The Showstopping Hats of Mae Reeves at Hillwood


Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens have always been the most gracious venue for everything that fashion icon Marjorie Merriweather Post lived and bequeathed to the nation. It was therefore a fitting venue for a June evening as guests assembled to enjoy a presentation by Donna Limerick inspired by the magnificent ensembles featured in Hillwood’s current exhibit “Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior” to explore the world of her mother’s Mae’s Millinery Shop, known for stunning “showstoppers” by hat designer Mae Reeves.

In 1940, at age 28, Reeves’s talent and drive led her to become one of the first African American women to own a business in downtown Philadelphia. For 50 years, her shop was popular with women of all backgrounds, including socialites, such as the DuPont family and relatives of Grace Kelly, as well as celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Marian Anderson and Lena Horne. Reeves’s one-of-a kind vintage hat collection is now preserved as apermanent exhibitat the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Guests were encouraged to wear a favorite hat as Reeves’s daughter, Donna Limerick, an award-winning documentary producer, with more than 25 years of experience producing programs for National Public Radio, and Hillwood Associate Curator of Hillwood’s  “Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior” exhibit Megan Martinelli related Mae’s story as a pioneer. A fashion show presented some of Mae Reeves’s most enduring hat designs.

Following the fashions, Donna signed “Mae Makes A Way: The True Story of Mae Reeves, Hats & History Maker,” a middle-grades book published in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Donna Limerick in black ostrich showstopper hat. Photo by Shun Pittman. 

 

Lila Limerick, Donna Limerick, Anna Pitsenberger and Olivia Limerick. Photo by Shun Pittman. 

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