By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Nancy Knocke loves hats.
Big hats. Small hats. Smaller hats
New hats. Old hats. Antique hats.
Hats in all colors.
Hats decorated with feathers, sequins and silk flowers.
“My hats come from all over. I have a source where I buy them. Some are from New York. I also have antique hats. I buy from California, Louisiana, all over,” said Knocke, the owner of Wildwood Gifts and Boutique, located in the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall on Main Street.
Knocke has been interested in hats and wearing hats since she was a little girl. She has collected several articles, too, about wearing hats, including an article from Time Magazine in the 1940s about wearing hats in the ‘40s.
“When I was growing up, hats were a big thing. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, hats were huge. And I always had my fair share of them. Women would dress up for church and wear a hat and gloves,” she said, noting that women often wore hats, too, for quite ordinary events and occasions.
“People don’t really wear hats anymore, but you’d be surprised the number of ladies who say to me, ‘I’ve got my mother’s hats and my grandmother’s hats.’ And I say, ‘why don’t you wear them,’” Knocke said.
“You can go wild with hats. One thing I can’t understand, we put all of this sunscreen on our faces, but a beautiful hat will shade your face from the sun. I think in the southern states, that’s one of the reasons they wear the bigger hats,” she said.
Even today, events in the news can inspire women to buy and wear hats. Consider the marriage of Kate Middleton and Prince William.
“We had a really good movement of hats when Kate and William got married. We saw on (television) all the different kinds of hats. The fascinators. And the big hats, and especially Fergie’s daughters who had the big hats. I have had reproductions of those hats (in stock) and sold out of them. The hats have been a popular thing. Women are shy about wearing hats because nobody else is doing it, but hats set you aside,” Knocke said.
The smaller hats, often worn at an angle, are known as “fascinators”.
Although women do not wear hats as they once did, little girls seem to be fascinated with hats.
“You would be surprised at the number of little girls that mothers brought into the shop (in Eau Claire). Each holiday, a little girl who must have been about ten, her mother bought her a hat out of our collection. She always had a big grin. And she knew exactly what she wanted. I think it’s wonderful for a young lady to learn about hats and what they can do for you and the clothes you can wear with them and the gloves,” Knocke said.
“When you put on a hat, you feel so lovely. It doesn’t matter what your hair looks like. Hats can hide a bad hair day … hats make you feel special. They give you presence,” Knocke said.
Knocke previously operated a shop in Eau Claire but has been at the Colfax Arts and Antique Mall for about eighteen months. She said she moved to Colfax because she liked the village and she liked Mark Johnson and his vision for the antique mall.
“I’ve been here a year and a half. They have beautiful things. It’s a lovely shop. I like the camaraderie of the coffee shop. The mix of the antiques and the coffee shop, you could spend a day here. It’s a fun place to be,” she said.
One modern event that still inspires women to wear hats is the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
And in honor of the Kentucky Derby, Lynn Schneider, owner of Lynn’s Brewed Awakenings next to the arts and antique mall, will be holding a Kentucky Derby party from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The party will feature food, wine, music — and the Kentucky Derby horse race on television, of course.
Prizes will be awarded, too, for the best hat, the most unusual hat, and the best dress attire for male and female.
Schneider plans to wear a dress from the Edwardian period (1900 to 1912) in honor of the Kentucky Derby and in anticipation of the upcoming Colfax Sesquicentennial Celebration in July.
Peggy Richards and Linda Henthorn, who both work at Lynn’s Brewed Awakenings, will be dressed in attire from the Civil War period.
“They’ve got the big hoop skirts, long sleeves. They will be very cute. We are dressing for the Kentucky Derby party, plus we will be wearing our period dresses for the Sesquicentennial. People do not have to wear period clothing for the Kentucky Derby party, but they should come dressed up,” Schneider said.
Or at least a little bit dressed up, added Mark Johnson, who noted that people wear all kinds of attire for the Kentucky Derby, but that those who wear jeans stand on the infield to watch the horse race.
Wearing a hat is not a requirement for attending the Kentucky Derby party, he said.
“We are creating an opportunity for women to wear hats,” Knocke said.
Johnson noted that during the Kentucky Derby party, he plans to hand out the words to “My Old Kentucky Home” so people can sing along.
He also pointed out that people can check the Kentucky Derby website for “in” colors this year and what is acceptable to wear for the Derby.
“Maybe that could be a homework assignment. You can do a little homework to find out what is acceptable attire for the Kentucky Derby,” Knocke said.