauguration of her husband, John Kennedy, she was wearing a coat by Oleg Cassini and a pillbox hat by Halston. The hat was one of the most-copied items of clothing ever, bought and worn by women across the globe, and it launched Halston to the forefront of the fashion world. A fun fact: When the hat was removed from the box it accidentally got dented, and that’s how Jackie wore it, so the images of her from the inauguration feature the dent. That’s how it was copied, which was incorrect.

“He was probably the greatest hat maker in the world.” —fashion editor Diana Vreeland 

Learn More
Visit the MFAH collections online for a look at Halston’s work.

See “Hats Off: Halston Hats from the Masterson Collection” at Rienzi through January 3.