By: Kathy Witt
How fitting that a woman making her mark in the millinery world would design a line of hats that highlights the achievements of some of the most notable women in history.
Award-winning hat maker Polly Singer, named “Best Couture Hat Designer in the United States” by England’s preeminent Luxe Magazine, has done just that with her “Great Women and Great Hats” collection. Bearing the names of such remarkable woman as Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Princess Diana, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, author Jane Austen and astronaut Sally Ride, among others, each hat reflects the personality of its namesake through color and design as well as shares a brief bio of her accomplishments.
“It’s a little history lesson and also inspiring at the same time,” said Polly, whose design studio, Polly Singer Couture Hats, is located on Main Street in downtown Georgetown. “And goodness knows, we can all use some inspiration right now!”
The debut of the collection, numbering 47 custom-designed hats to date, was especially timely during Women’s History Month.
Feathers in their caps
The wide-brimmed Amelia ($750), an ivory hat with purple hydrangeas, purple feather accents and a purple trim, reminds us that Amelia Earhart was an aviation pioneer and the first female aviator to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean, from Newfoundland, Canada to Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in her red Lockheed Vega.
“Amelia was also an author, as she wrote many bestselling books regarding aviation and her experiences with it,” the included bio reads.
The beribboned Florence, a pretty-in-pink percher topped with cream Gaipure lace ($220), is a tribute to English social reformer and statistician Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing. “Nightingale came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organized care for wounded soldiers.”
Inspired by Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe, the Marilyn Ivory Scalloped Saucer ($495) pays homage to the popular culture icon with elegance and ivory in a hat topped by silk white roses and white and pheasant feathers.
Singer has included women who made their mark in literature (Agatha Christie), music (Aretha Franklin), science (Marie Curie) and technology (computer programmer Ada Lovelace), as well as acting, activism, politics and medicine and as heads of state.
“We chose women throughout history,” said Singer. “It was a compelling project, and I learned a lot as well.”
There are Oscar winners, Grammy winners, Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners. Some of the women, like Julia Roberts and Maya Angelou, need no introduction; others, such as Mary Kies, the first American woman to get a patent, and Maria Beasley, inventor of the life raft, are more obscure but equally worthy of attention. All have left an indelible imprint on the pages of history that Singer is shining a spotlight on through her couture designs.
Couture that communicates
The collection was inspired by a badge handmade in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment Polly found in her office as well as her own lifelong interest in women’s accomplishments.
“As a child, I loved reading biographies about famous women,” Polly said, noting she still enjoys reading and watching shows about great women. “In addition, I wanted to educate the public (and the younger generation, too) about these achievements. Some women did not get full credit for their work until later, such as Hedy Lamarr.”
Lamarr, an Austrian actress famous during MGM’s “Golden Age” of the 1930s through the 1950s, pioneered the technology that would help foster the invention of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth.
If there is one message Polly hopes her statement-making hats express is that women have achieved much throughout history.
“Many of them came from humble beginnings and overcame tremendous obstacles to achieve what they did,” she said. “Some were persecuted by the Nazis and left for America to pursue their dreams. Others, such as Harriet Tubman, helped free others from oppression. Many were writers, actresses and entertainers who made us laugh and taught us about different concepts.
“Many invented new technology that changed the world, such as Kevlar (invented by Stephanie Kwolek and used in body armor, bulletproof vests, car brakes and boats). Some went into space and others are famous athletes,” she added. “Their achievements illustrate that women can do anything they choose, and their stories are so inspiring – especially at a time when we all need inspiration and hope.”
A talent for tailoring toppers
Polly prides herself on the personal service she gives each client. When helping choose a hat, Polly considers height, complexion and hair and eye color, as well as a woman’s personal style.
“I want them to feel royal, elegant, beautiful and confident,” she said.
The creations at Polly Singer Couture Hats are made from natural and sustainable materials and have the trim sewn on.
“Hats can be recycled for different outfits and re-trimmed,” she said, “meaning taking everything off and putting on different colors of feathers, flowers, veiling, etc.”
Author: Kathryn Witt
Kathryn Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer, syndicated columnist and author of several books, including Secret Cincinnati, The Secret of the Belles and Atlanta Georgia: A Photographic Portrait. A member of SATW, Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Books & Illustrators, she lives in northern Kentucky.