Vanilla Beane, Washington DC’s “hat lady” and the most celebrated milliner in the nation’s capital, turns 100 years old on September 13th. A media day, gallery exhibit, and other birthday celebrations are being planned in Washington, DC.
Beane’s hats have adorned the heads of such luminaries as famed Maya Angelou, Dorothy Height, and Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser.
At age 99, Beane still owns and operates Bene Millinery & Bridal Supply, which she opened in 1979. Customers range from church-goers, to derby-goers, to Washington’s well-heeled. She has created hats for movies, charity events, and even for a guest attending The Royal Ascot. In 2018, a green turban, Beane’s personal favorite style of hat, was selected to be part of Google’s 3-D interactive exhibit curated at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC). She was honored to see her hats displayed for the museum’s opening in 2016. Others have been on display at the National Museum of American History and the Black Fashion Museum in Harlem.
Beane’s most notable client was the late civil rights activist, and President Emeritus of the NAACP, Dr. Dorothy Height. At Height’s funeral in 2010, the iconic headpieces were mentioned by the Honorable President Barack Obama. One of these crowns is immortalized on top of a call box in front of Height’s southwest DC home. Another is depicted on a US Postal Service stamp.
Beane did more than dream of making hats—she manifested her dream into reality. In 1955, she took a job at the Washington Millinery Supply Company, a shop she frequented while working as an elevator operator in the same building. When preparation met opportunity, Beane was able to purchase the stock of millinery supplies from the shop owner when he retired. From this she was able to build her own millinery business. Twenty years after she got her start, the award-winning “hat lady” who turned a hobby into a career, was inducted into the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD) Hall of Fame. In 2003, the government of the District of Columbia declared November 22nd Vanilla Beane Day.
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