Canadian Fashion Connection – Anita Pineault

Anita Pineault, late 1980s

The oldest of nine siblings, Anita Chouinard was born in Quebec in 1917. Her last name was changed to Pineault when she married. When he left to serve in Europe during World War II Anita took a job with the Montreal firm Nadel Hat. Her talent was quickly realized by owner Teddy Nadel and she was soon promoted to design for the company.

Anita launched her own company in the 1950s and, with high standards, built a successful international business, exporting hats to New York and making hats for designer collections. In later years she launched a line of scarves. In the late 1980s she sold her company to European interests and retired to Kingston Ontario. She passed away at the age of 92 on January 20, 2009.

Thanks to themerchantsofvintage for finding an obit that opened research doors!

Canadian Fashion Connection: D. McCall & Co.

The wholesale millinery business of D. McCall & Co., was established in 1879 by Dougald McCall and William Blackley (Blackley had immigrated to Montreal from Scotland in 1860 and moved to Toronto in 1866.) The business was originally located at 51 Yonge Street, but soon outgrew the premises and moved to 12 and 14 Wellington street, a stone building consisting of 36,000 square feet over five floors. An advertisement from 1886 boasts that they employed 17 clerks and salesmen in the showroom, 125 women in the factory, and 9 commercial travellers who sold McCall millinery throughout Canada.

The business imported undecorated hat forms and finished hats from France, Germany, England, and the United States, as well as all the trimmings associated with millinery including feathers imported from around the world. By 1892 they had opened a branch in Montreal. That same year, the Canadian Dry Goods Review promoted their business in February as having a huge variety of “Hats and bonnets, flowers, ribbons, laces, silks, jet goods, veilings, trimmings of all kinds… We almost forgot to mention the magnificent range of mantles which this firm carry”.

The business expanded to Winnipeg in 1900, with the Toronto location moving to new premises some time thereafter. Web search results for the company dating after 1900 drop off suggesting that the company closed sometime during the 1900s or early 1910s. It could be that the company closed with the death of McCall and/or Blackley.

The last Toronto location of D. McCall Co., c. 1910, address unknown

Canadian Fashion Connection – Kates Boutique

The Montreal millinery company Kates Boutique was founded in December 1969. Kates was a supplier of basic fashion headwear to bridal shops, department stores and hat salons across the country. The company was incorporated in March 1993, at which point its official name was changed to Kates Millinery (1993) Inc. The company ceased production in January 2002 and was legally dissolved in December 2003.

Straw Hat Day and Felt Hat Day

The stiff straw boater (aka skimmer) became a popular summer hat for men in the 1890s and remained popular until the 1920s. Typically worn for semi-formal occasions, they were usually donned with lightweight summer suits, or blazers with white flannels and often worn at boating events, which is the origin for its name. Finer, softer, Panama straws became more popular with younger men by the 1930s, although boaters were worn into the 1950s by older men. 

Men wearing boaters, New York City, July 1921

There rose a peculiar observance in the U.S. in the early 1900s called ‘Straw Hat Day’. This was to be the first day when men wore their straw boaters, abandoning their wintery felt hats for the summer season. The exact date for this observance varied from place to place and year to year, but usually occurred around mid-late May. The Fall counterpart ‘Felt Hat Day’ when the boater was put away, occurred around mid-September to early October. Like the wearing of hats in general, this observance gradually disappeared – the last time it was mentioned in the New York Times was 1963, well after straw boaters had fallen from fashion.

When the convention was being especially observed in the early 1920s, a tradition of destroying your summer hat at the end of the season began as a lark but got out of hand when it escalated into the Straw Hat Riot of 1922. What began as a small group of teenage boys snatching and destroying hats on September 13, two days before Felt Hat Day, grew into a mob of ‘hooligans’ destroying straw hats and beating men who resisted their hats being taken. After eight days and several arrests, the hat smashing orgy was stopped. Magistrate Peter Hatting (no kidding, that’s his name…) was quoted in the September 14 New York Times: ‘It is against the law to smash a man’s hat, and he has a right to wear it in a January snowstorm if he wishes.” 

Although this 1922 event was the worst event of this nature, every year saw occurrences of unwanted hat snatching and destruction until the boater fell from popularity by the end of the 1920s.

What to do with a short leading man…

Ingrid Bergman looking up to Humphrey Bogart in 1942’s Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart was 5’7″, and his leading lady in Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman, was 5’9″ — so how do you get them to appear nearly identical in height in scenes like the one at the airport ? You start with the hats. Bogart wore high crowned fedoras while Bergman wore low slouched, turned-down brim styles. Next, you go to the feet. Bergman’s feet are rarely shown, because they are in low heeled shoes, while Bogart wore strap-on clogs for scenes where he and Bergman had close conversations.

