Tag Archives: Hats

THOUGHTS ABOUT ELAINE STONE, PROFESSOR EMERITA, AND HATS

by Alex Joseph, managing editor of Hue

“Fashion fades; style is eternal.”—Yves Saint Laurent

The subject of the day is hats.

Those of us who knew Professor Emerita Elaine Stone, who died August 6, knew her as a hat wearer par excellence. I never saw her without one.

Elaine Stone once told me she had 60 to 70 hats.

Thirteen years ago, when I first came to FIT, I was a little afraid of Professor Stone. She was tall. She was always impeccably dressed. Tales of her steadfast, iron-clad will approached legend. But it was her hats that fascinated me. I didn’t yet know anything about fashion, so that’s what I thought they were: I thought her hats signified fashion.

As time went on—and those of you who’ve been at FIT a while, you might know how this happens—I caught the fashion virus myself. I watched as what I paid for individual items of clothing went up…and up…  I bought a few hats myself. Then a few more. For a while, people referred to me as “the guy with the hats.”

When that phase passed, my feeling for hats died out. Elaine kept right on wearing them.

Stone began wearing hats when she worked as a buyer at Macy’s.

At first the persistence puzzled me, but as I watched Professor Stone more, I slowly came to understand. For her, hats weren’t just a phase, or a trend. They weren’t a slavish attempt to fit into some time period. They represented ideas, if you will. They—she—stood for something.

That something was not ephemeral; Elaine had been in fashion business all her life. She wrote the book on it—literally. Although the industry changed over time (“That’s the definition of fashion,” she reminded me), the need for outstanding merchandising never flagged. That’s what Elaine Stone stood for; those were her values.

So I came to learn that a piece of clothing, an accessory, can come to mean something quite deep. More than achieving a surface effect, it can indicate character.

And that was the richest lesson I learned from Elaine Stone.

SPECIAL REPORT: HATS AND THEIR OWNERS DESCEND ON FIT

As Hue always says, one gal in a charming chapeau is enchanting, but a flock of femmes fatales flaunting their fantastical fascinators is nothing short of a fabulous affair.

Hats off to the Hat Ladies of Charleston, who toured FIT during a trip to New York. And to Vernell Washington, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’81, for organizing the visit. Washington, diva-in-chief of GrandDiva Enterprises, sells hats made by Grace Mark, a millinery magician from Nigeria.

Vernell Washington ’81 in a hat that could turn any wintry day into springtime. She has great taste in magazines, too.

The self-anointed Top Hat of the group is one Archie Burkel, whose grandmother was the famed Hat Lady of Chicago. Burkel organized the Hat Ladies 12 years ago because she didn’t want to be the only one in the room sporting a wild head topper.

“We are dedicated to loving hats and doing good deeds while wearing them,” she proclaimed. “It’s fashion with compassion!”

The Top Hat in a top hat: Archie Burkel, founder of the Hat Ladies.

In Charleston, the Hat Ladies lead house tours and bring hats to the children’s hospital, assisted-living facilities, and homeless shelters. “Hat is part of heart,” she pointed out.

The next day, the Ladies held a Hats of the World Luncheon (HOWL) for the women of the United Nations, at the Permanent Mission of Romania.

“Oh, we pull a lot of things out of our hats,” Burkel said with a smile.

The Hat Ladies of Charleston, posing in FIT’s David Dubsinky Student Center. Grace Mark sits on the left, next to Vernell Washington.