Vintage Millinery Marks & Hat Labels

When shopping for vintage hats, oftentimes you'll see a stamped mark inside the hat, usually inside the crown. It's almost exclusively seen in felt hats, and usually reads "Body Made In..." with a country name.

What does this stamp mean? It's sometimes mistaken for the brand, but it's actually indicating the source of the hat's body. If you strip away all the ribbon, feathers, flowers and other trims that might adorn a hat, what's underneath is called the body, or "hat blank" in milliner's terms. Back when the hat was made, the company that created it sourced the body from a supplier of hat bodies.  Of the images above, the names, Merrimac, Milady and Musketeer are not hat manufacturers, but hat body manufacturers.  They supplied the hat manufacturers with blanks.

If relatively high expense is going into the hat, it's more likely to have a "body" mark. Why? Well, because that mark tells the shopper about its fashionable origin and its luxurious fibers, like fur (especially angora or cashmere). Of course, lower quality hats may also have body marks because they mimicked their high-end counterparts. But what's written out on that stamp tells a lot about a hat.

All-wool was generally lower quality than one marked "fur fiber", and something specificially "cashmere" was up the ranks from the ambiguous "fur fiber".  Also, the mark "IMPORTED" was seen as an indicator of high quality in general. Remember that this was before the days of mass production in Taiwan, Japan or China. "Imported" in vintage hats usually means that the body was from France, Italy or Austria.

Milliners (the people who make hats) relied on these body marks to signify the quality of their end product, and a "made in France" mark gave a chic air to a hat otherwise produced and marketed within the U.S.

Besides body marks, hats also have labels/marks to indicate both the creator and the seller.  Here's a line-up of milliners (or hat creators), large and small:

It's interesting to note that milliners during much of the 20th century existed in both tiny shops and (toward the 1950s & 1960s especially) in large factories.  The word "ORIGINAL" often appears on a maker's label to show it was their own novel idea, like the label at right. The center image above is not a label, but a stamp, from a luxurious milliner in Paris.  And the left-hand label is both creator and seller in one label!  Must have been a small shop.

And last on the line-up, the shopfront's label.  Again, these range from large (Neiman-Marcus) to small (Pond's, long since gone in New Hampshire).  Franklin Simon at center is a defunct department store.

All these marks & labels mean that one vintage hat can easily have three indicators of its origins - the body mark, the milliner's label and the seller's label.  A lot of information from the underside of a hat!