Past Forward

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Expressions of Style with Mrs. Cohen

May 14, 2013 Think THF

Walk into Greenfield Village and 300 years of American history is in motion. Model Ts chug along the streets, the smells of open-hearth cooking and canning fill the air at working century-old farmhouses, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory and the Wright Brothers Cycle Shop are charged with activity and excitement. And all are waiting for you to step inside, make yourself welcome and experience longtime traditions.

In one quiet corner sits Cohen Millinery, moved to Greenfield Village from its original location in Detroit, Michigan’s Corktown, where it was operated in the 1890s by Mrs. “D.” Elizabeth Cohen. The young widow lived upstairs and supported her four children by selling “fancy goods, dry goods and gents’ furnishings” on the first floor. Cohen became best known, however, for her fabulous hats, which she bought wholesale and trimmed with a wide assortment of silk flowers, colorful ribbons, feathers and even whole stuffed birds.

Thanks to celebrities such as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, more and more women are experimenting with hats again. But for ladies in the late 1800s, hats weren’t optional accessories worn for fun. A respectable woman never left home without one — the more frills, the better.

“The more you had on your hat, the wealthier you were thought to be,” said Greenfield Village historic presenter Anora Zeiler, one of seven milliners working at Cohen Millinery today.

Greenfield Village guests visiting the charming shop can browse a colorful array of authentic antique hats and other accessories, such as ornate hair combs and hatpins, delicate ladies’ gloves, and men’s suspenders and ties. They can also chat with the milliners — all dressed in period costume — as they layer a variety of adornments on felt or straw hats, always keeping with the style of the 1880s and 1890s.

“We sew on each piece separately and in the proper order, careful to hide the stitches,” Zeiler said.

Last year, Cohen Millinery brought another part of history forward to the current day, allowing visitors to not only admire the milliners at work and the headwear on the shelves but to purchase handmade beauties on site as ladies did more than a century ago. Each properly packaged in period hatboxes tied with bows.

“We’re making hats in style again,” said Zeiler proudly.

fashion, hats, Mrs. Cohen

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