Young people today could not relate to the notion of a woman wearing a decorative bonnet that could possibly have a bird perched in a nest atop the hat. A hat was a must to complete a woman’s attire and every hat was unique.
When Kate Middleton married Prince William in England the papers were filled with pictures of women wearing unusual hats called the Fascinator. Especially at Easter the beautiful and unusual head adornment could be seen at every church in Genesee County.
The idea of having a special Easter bonnet spread through America in the latter part of the 19th century, around the time the New York Easter parade started to be a big deal in the 1880s. Wearing a freshly-trimmed bonnet to church on Easter was nothing new; now calling it an “Easter bonnet” started to catch on.
Although early in the 1900s most hats were enormous and adorned with flowers, feathers, ribbons and tulle, by the mid 1920s women’s hair had become much shorter with the shingle cut and the cloche (a fitted, bell-shaped hat for women that was invented by milliner Caroline Reboux in 1908) became especially popular during the 1920s which hugged the head like a helmet with a very small brim.
According to an article in The Daily News there was a spring opening at the millinery store of L. J. Tompkins that was looked forward to by the ladies of Batavia. Tompkins’ establishment had the reputation as being the largest millinery house in the county. The store was stocked with hat creations employing the best-skilled milliners.
The favorite hat trimming of that time were chiffons, malines (very fine silk net of gauze-like texture), liberty chiffons, Tucson braids, flowers, buckles, and ribbons. These trimmings had been placed upon some of the hats that were on display. It was not unusual to see various hats marked “sold” proving that L.J. Tompkins’ shop was very popular. An example of a one-of-a-kind hat that was for sale would have been a white chip hat, with liberty scarf and a gray bird for trimmings. Another example was a pastel blue brim, made of tucked liberty chiffon with point lace over Tucson crown and the finish was made complete by the addition of a bunch of foliage in pastel shades.
Their display windows were a showplace, admired by all. They also carried appropriate morning apparel. This store carried the best productions of the markets of the world. Paris and New York City styles and patterns were shown and one case of trimmings was entirely of imported goods. Special attention was also given to the sale of hair goods.
In 1931 The Bon Ton Millinery Shop located at 92 Main St. became incorporated by the Batavia Millinery Corporation. The business was owned by three businessmen from Buffalo.
Another millinery business was owned and operated by Miss Harriet L. Holter at 20 Bank St. She had conducted an exclusive millinery shop in Batavia for over 25 years catering to the most discriminating. For many years Miss Holter’s shop was located on the corner of Bank and Main Street. Her window displays were so unusual that many tourists stopped to inspect her smart line of millinery.
Miss Holter always carried exclusive lines of millinery, particularly the famous Gage and Knox hats (brand name) and in the last few years had added the well-known Dobbs and Stetson. Miss Holter moved her millinery business to 20 Bank St., an ideal location to serve the people of Batavia and surrounding towns.
Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein in 1940 operated the Bon Ton Hat Shop at 92 Main St. Mrs. Mary Mancuso and Mrs. Sybil Porter owned the Bon Ton Hat Shop in 1955. The owners would travel to New York City for a buying trip. By 1968 Mary Mancuso was the proprietor and her buying trips to the Big Apple included her daughter Mary Lou. This specialty store also carried other items. One patron remembers buying at the store a one-of-a-kind two-piece bathing suit — her favorite to this day — and hiding it from her father.
By 1969 the Bon Ton Millinery was purchased by Donald W. Grefrath. For 14 years the shop had been operated by Mrs. Mary Mancuso of 39 Ross St., Mrs. Joan Mancuso of 10 Woodrow Rd., and Mrs. Margaret Resides of Alexandria, Va. The new ownership would remodel and also carry wigs.
Today you rarely see women wearing a hat unless they are attending a function that requires a hat such as the Kentucky Derby or a royal wedding in England. The Holland Land Office Museum has a wonderful variety of hats. Their collection of hats is just another hidden treasure found in the upstairs at the museum.
If you have a memory you would like to share, please e-mail amstarowitz@ gmail.com. You can also call the director of the Holland Land Office Museum Jeff Donahue at (585) 343-4727. Please stop and visit the Holland Land Office Museum. March 31 begins a three-month display on wedding gowns and veils. Please stop and see the treasures the museum has to offer the community.
This article was written and researched by Anne Marie Starowitz, a board member for the Holland Land Office Museum. Information for this article was gathered from the Genesee County History Department, with the help from Susan Conklin, county historian and Judy Stiles