A Tip of the hat to the: Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade at the St. Louis Art Museum

As soon as I heard about the Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum I had to go.  Every six weeks or so, my friend Annie Jansen and I head out on a cultural adventure somewhere in the Midwest within driving directions and I must say lately the St. Louis area has offered a wonderful array of things to see and do.

My mom, a class act with a lot of style came with us.  She had a great time trying on hats in the gift shop area and I’m surprised we got out of the museum without them asking her to model a hat or two!

I must say after viewing the exhibit that is a great combination lovely French hats combined with the paintings by Edgar Degas and other contemporary painters that I tip my hat to this wonderful display of French hats from.

The exhibit though is more than just a beauty pageant of hats and paintings; it is also a history lesson about the millinery trade and all the workers impacted by this trend of the late 19th century.  Anyone that says fashion is frivolous doesn’t consider all the hands that engage in the art of making us look good.

There was an entire social hierarchy of workers that took part in the 1,000 millinery shops in Paris. The top dog was thee shop owner/designer, known as the premiere.  Next in line were came the trimmers, who fashioned the hats and then the trottins, errand girls, who delivered the merchandise.  It was amazing to see the images of these ladies in a work environment on the canvas of these talented painters. Before attending this event, I was really only aware of Degas as a sculptor especially of the ballet dancers.  I must say, he and the other painters brought the trade to life.

While the millinery trade brought work and fashion albeit some pretty heavy handed hats at that, the tragic part of the story was the effect the fashion industry had on the bird population.  One historic statement shared in 1911 alone upward to 300 million birds were killed to decorate women’s hats.  Not only did feathers appear, but in some cases they used the entire wing, or even head of the bird.  The up side to this sad story is that environmental efforts were put in place to protect and preserve some of the birds from a fate in the future.  .  To accommodate the demands of fashion, there were a 1,000 millinery shops in Paris.

When visiting, we also made reservations to dine at the Panorama restaurant onsite.  This turned out to be very nice and offered a chance for the three of us to sit down and enjoy a great meal.  We also were able to view many of the ladies that came with their own hats so it was a fashion show right inside the restaurant as well.

If this exhibit has been on your bucket list, make plants to attend soon because, Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade runs through May 7. The t the St. Louis Art Museum is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm Friday, 10 am–9 pm; Closed Monday. Exhibit is free for members; free on Friday; $15 for adults; $13 for seniors and students; $6 for children ages 6-12; children 5 and under are free.

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