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Crowning Glory: Millinery in Paris, 1880–1905
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“[The hat] is the dress’s crowning glory, the final touch.”

Arsène Alexandre, art critic and fashion writer, 1902

In late 1800s Paris, hats were a critical staple of a proper wardrobe. As a result, milliners (hatmakers and sellers) became an important professional class—and an inspiration for experimental artists expressing daily life.

Millinery employed thousands of women, from errand girls to hat-form makers, trimmers, and shop owners. Hats ranged from the simple to the complex. Many incorporated luxurious materials including fur, felt, ostrich feathers, and occasionally even entire birds among the profusion of silk, ribbons, and flowers. Women and men purchased hats of all sizes and shapes, supporting an emerging luxury industry.

French artist Edgar Degas viewed milliners as fellow artists and empathized with their artistic activity. The subject also entranced Degas’s contemporaries, thus positioning hats as not only the crowning glory of consumers and their fashionable ensembles, but also of a growing body of young artists intent on capturing modern life.

Organized by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Degas Little Milliners
Image caption: Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917) Junior Milliners (Petites Modistes),1882, Pastel on beige, medium weight, wove paper wrapped onto original cardboard mount, 19 1/4 x 28 1/4 inches (48.9 x 71.76 cm) Purchase: acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor, F79-34