Necessity or Frivolous Accessory? Hats from the Collection

By on January 17, 2024

“Milliner and Her Daughter,” circa 1854. (Library of Congress collection)


Museum of the Albemarle

ELIZABETH CITY, NC – The Museum of the Albemarle will open its newest exhibit on January 31, 2024. Necessity or Frivolous Accessory highlights some of the hats from our collection. Hats function as more than just covers for our heads. Hats can be worn as status symbols, forms of expression, military uniform components, as fashion statements, or as a glimpse into the wearer’s personality. Hats can be integral to the wearer’s religion and culture, telling the story of the individual donning the attire. Hats are worn to work, church, weddings, funerals, tea parties, sporting events, outdoor activities, and other functions. Sometimes a hat just covers a bad-hair day.

As hats evolved, so has their construction. Made of fur, velvet, feathers, straw, linen, satin, wool, lace, net, silk, or felt, many are constructed by hand, others mass produced. The Albemarle region has been the home to milliners, haberdashers, tailors, and department stores either constructing or selling hats and accessories of good design and quality. Hats saw their “power” decline with rise of wigs and hairpieces, “carefully constructed hairstyles,” and the usage of hairspray, hair colorings, and lipstick.

Monies for this exhibition, including the cleaning and stabilization of artifacts, were generously donated to the Museum of the Albemarle’s Thomas R. Butchko Memorial Fund. Butchko, a noted architectural historian, served as Curator of the Museum of Albemarle for many years until his death in 2009.

This exhibit is free and open to the public through March of 2023.

In conjunction with Necessity or Frivolous Accessory, join us for Make It, Take It: A Tip of the Cap to You on Saturday, March 16, 2024, from 10 a.m. until noon. Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and the new hat exhibit by reading Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and participating in a hands-on activity to make your own leprechaun hat.

For more information visit the Museum of Albemarle Necessity or Frivolous Accessory Facebook page.

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