Passing the Hat
Writer: Shannon Severson
Photography by Loralei Lazurek
Growing up in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from the bright lights and glamour of New York City, Andrea Markowitz recalls her mother Florence’s exquisite fashion sense that included a love affair with hats.
“Getting dressed, for her, was an expression of her artistic nature,” says Markowitz, who now calls Cave Creek home. “I do believe that if she had the opportunity to pursue a career, it would have been in fashion or interior design. When I was a little girl, she used to tell me, ‘If you don’t look nice, don’t even take out the garbage.’”
It was “the combustion of a few different sparks” that seemed to strike at the right time when Jo Gemmill — who serves on the Desert Foothills Library Board — noticed Markowitz’s affinity for hats and inquired about it.
“Andrea is a very snappy dresser and I’ve often seen her wearing hats around town,” Gemmill says.
The two came together to plan a hat show Sunday, March 22 at Desert Foothills Library during which Markowitz will offer a carefully curated selection of her late mother’s extensive vintage hat collection to benefit the library.
More than 50 vintage hats made between the 1950s and the 1980s will be raffled off during the event, including several particularly special chapeaux. A $35 entry fee buys each attendee five raffle tickets as well as a fun and informational talk about hats and their history. A collection of ads and memorabilia will also be on display.
Gemmill — who owns Carefree’s English Rose Tea Room — will provide tea and cakes, with her team creating a benefit to remember that includes all of the refined trappings of a proper tea. She hints that there may even be a “royal guest” in attendance.
Markowitz says that Gemmill’s contribution to the event has everyone buzzing.
“Whenever I mention that tea and cakes from the English Rose Tea Room will be served, that’s what seals the deal,” she says. “Ladies’ eyes light up and they say, ‘Count me in!’ I can’t emphasize enough how huge it is to have Jo’s involvement.”
Like Markowitz’s mother Florence, Desert Foothills Library Board member Dianne Olson’s mother was also known to wear hats. She and Markowitz had previously discussed the possibility of a hat show.
“[My mother] used to buy all her hats at a shop called Dottie’s Chapeaux,” Olson says. “The appeal of this event is not only about Florence’s hats; it’s about a culture during a genteel time. Whatever the negatives were in those times, we all looked good. Dressing was a sign of respect for the people around you.”
Markowitz believes that her mother began to wear hats during her teen years in the 1940s. Florence became an avid hat collector in the 1950s and likely never parted with a hat from those days forward.
“She hated to part with pretty things,” Markowitz explains. “I remember she used to go shopping in New York City and then have her hats sent back to New Jersey. My brother and I would get so excited when she had on a new hat, new shoes, a new dress and a pocketbook. She loved to make people smile. If she made someone smile by looking nice, she was doing something good.”
As Desert Foothills Theatre’s Playwright in Residence, Markowitz — who dresses brightly and enjoys pairing her mother’s hats with her own outfits — loves a good story.
After perusing the hundreds of hats she inherited — some in their original boxes and with the tags still attached — Markowitz began researching the details of the individual hat makers represented, millinery and the history of hats in general. She has planned an entertaining and informative presentation for the event during which she will share some of the many interesting tidbits she discovered.
There are several big names and independent creators represented among the collection.
Mr. John is the top designer of the hats that will be featured during the event. It’s a name as famous in the world of hats as Oscar de la Renta in the world of haute couture. Even if you’re not familiar with the brand, you’ve likely seen Mr. John’s work on the head of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.”
Like Mr. John, most of the makers — including Frank Olive and Sonny’s Hats (worn by Mamie Eisenhower) — are American producers, but a few are from Europe.
Markowitz’s parents were dedicated to supporting local artists, so there are some one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces from individual designers and very high-end craft shows, as well.
In their later years, the Desert Foothills Library was one of their favorite places to spend time when they visited their daughter in Cave Creek.
“My mother and father would be delighted to learn that her hats will benefit this library,” Markowitz says. “My mom taught me to read by the time I was 5 and the love of learning and reading has always been important to me. This is a way for me to contribute to this fabulous place that supports learning and reading.”
Community support of the independent library is crucial. Therefore, Librarian Caitlin Decker is thrilled when a volunteer or patron introduces an idea like Markowitz’s hat show.
“We are more than just books,” Decker says. “We are the stories of people who visit the library and there are so many in our community who have stories to tell. An event like this is ideal because we are a community center as well as a place for reading and learning.”
Vintage Hats Private Collection Fundraiser and Tea
Sunday, March 22 | 2–4 p.m. | Desert Foothills Library | 38443 N. Schoolhouse Road, Cave Creek | $35 | 480-488-2286 | dfla.org