I wasn’t a particularly feminine girl-child, but I played with dolls, and I made hats for them from handkerchiefs and buttons, ribbons and safety pins. I had my own hats, too…bunny fur and dark green velvet in winter, straw Easter bonnets with fake flowers every spring. That is, up until I hit seventh grade, when wearing a hat suddenly became uncool. At that time the only acceptable head gear among my peer group was scarves. Why we wanted to wear what my Polish grandmother would have called babushkas remains a mystery to me, but like pre-teens everywhere, we were driven by the need to look exactly alike.
Even in those days, I indulged my secret passion by playing with my mother’s hats, mostly small, stiff pancakes of fabric that sat on top of your head and had little wispy veils that didn’t really veil anything. When my friends and I went to the shopping center (this was before malls were invented) they tried on bathing suits or skirt-and-sweater sets, while I gravitated to what was still called the millinery department. Possibly because hats looked better on me than bathing suits.
Over the years I’ve amassed a small collection—I admit to a preponderance of baseball caps, but my friend Jo-Ann gave me a nifty Stetson last year. My main problem has always been finding hats that fit me…they’re usually too big and they slip around on my head and make me crazy. Every once in a while I’ll find one that works, but mostly I still just admire them in stores and on other women’s heads.
All that changed about a year ago on a trip to Portland, OR with my husband. It was a wet, cold December day and we were walking back to our hotel with visions of hot spiced cider dancing in our heads. I was tired of Christmas shopping, so I had actually already passed the entrance to Pinkham Millinery, when the window display belatedly registered in my brain—a flash of vibrant colors in a dark gray afternoon.
I dragged Geoff back and stood staring at a collection of hats like I’d never seen—sleek, witty, contemporary, colors like jewels. Finally he nudged me towards the door and we went inside to meet Dayna Pinkham.
I had no intention of buying a hat that day, and that’s not the way Dayna works, anyway, but we struck up a conversation and I found the tale of her search for her “right livelihood” fascinating and vaguely familiar…maybe because she’s a Sagittarian like me.
Growing up in Snohomish, WA, Dayna was surrounded by creativity and artistry. Both her parents were interior designers and there was always some exciting project going on. Her childhood included visiting the design center with her mother, accompanying her father to various warehouses to pick up carpeting and wallpaper. She remembers her mother as the conceptualizer, but says her father could “build anything.”
From them she got not only her artistic sensibilities, but an understanding of “how to work with clients, how to design something they will love, while remaining true to my own vision.”
She studied biochemistry at the University of Washington, but after three years she realized that science wasn’t giving her what she craved. She left school and embarked on a series of jobs, searching for that elusive something. Her simultaneous discovery of her calling and her mentor was one of those cosmic occurrences that reminds me of the way I stumbled into the McGraw Street Bakery and found mine.
In her own words…
“One day in the early 1980’s I was in the hat department at Nordstrom in Seattle disappointedly trying on over-decorated, ill fitting hats, when a sales clerk told me about a milliner named John Eaton. I went directly to a pay phone across the street and called Mr. Eaton who invited me to his workshop for a consultation.
“Upon entering that workshop I was completely mesmerized by the blocks, raw materials and all the equipment that goes into the making of hats. When I discovered that he taught millinery courses, I immediately enrolled, and at the end of my introductory class, I was honored to be asked by Mr. Eaton to become his apprentice.”
For the past thirty years Dayna has worked at and studied the art of millinery, at first working also as a dental assistant, office manager, chauffeur and “way too many waitress gigs.” Finally in 1998 she was able to open her own boutique and begin to do what she loves fulltime.
Dayna explained the way she works with clients, typically involving first a consultation and then a fitting before she makes a hat. I didn’t have enough time on that trip to Portland, but the idea of having a Dayna Pinkham hat was lodged in my brain, so one year later, almost to the day, at 11 AM, I found myself in her shop having entirely too much fun trying on hats. (It was snowing and unusually cold for Portland, and the heat in the building had gone off, so that explains why we’re all bundled up.)
As I tried on different styles, Dayna talked about her process, how she considers what will work for her clients, their overall look, the shape of the head, the face, the coloring. She looks at the clothes you’re wearing, asks about where you live, the climate and lifestyle. And of course any ideas or preferences you might have.
“Let’s try this one. It’s called a sloper.”
I had never heard of a sloper, but as soon as she set it on my head, I wanted one. A black one. And so it came to pass.
There’s something so perfectly indulgent and magical about a hat that’s made just for you. The way it feels on your head and the way it makes you feel. I wore it for the first time at lunch with my BFF Marilyn. I’ve worn it to dinner at Harry’s Roadhouse, and I’ve worn it grocery shopping. I can see myself wearing it at a gallery opening or while lobbying the legislature against third grade retention. I suppose there may be some occasions for which this particular hat might not be suitable. Putting gas in the car comes to mind. Spending several hours in a plane. Walking the dog. Picking up dry cleaning. For those, I think I’d like something more casual. Like that cute purple one. Or the taupe. Or maybe the green…or something in straw.
I sense another trip to Portland in my future.