Christmas hat tree, collection in Markle shop reminds of bygone fashion trend

Stephenie Murchland, owner of Village Salon, in Markle, stands in her shop next to a pink Christmas tree filled with vintage hats.
Stephenie Murchland, owner of Village Salon, in Markle, stands in her shop next to a pink Christmas tree filled with vintage hats. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Dec. 15, 2016.

There was a time when any respectable woman wouldn’t leave the house without a hat.

Those days are long gone, but those hats live on.

Feathered, furred and sequined; pillbox and full brim — even a vintage Salvation Army bonnet — the classic chapeaux now adorn a pink Christmas tree that stretches nearly to the ceiling of the Village Salon, in Markle.

Even the tree is of another era.

“I got that pink tree at Ayres,” salon owner Stephenie Murchland says, referring to the now-defunct department store. “So that tells you how long ago that was.”

Murchland assembled the collection of hats, which are also displayed on a hall tree and on hat stands throughout the salon, almost by accident.

It was about 12 years ago, she says, that she decided that her grandmother’s fur-trimmed hats, which had been consigned to her kids’ box of play clothes, deserved a better fate. She pulled the hats out of the box, and brought them in to her shop.

“I’ve probably put the hats on the tree maybe the last four years,” she says. “It used to be Barbies.”

The tree is now adorned with her grandmother’s hats, as well as hats once worn by her mother and her mother-in-law.

“This was my grandmother’s,” she says, pointing out a fur-trimmed hat toward the top of the tree. “I remember her wearing it all the time.”

Another one, a small pillbox, belonged to her mom.

“I don’t remember her wearing it, but I have seen pictures of her with that hat on,” Murchland says.

Once the original hats were in the salon, Murchland says, clients started adding to her collection.

“It just escalated,” she says.

One client, a woman who just celebrated her 100th birthday, contributed a hat she had worn in her youth. Another client brought in the hat she wore for her wedding — a maroon velvet band with matching netting.

The Salvation Army bonnet — sporting a straw crown, cloth brim and a ribbon bearing the words “The Salvation Army” — was a Christmas gift from a client. The brim is a bit faded, she says, probably from exposure to light, which wouldn’t have happened if the hats were kept packed away.

“But that’s the fun of them,” she says, “having them to display.”

Murchland believes that hat, along with many of the others, are probably from the 1940s and 1950s, although she says some could be older. While all are vintage, not all have personal stories; some were picked up at antique stores and flea markets.

“Sometimes people go on vacations and bring me hats,” Murchland says.

There are hats covered in feathers that look like they’d be more at home on a bird’s behind, and one hat with feathers of bright blue that won’t be found on any bird.

“That one looks like you’d have some animal sitting on your head,” she says. “This looks like it has chicken feathers on it.”

A black velvet hat sports a wide band of colorful embroidery, and a baby blue hat is made up of a mass of tiny balls.

“U-u-u-ugly” is how Murchland characterizes her collection.

“I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing any one of those hats,” she says.

As long as they’re not on her head, though, she admires them.

“I like history,” she says. “I remember when the ladies used to get dressed up to go to the grocery … I just like that era.”

While the pink tree — which has a small collection of hat pins displayed at its base — is a fixture in the salon only at Christmas, Murchland’s hat collection spans the seasons.

“In the spring, I put the Easter-looking hats out,” she says, displaying them on stands around the shop. There are straw hats for summer, and fall hats for later in the year.

She stores the hats in totes during the off-season, occasionally wiping off accumulated dust with a damp cloth.

Whatever the season, Murchland says the hats always catch the eye of her clients, especially the older ladies.

“They remember always wearing hats,” she says. “They wouldn’t have thought about going to church without a hat on.”