Except for winter knit hats and baseball caps, it can seem like hardly anybody wears hats any more. More than 250 (mainly British) examples in "Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones" at the Peabody Essex Museum demonstrates what we've sacrificed.
Organized by London's Victoria and Albert Museum and selected by "milliner to the stars" Jones, the show offers delightfully far-out confections, the sort of thing you only see on the runway. Plus a few hats of the stars — Marlene Dietrich's trademark beret, Björk's rainbow fox-fur pompon mask. But what takes your breath away are ravishing historical specimens — a 12th-century Egyptian fez, a 17th-century leather jester's cap, a fabulously embroidered 18th-century nightcap, a 19th-century black bicorne (think Napoleon), a 1920s cloche, a 1960s leather Hobbit hippie cloche, and a contemporary plastic Disney Princess Tiara. Each seems to channel its era.
The survey opens with a case of black hats. An early 19th-century bonnet frames the face in sensual velvet and then is crowned with ruffled ribbon. Jo Gordon's 1994 Kiss of Death is a satin bonnet ringed with blue-black pheasant feathers jutting a couple feet forward — threatening, sexy, forbidden. Of course, everything here — maybe except the 1977 Darth Vader mask — is mating plumage. We're fools to settle for pink baseball caps.
HATS: AN ANTHOLOGY BY STEPHEN JONES :: Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St, Salem:: Through February 3
: Museum And Gallery
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