Milliner Evetta Petty: Off to the Races

Evetta Petty is off to the races—the UK’s Royal Ascot, one of the most famous in the world. Her hat has already arrived.

Alumna Evetta Petty’s Royal Ascot Hat 2024

Petty is the only American milliner represented at Ascot this year, and she’s the first Black milliner ever to have a hat selected for the Royal Ascot Millinery Collective. Twelve milliners were chosen from all over the world.

“My hat will become a part of the permanent collection,” exults Petty who founded Harlem’s Heaven Hats in 1985. She will travel to the UK in June to celebrate and to take a seat at the races in the Royal Enclosure.

Ascot emailed “out of the blue,” she recalls:

“’Hello Evetta, I’m writing on behalf of Royal Ascot. We have come across your millinery and we think your hats are showstoppers…We would love for you to be part of the Royal Ascot Millinery Collective 2024.’”  A formal letter was attached.

“Oh my God! Is this for real? Let me book everything right now,” was her reaction.

“I had no idea they were looking at my work. It’s not something you apply for or solicit. They actively look for designers with an interesting edge. They choose upcoming as well as established milliners,” she says.

Milliner and alumna Evetta Petty wearing a “sushi” hat she designed, made from wool felt

“They had been on my website and they had favorites. We played around with different colors as well.”

As requested, Petty emailed several hat photos to the Ascot team for their perusal.  After much deliberation, they chose a style and requested a custom color (powder blue and white). The base of the hat is straw with fabric flowers.

Petty received her BA in what is now Textile Development and Marketing in 1983, but she has had a long involvement with the School of Art and Design. She has been a valued and exuberant guest speaker in the Accessories Design classes. “Evetta has has always been supportive of our program,” says Prof. Janet Linville, who is also a milliner. She notes that students in her Design Studio class are curious to learn from Petty “everything from design and pricing, to day-to-day concerns and work-life balance.”

Petty, who is self-taught in millinery arts, has been designing accessories since childhood. “I always made these cute little hats. They got so much attention. ‘Where did you get that hat? I want a hat like that!’” she recalls admirers saying.

“My Poppy Flower,” designed by Evetta Petty, is made with cotton fabric, tulle, and feathers.

Petty says her aunt knew very early that she was “a natural-born designer” and would buy her jewelry- and handbag-making kits. “I’ve always made fun things, earrings and necklaces. I had an earring business when I was 10 years old.“

But hats held a special significance. “I grew up in the South. Everybody wore hats. Especially to church. We’re just hat people. The African American community, we have a special relationship with hats.”

From the time she was six years old, Petty spent summers in New York with her aunt, who was an oncology nurse and a “fashionista,” says Petty. “She was always taking evening classes at the School of Art and Design.” They would attend events at FIT together.

“FIT was just amazing to me because I became so surrounded by fashion and art and the Museum at FIT, and looking at all the collections and going to all the shows —  all of the activities FIT would have! I was immersed in all of that. It was my world. I learned so much.

“I’d cry when it was time to go back south after each wonderful summer. By my teen years, I knew I wanted to go to FIT.”

Long green veil hat, made of tulle, straw, and a silk flower, designed by Evetta Petty


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After graduating from FIT, Petty went to work in corporate fashion. “I worked as a sales rep for an accessories company, jewelry and handbags.” Meanwhile, she continued to get “so much attention from the little hats I made for myself.”

Her aunt had the idea “to make a few hats and do a pop-up. Down in SoHo they had these weekend markets. I showed up, and all of my hats sold out quickly.

“I quit my corporate job because a place opened up down there called the SoHo Emporium. It was like a little mini mall, with 10×10 spaces. We had all these up-and-coming designers there.”


Marketing has changed, Petty tells Accessories Design students. “When I started we didn’t have the internet. It was a big deal to be in the newspaper. I remember there was a story about me in the New York Daily News. The next day you could hardly get into the store.”

Thus, Petty said, “It’s surreal that my Royal Ascot story has already been picked up by all the major UK papers like the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

To be fair, mainstream media had already caught up with Petty. Ascot, afterall, may not have had such a hard time discovering her.

As her bio attests, her hats have been featured on television shows and fashion magazine covers and in movies and editorials including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Essence, Marie Claire, L’Officiel, Grazia, and the New York Times. Her story has been featured in news outlets worldwide, such as NBC, NHK, ABC, CBS, and CNN.

Victrola hat made of royal blue straw and silk flowers, mounted on a headband, designed by Evetta Petty

Petty closed our interview with the heartfelt reflection, “I love my alma mater. I love my school.”

To see more of Evetta Petty’s millinery art, visit her webiste at:, and follow her on IG @harlemsheavenhats; X @HarlemHeavensHats; and Facebook’s Harlem Heaven’s Fan Page.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Accessories Design major, visit Footwear and Accessories Design at FIT.

Photos used with permission

One response to “Milliner Evetta Petty: Off to the Races”

  1. All of the hats are beautiful! I love the Royal Ascot hat! I’m sure if Henry Higgins saw it he would have asked you to make one for Eliza Doolittle to wear to Ascot Racecourse!

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