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Meet the Milliner Bringing Hats into the 21st Century

A rising CFDA designer may make you a “hat person” after all.

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Women wore fedoras first. Of course, that’s not what comes to mind when you think of early aughts red carpet events and male celebrities sporting the fedora look, but it’s true. Now, when Molly Yestadt of Yestadt Millinery — a member of the prestigious CFDA Fashion Incubator — makes her Nomad Fedora Hat, she channels both her own bold style and a tradition of women’s craftsmanship.

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, millinery was one of few avenues women had to entrepreneurship because it was an exclusively female trade. The word fedora actually first appeared in the 1880s as the title of a popular play: Fédora, a Russian tragedy written by Victorien Sardou. The real star of the show was Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous French actress of the late 19th century, who played the eponymous lead. Mark Twain once said of the actress, "There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses — and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.”

When Bernhardt appeared on stage in Fédora she supposedly wore a floppy hat with a crease in the middle — a previously unseen statement piece — that inspired other bold women to adopt the look. The fedora trend became a symbol of women rebelling against fashion and gender norms of the day, but that niche trend never broke into the mainstream market. It wasn’t until fedoras were rebranded as men’s hats years later in the United States and sold in department stores that they really caught on, eventually becoming the more structured hat you now associate with Johnny Depp.

Regardless of some of the fedora’s detours, the fact remains that hats more broadly have long been integral to women’s statements about fashion and identity. Think about everything from the suffragettes’ slouch hats to Beyonce’s jaw dropping big-brimmed look in her music video for “Formation.” In Yestadt’s modern case, millinery enables her to carry on a tradition of craftsmanship while making her own mark on the fashion world that, quite literally, turns heads.

“Wearing a hat is owning it — and I think that’s sort of the fun of getting dressed,” says Yestadt. That declaration of ownership, as it turns out, has always been the trade secret for the women who make hats, as well as for the women who wear them.

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