Thursday, 15 August 2013

Last-Year Reads: Talking Through My Hats by Lilly Daché

via

I'm quite enchanted by the world of Lilly Daché. The milliner's 1956 Glamour Book is one of the most fun style guides I've read, full of tips on how to inject some fun and sparkle into your life. I would have loved to pay a visit to her nine-storey leopard print and pink silk bedecked Manhattan headquarters. Feeling in need of a bit of her magic and lacking a time machine, I decided to revisit her autobiography, Talking Through My Hats, dating to 1946.

There are some overlaps with the Glamour book, but Talking Through My Hats fills you in with much more details on her life story - her decision to leave her native France, and try and make it in New York and through the growth of her empire and her wooing by her beloved husband, Jean. Daché also explains how she gained her sense of style, using fashion to establish her sense of self, "more than anything else, I wanted to be beautiful", she writes. "I was always decorating myself to improve on nature."

Lilly Daché, via

The book succeeds in capturing her energy and enthusiasm for life (for this I guess we have to thank Dorothy Roe Lewis, credited as editor on this and the Glamour book). There are some brilliant descriptions of the allure of America in the 1920s and 30s:

"Marion Davies in a 1925 cloche, pulled down over the ears. That was New York in the days of lovely nonsense, ticker tape, parades, speak-easies, Mayor Walker, Lindbergh, Gertrude Ederle. Carole Lombard in a dashing big beret, pulled down over one eye. That was Hollywood in the thirties. Clark Gable, neon lights, full-dress openings, autographs, diaries."

Lilly Daché created for both New York and Hollywood. This book lists some of her starry clientele, ranging from writers such as Dorothy Parker, to political figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Clare Luce to film stars such as Olivia de Havilland, Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Lamour. She worked with Carmen Miranda on creating ever more lavish turban creations, claiming, "with her, nothing was barred. If I had put a live parrot on one of her hats, I am sure she would have loved it."

Marlene Dietrich in Desire, via

Through her work on films, she established many trends. For Marlene Dietrich in 1936's Desire, she created "those hats with wrapped scarf effects, the wimples and such, which became the rage of the next season, and are still going strong."

Carole Lombard in her snood, via

Or the snood, created to keep Carole Lombard's hair neat in a dancing scene, which "became a craze that swept the country."


Daché merrily enters into a feud with newspaper man Mr Westbrook Pegler about the ridiculous and extravagance of women's hats. "I truly believe that much of the joy would go out of men’s lives if it were not for their wives’ hats", she writes. "They would have nothing to talk about … They love to laugh at women’s hats, they lie awake at night thinking up new quips about them, but I know of a certainty that when it comes to women’s hats, men like them crazy." It's amusing stuff, but now - when a hat-wearing woman is the exception rather than rule - it's hard to believe hats ever made such headlines (sorry, an unintended pun).

Indeed, as implied by the gorgeous illustration on the jacket of the book, quite a lot of the book focuses on the differing role men and women, and the battleground of the hat. Despite her huge success, Daché maintains that "marriage is more important to a woman than success or fame or many love affairs." She compares her job as a milliner to being a doctor, though possibly more like a psychologist, deciding what hats to make to mend broken hearts, win back the affections of a loved one, or secure a marriage.

It's possible to tell a lot about a man through his preferred choice of hat on his lady, she argues. A sailor-type hat indicates a conservative kind of guy, while a sports hat is a "good pal" of a man. The "man-about-town" meanwhile, who "who wants his girl to look like a subtle siren, will like her best in a turban."

This book reinforced what I like about Lilly Daché: she appears completely content with her life, and seems to get a lot of satisfaction out of making other people happy. The books conclusion is one of the nicest I've read: "I know that I have followed my own recipe for happiness – to do what you love, with the people you love, in the place that you love. That’s all." Wouldn't we all love to be able to sum up our lives in that simple satisfied way?

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