Curated by Louise Hughes Rolling’s daughter, Vicie A. Rolling and folklorist, Jill Breit, “Hattitude! The Hats of Louise Hughes Rolling,” honors the work and life of African-American milliner Louise Hughes Rolling with a display of more than forty hats from her collection. Her work spans decades and illustrates the change of fashion from the 1940s to the end of the 20th century. The hats are a lesson in costume history, artifacts of social and cultural history, and works of art that bring aesthetic enjoyment to the viewer.
For 20th century African American women in the United States, wearing a hat to church on Sunday was a cherished tradition.
What is “Hattitude”? According to Professor Mamie Hixon of the University of West Florida, Hattitude is “a hat wearing attitude.” “Not only are you wearing the hat with a certain kind of demeanor and personality, but the hat itself speaks. It has a personality. That’s hattitude.”
According to daughter Vicie Rolling, “The women in the Rolling family would say “You’ve got to WEAR a hat, you can’t let it wear you.”
In the 1940s, teenage Louise and her family moved from Georgia to Trenton, New Jersey. They were part of the Great Migration of African-Americans looking for work and opportunity that was not available to them in the South at the time. Louise became a professional seamstress. She worked in a garment factory. In the evenings, she sewed clothes for herself and others. Initially, Louise made hats for her own use only. It would have been difficult for her to purchase hats ready-made in that era. Even if she were allowed into the shops that sold hats, she would not have been allowed to touch them or try them on. Always interested in fashion, Louise studied movies, magazines, and pattern books to come up with her ideas for hats. Her extensive skills allowed her to make anything that inspired her. Eventually, her friends started asking her to make hats for them. From this start, a business was born.”
The exhibit, originally designed and curated by Traditional Arts of Upstate New York, will be on display through October 1, 2023.