Susan McLain’s vintage clothing collection began as a simple decorating project.
“I started out by wanting to decorate my house with a few things and now I have a museum,” said McLain, who’s collected vintage fashions for at least 30 years.
McLain – known as “Yesterday’s Lady” — is a Humanities Nebraska speaker who has traveled the Midwest, entertaining groups with a variety of fashion programs.
This weekend, the Beatrice woman will be a featured speaker at the Christmas on the Prairie celebration. The 29th annual event is planned from 2-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Saunders County Historical Society Museum, 240 N. Walnut St., in Wahoo.
The public is invited to the two-day celebration which features a variety of musical programs, trees decorated by individuals and groups, a silent auction and treats.
Visitors also can meander through onsite buildings — decorated for Christmas – which include the old Burlington Depot, District 42 Schoolhouse and Weston Presbyterian Church. A bake sale and silent auction will be part of the celebration as well.
The theme for this year’s celebration is called “Hats Off to Christmas.”
In conjunction with that theme, McLain’s program is titled “To Top It Off — The History of Hats” and covers the years of 1837 to the 1960s.
McLain’s program starts at 2 p.m. Saturday in the church on the museum grounds.
The history buff will start by telling about hats from the Victorian time period of 1837 to 1901—named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
It was a time, McLain said, when social etiquette required that women wore hats – especially if they were going out somewhere.
Hats from that time – which ended with the queen’s death in 1901 — were smaller than those popular in the Edwardian era.
Named after Victoria’s son, Edward, that era extended to about World War I.
The Edwardian period was an elegant era and a time when women wore larger, fuller hair and big hats that required several pins to keep them in place.
With World War I came several changes. Said to be the war that changed the world, it certainly brought alterations to fashion.
Women began working outside of the home and started gaining some freedom, she said.
In the 1920s, they began cutting off their long locks and started wearing a shorter style called a bob. They gave up their large hats for the cloche — a close-fitting, bell-shaped hat.
Hollywood set the fashion trends during the economically tough times Great Depression, when hat sales soared — for one thing, because they could be made more cheaply.
What’s more, buying a hat was less costly than purchasing a whole new outfit.
Slouch hats, which were made of felt, had a small brim and could be shaped as necessary, became popular.
“You’re going to see some really — almost crazy hats — in the 1930s,” she said.
In the 1940s — when many nations were engulfed in World War II — hats were still important, but younger girls went without them in this era of Rosie the Riveter (an icon representing women who worked in factories and shipyards).
This also was an era when men wore the classic fedora, a hat with a soft brim and indented crown. The hats came in black, brown, gray and navy. Some men had their names put inside their hats so they wouldn’t get them mixed up.
The fedora became a finishing touch to a man’s outfit.
Women, who’d grown their hair longer in the 1930s and 1940s, began wearing shorter styles again in the 1950s.
“Hats are still a must in the 1950s,” McLain said. “Even to go to the grocery store, the ladies would wear hats.”
Women in that era wore smaller and larger hats.
By the 1960s, the pillbox hat had become popular. And there were what McLain calls “hat-lets” which went over the top of a bouffant hairstyle.
Women started going without hats in the 1960s.
“When hairspray and the rat-tooth comb came out — it just killed hats,” she said.
Today, McLain likes seeing royalty wear hats. Royals such as Queen Elizabeth, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are seen wearing hats at various occasions.
“Look at how fascinated people are with them,” McLain said. “It is really cool, because it really does finish off your outfit when you put a hat on.”
McLain will show examples of hats from the different eras during her presentation.
She believes people will benefit by attending.
“They will learn some history,” McLain said. “They not only get to see history with the showing of the hats, they’ll get to hear about history. I’m like a little traveling museum.
“And for some people it brings back memories of their moms or their grandmother or of them wearing hats.”
McLain noted the importance of preserving pieces of the past.
“I’m preserving history through fashion,” she said. “A lot people think fashion has nothing to do with history, when it really does. Fashion and history go hand in hand.”
McLain’s collection started more than three decades ago when she bought a pair of high-top boots, hat and a dress from the Victorian Era.
“I started with that and it (the collection) just took off,” she said.
McLain and her husband, Mike, live in the historic 1887 Schmuck building in downtown Beatrice. Constructed in the High Victorian Eclectic style, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
During its history, the building housed a saloon where Hollywood film actor and producer Harold Lloyd made a living as a young boy selling popcorn, McLain’s website states.
The building also has housed a dry goods store, offices and apartments.
From 1918 to 1963, the building was the home of The Beatrice Daily Sun newspaper.
Today, the main floor of the renovated building houses McLain’s vintage clothing collection.
McLain opens her shop to historical tours. She and her spouse have their private residence on the building’s second and third floors.
More information about McLain’s vintage clothing museum and vintage salon can be found at http://www.yesterdayslady.net
In the meantime, area residents can get a head start on celebrating the holidays with a Saturday program about hats.