The owner of Washington’s most acclaimed hat and bridal shop passed away after working as an elevator operator in a hat store and later crafting some of the most sought-after designs.
Vanilla Beane, also known as “D.C.’s Hat Lady,” reportedly died in a Washington hospital on Sunday, Oct. 23.
Beane was 103 years old, according to The Washington Post, and the cause was complications from an aortic tear, according to her grandson, Craig Seymour.
Combining grace, elegance, and longevity, Ms.Vanilla Beane embodied Black excellence. Today, we send our love and prayers to Ms. Beane’s family and all who will miss her. pic.twitter.com/hK5qDCQvLo
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) October 25, 2022
Beane was well-known for the radiant hats she created at her Bené Millinery and Bridal Supplies shop on Third Street, NW. Her creations piqued the interest of African American women looking for hats for special occasions such as church, weddings, and funerals. Each design was unique and included a variety of hats such as tams, turbans, Panamas, sailors, and cloches.
“NOBODY WOULD WANT TO WALK INTO A CHURCH AND SEE SOMEONE ELSE WEARING THEIR HAT,” SHE SAID ONCE, ACCORDING TO THE WASHINGTON POST.
Maya Angelou, the writer and poet, and Dorothy I. Height, the founding matriarch of the United States civil rights movement, were among the notable African American women who wore Beane’s fashions.
Beane, according to the outlet, made her hats the old-fashioned way. Her technique included wetting buckram, a stiff cotton, molding it, and decorating it with various fabrics.
In 2009, she told The Washington Post, “Some people like really fussy hats.”
“SOME PEOPLE LIKE SOPHISTICATED HATS, WHILE MANY PEOPLE LIKE SIMPLE HATS.” I TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE, REGARDLESS OF RACE OR BACKGROUND.”
According to legend, D.C.’s “Hat Lady” worked six days a week, including her 100th year, turning her fingers rough and stiff.
“The hat tradition grew out of the idea that you were expressing how God had blessed you,” Craig Marberry, co-author of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, told The Washington Post in a 2019 story about Beane.
“THE MORE FLAMBOYANT A HAT, THE MORE BLESSED YOU ARE.”
Beane’s hats, including a green velveteen design and a red felt bicorn style, are reportedly on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.