The Hat Ladies

Archie Burkel

Top Hat Archie Burkel on The Hat Ladies:

Why we exist: The Hat Ladies brings together women of all ages who have a genuine love of hats of all colors and a desire to volunteer.

Motto: When you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you do good.

What we do: The Hat Ladies activities (or "HaTpenings") are monthly and yearly. We are "fun"raisers, lending our volunteer support to the fundraising efforts of cultural, medical, educational and social organizations throughout Charleston. Here is a sampling: Networking at our monthly luncheon and a monthly HaTpy Hour; hat decorating at MUSC; bringing our song-and-dance program to assisted-living facilities; docenting for preservation societies and The Charleston Symphony Orchestra League Designer Showhouse; helping at medical walks and programs, i.e. Race for the Cure, Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, Toys for Debi's Kids; working on Habitat Houses; promenading every Easter Saturday in honor of hat wearing traditions and in support of The ASCEND Foundation, dedicated to ending cancer. ...

Our beginnings: The Hat Ladies started in early 2001.

Simply wearing my hats elicited such a positive and widespread reaction, I realized there was an interest in a hat-wearing group. I neither own a shop nor have millinery skills. The raison d'etre of this organization is its bringing together the loveliest hat-wearing ladies in a spirit of camaraderie and community service.

Number of members: Although we have almost 200 members, we are an organization where members form deep friendships, while welcoming new ladies with open hearts. As one of our newest members, Jacquelyn Hall wrote, "It's refreshing to represent an association that maintains personal interaction and not just a membership number."

Who can join: Any female who genuinely loves hats. Our members range in age from 13 to 88, with every age in between.

Benefits: Being part of a volunteer brigade of stylish ladies who are making a difference; having occasions to wear your hat(s); networking with some of the most wonderful ladies; doing things you have never done before; experiencing a rise in self-esteem; receiving recognition by others that you are a Hat Lady; being invited to special events by businesses and other organizations; having the opportunity to sell or buy merchandise at select luncheons; advertising your business, special event or particular sale item.

What makes your group different from the other hat groups in town? The Hat Ladies is a Charleston original. Its successful formula of fashion and compassion has spawned "copyhat" groups. We are flattered to be imitated. It is a feather in our cap to see our dream of hats returning become a reality. Although the Red Hat Society involves hats, it uses a red hat as a symbol to signify one has reached a certain age and earned the right to do whatever she wants.

Cost: The annual dues are $25.

For more info: www.hatladies.org, 762-6679.

On hats ...

How does wearing a hat make you feel? Complete, comfortable, confident.

Describe the most outrageous hat you've worn. Although I am small in stature, I do best in big hats, which I call my "lamp shades." In the privacy of my own house, in the company of a select group of friends, I once put on a lamp shade. It looked good!

What is the most memorable comment you've received while wearing a hat? During our post-Promenade down King Street, a gentleman emerged from a store and said, "It must be recess in Heaven, look at all these pretty women." A Hat Lady receives so many positive comments, we like to ask, "At the end of the day, how many compliments are too many?" Then there are all the toots of horns and thumbs up we get while walking or driving down the street!

Describe your earliest hat memory. I was around 10 years old. My girlfriend and I went up in her attic and found a trunk with hats and scarves. I draped the scarf around my neck, placed the hat on my head, and struck an "Oh, Dahlin' " pose for the camera. My hatitude was born that day.

When and why did you start wearing hats? I have always worn hats, but I started wearing them regularly when I moved to Charleston 11 years ago. With its kind and gentle climate (and all that humidity and sunshine) and its kind and genteel lifestyle, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.

Where do you find your hats? When I formed The Hat Ladies nine years ago, my answer would have been very short. Now, however, stylish hats can be found at the drop of a hat, at stores ranging from moderately priced to high-end department stores and boutiques. In fact, there is a better selection in Charleston than there is in larger cities because The Hat Ladies have created a demand. We also have three outstanding milliners: Grace at African American Gallery Chuma, Meyriel Edge at Ashley Hall and Magar from Magar Hatworks. The Hat Ladies even sell hats off their own heads at our biannual Gently Used Hat Sale at Consigning Women.

Will you wear a hat on Derby Day? I am delighted you asked: We will be wearing the best looking hats of any team at Brittlebank Park when The Hat Dragons compete in the second annual Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday. We will, however, switch to Derby-worthy hats for the other race later that day!

A hat should be worn … Any time and anywhere … except in your own house (it gives the message to guests you have a better place to be).