No, I’m not at the Kentucky Derby or doing my imitation of Minnie Pearl. I’m trying on a hat in the Gift Shop of the St. Louis Art Museum. I was getting myself in the mode for viewing the exhibit: Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade.
Apparently, Edgar Degas was intrigued by the extravagant hats being created in Paris during the height of the millinery trade. It was the golden age of hat making, when women wore elaborate creations of feathers, fabric and ribbons shaped into high-fashion head wear. Heavy, indeed, was the head that wore a late 19th century hat.
The exhibit now showing at the St. Louis Art Museum portrays women who worked at making, selling, or delivering hats, as well as the women who wore them.
From the historic tidbits woven into the display, we learn that in 1911 alone upward to 300 million birds were killed for the purpose of accenting women’s head wear. To accommodate the demands of fashion, there were a 1,000 millinery shops in Paris.
Among the women in the hierarchy of workers was the shop owner/designer, known as the premiere. Next came the trimmers, who fashioned the hats and then the trottins, errand girls, who delivered the merchandise. Degas and the Impressionists captured these women and their trade on canvas. Bringing added dimension to the exhibit is the display of some 45 hats from the late 19th century.
Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade runs through May 7 at the St. Louis Art Museum. It’s one of the more fascinating exhibits I’ve seen recently. Museum hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm
Friday, 10 am–9 pm; Closed Monday. Exhibit is free for members; free on Friday; $15 for adults; $13 for seniors and students; $6 for children ages 6-12; children 5 and under are free.