Bergman in low-heeled sandals and turned-down and slouch-brimmed hats to play down her height
Bogart’s 3 inch platform clog strap-ons

A hat with pithy nuance

Critical tweets and hashtags quickly filled social media this past Friday when Melania Trump wore a pith helmet for a Safari tour in Kenya. The New York Times quoted Kim Yi Donne, a political-science professor who specializes in African politics at the University of California, “When people think of Africa, they have these standard narratives. Her attire is a signal of her understanding of what Africa is in 2018. It’s tired and its old and it’s inaccurate.”

Many feel the pith helmet is a symbol of European colonialism, but it wasn’t created as a means of expressing authority or repression, only as a way for Europeans to survive equatorial heat and tropical humidity. If the pith helmet is a symbol of hot climate imperialism, then a similar argument could be made for parkas and pack boots in former cold climate colonies.

The pith used in the helmet’s construction was acquired from the spongey core of the stem of the shola plant that grows abundantly in marshy areas of East India (West Bengal). The light-weight pith, which absorbs moisture and can be easily carved, was traditionally used for creating Bengali wedding headgear.

Sometime during the 1820s to 1840s, sun helmets (known as shola topee in Hindi) began to be made by Indians for Europeans who found their straw hats became sticky and limp in the high humidity and heat of the tropical Indian climate. Pith sun hats retained their shape while the hygroscopic qualities of the pith wicked sweat away from the head.

1858 design for pith helmet

In the 1850s the British army were still wearing shakos – a tall Napoleonic era hat style that survives today as part of the marching band uniform. To replace the shako, the pith helmet was adapted for military use. The helmet, which was covered in cotton, had a high crown to  prevent sweat buildup, and added ventilation holes on the side and top for air circulation. The helmets could be soaked in water so that on a hot day, the head was cooled as the water evaporated. A wide, sloping brim to keep sun and rain off the wearer’s face and neck also provided a place to fasten a leather or metal chin strap when not in use.

Soldiers in the Middle East quickly learned they were targets in their bright white helmets, so they dyed the cotton coverings with tea and dirtied them with ‘khak’ the Persian word for dirt from which we get the word khaki.

By the late 1860s, the military were making their helmets from cork or metal instead of pith. The Northwest Mounted Police in Canada even adopted the style in the 1870s (pictured right). A British style was standardized and became known as the Wolseley helmet in 1899, named after, but not designed by, Sir Garnet Wolseley. This modified version, had an apex at the front and back and is still worn by many regiments including the Queen’s Life Guards.

By the late 19thcentury, the genderless civilian style of pith helmet had a rounder shape and flatter top and was known as a ‘Bombay bowler’. Made in India for export, the hats were mostly worn by colonials, expats, missionaries and travellers around the equatorial world: Caribbean islands, The Amazon, Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

U.S. postal service helmet

The pith helmet style became a prototype for soldier’s ‘tin hats’ during World War I, workmen’s hard hats, and polo helmets, which in turn influenced the design of today’s bicycle helmets. The U.S. post office even adopted pith helmet styles for mail carriers that are part of the current uniform.

Dressed for Safari, c. 1930

Pith helmets fell from general use for two reasons. Firstly, as colonies gained independence after World War II, indigenous denizens wore their own traditional styles of headwear that predated the use of pith helmets: turbans, thobes, fezzes, kufis… Although, many of the newly independent countries retained pith helmets for their military and police uniforms. Secondly, travel changed in the postwar world. Extended holidays that began with long ocean voyages to exotic tropical locales were displaced by jetting off for short trips to air conditioned resorts.

The pith helmet is still being made and worn. One current manufacturer in Pakistan has been making them since 1928. This is a style that was not appropriated from any indigenous culture. It was gender non-specific, and was the result of scientific design to aid air movement, moisture wicking, and sun protection. It was not produced by slave labour, and it was never restricted to or from anyone who wanted to wear one. The style’s association with colonialism is superficial – based on it being originally made for and worn by primarily white people who did not have suitable headwear from their own wardrobes to wear in hot and humid climates.

The Perfect Dent

Anyone with a mild case of OCD can drive themselves mad perfecting symmetrical dents and folds (without creases or kinks) in soft felt fedoras. I thought maybe I just didn’t have the right touch, but if you look at 1940s photos, and even film stills, most fedoras were imperfectly dented: