Renee C. Byer / Sacramento Bee

Sigrid Benson works on a display highlighting the materials in the hats including flowers, feathers, fur and straw. For the first time on public display, the Center for Sacramento History will showcase nearly 75 historic hats and pieces of headwear dating from the 1860s to the 1970s as part of an upcoming "Inside the Vault Textile Tours: Hats and Headwear" four-day public event scheduled for Thursday, April 18, through Sunday, April 21.

Hats tell the story of Sacramento history in new exhibit

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013 - 4:32 pm

Back in the early days of Sacramento, someone wore this tiny black velvet bonnet perched daintily on her head, trailing black satin ribbons and embellished with chic jet beadwork. And someone from a far different walk of life wore this Chinese miner's hat tightly woven out of straw, its broad, curving brim shielding his face from the sun.

Sacramento's first century of life, as seen through the hats and headgear that people wore, is on display for a few days in the huge storage vault at the Center for Sacramento History.

It's a unique glimpse into Sacramento's past.

"We wanted to share the collection," said the center's curator of history, Veronica Kandl. "We have these treasures."

Look at the big gold lamé crown from the early 1920s, part of a Miss Liberty costume. For several decades, Kandl said, a girl from Sacramento's thriving Portuguese community was chosen each year to dress up as Lady Liberty in an annual parade.

"This was the Portuguese community's way of symbolically showing that they were Americans," she said.

Or look at the elegant black top hat worn by Mayor Gustave Simmons in 1916 for the dedication of the Yolo Causeway. Alongside the top hat, here's a photograph of Simmons and other local dignitaries of the day - and here's a photograph of a faux wedding ceremony uniting Sacramento with Yolo County.

Such was local entertainment in the days before of the Sacramento Kings.

"The causeway opening was a three-day celebration," said Kandl. "People don't do that any more."

Located off Richards Boulevard, the history center houses 5 million archival documents and 30,000 artifacts, including 450 historic hats - 75 of which are on display during the four-day exhibit.

"Inside the Vault Textile Tours: Hats and Headwear" centers on four sections.

First is a chronology of hats worn by Sacramento's female citizens through the decades, with the bonnets of the 1890s leading to the cloches of the 1920s and the small confections of net and feathers from the 1950s. The next section showcases headgear specific to Sacramento, such as an old Sacramento Solons baseball cap.

Another section is devoted to flora and fauna, the materials used to fabricate hats. And the last features headgear with a purpose: a 1920s Sacramento Fire Department helmet made from coated leather, for example.

"We'd been looking at doing an inventory of the collection, and we thought we'd start with the hat collection," said Kandl. "As long as we were pulling them out from storage, we thought we should share them with the public."

Hourlong tours take place today through Sunday, starting at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and tickets are $15 per person.

UC Davis professor Susan Kaiser, who specializes in gender studies, gives a presentation on fashion and textiles at 3 p.m. Sunday, with tickets for that event going for $25 each.

The center is at 551 Sequoia Pacific Blvd. in Sacramento. For more information on the exhibit, go to

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136.

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