Hats of Their Own

Nancy Sinsabaugh and Salmagundi proprietor Jessen Fitzpatrick display the “ladies top hat.”

Years ago, “Happy Committee” member Nancy Sinsabaugh ’76, M.B.A. ’78, reported for Commencement Day duty at 6:15 a.m. While her male colleagues—in their top hats—entered Tercentenary Theatre “without even showing their tickets,” she recalls, the guards kept her back until the gates officially opened to the public at 6:45 a.m. That never happened again. Seeking equal wardrobe-based authority, Sinsabaugh purchased a crimson-colored “top hat,” to which she affixed black feathers and ribbon. Sporting it, she has waltzed into the Yard ever since. A version of that hat, developed by Sinsabaugh and Boston milliner Jessen Fitzpatrick (www.salmagundiboston.com), is now available as an option to other committeewomen, as well as female Commencement aides and marshals. The wool-felt “ladies top hat,” handmade by Fitzpatrick in crimson or black, costs $138. (That includes a custom-made hatbox and personal delivery and fitting.) “I hope Oprah likes it,” Fitzpatrick says of the 2013 Commencement speaker. “I’d love to make a hat for her, too.” Members of the Committee for the Happy Observance of Commencement usher guests to chairs, answer questions, and otherwise help keep order. Traditionally, the men wear top hats and tails, which “command a certain attention and respect,” Sinsabaugh says. The women’s regalia has less sartorial presence. It has also changed over the years, amid some contention: the white dress, red sash, and carnation worn in the 1980s, she notes, “made us look like beauty queens.” In 2005, women adopted a crimson rosette, usually worn with a black suit or dress. (The new hats would add flair.) With the women set, for now, some committeemen were inspired to rethink their own options and visit Salmagundi, which has 9,000 artful headpieces, along with bow ties and silk cravats. “But these gentlemen special-ordered the rabbit-fur-felt, silk-finish top hats” from Christys’ of London, Fitzpatrick says—at roughly $500 each. Sinsabaugh calls it “hat envy.”

Read more articles by: Nell Porter Brown

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