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Taylor’d with Style: Lilly’s Legacy

cartoon drawings of hats

Milliner Lilly Daché has an intriguing life story beginning with questions about her age and place of birth. It’s been reported that she was born in both France and Poland, in 1893 and in 1904. There are also questions about her marriage—or marriages. Research shows that she was married only once to Jean Després, but there is also an earlier account of marriage to a man who helped her gain American citizenship. Regardless of these details, with only thirteen dollars in her pocket and determination to make a name for herself, Lilly Daché came to America when she was a young woman, maybe as young as sixteen.

Lilly was infatuated with hats at an early age, so when she reached America, she looked for employment where she could pursue her interest. She soon found a job selling hats at Macy’s in New York City. She worked there for only a short time because she found it difficult to sell hats to ladies if they were ill-suited to her face or body proportions. She preferred to sell hats that flattered their features. This concept did not bode well with management. So Lilly left Macy’s to work at The Bonnet Shop on Broadway. There, she was able to work diligently. She also lived within her means and was able to save money. Soon, she and a coworker/friend were able to buy the shop from the shop owner. Lilly’s gregarious and confident personality—along with her passion for hats—contributed to her success. She later bought the shop from her friend.

Lilly Daché shaped the way women in the 1930s and 1940s adorned themselves. Under her influence, hats became the centerpiece of a lady’s wardrobe. During wartime, women didn’t always have fabric or money for new frocks, so hats were used to update their outfits. It was common for a woman to select her hat before her dress. Lilly became known for making a variety of styles. She created snoods—a type of hat that holds hair in a thread or yarn netting, brimmed hats, half-hats, flower-shaped hats, cone-tipped berets, and turbans—which she was particularly known for. She even created visored caps for women who worked in the factories during the War. She designed for Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and many others. She created the fruit-laden turbans worn by Carmen Miranda. She draped fabric right on her customer’s head and created turbans to emphasize positive aspects, while downplaying the negative. In the 1940s, she also began designing and creating other accessories, costume jewelry, and her own perfume. ”I made everything with love, affection, and excitement,” she said.

She and her husband Després, lived in a nine story building on East 56th Street where she was able to combine her home with her business—including the retail shop, design, and workrooms. The circular fitting room in the retail section was known for its tufted, pink satin walls. She insisted that all customers who came into her shop were to be introduced to her. Soon, everyone wanted to meet this exciting and eccentric lady—and to wear her fashionable hats. Lilly’s vibrant style was also reflected in her personal life. She was known to conduct business meetings in her bathroom while she soaked in a bubble bath or while she sat on her bed wrapped in a leopard-skin blanket. She wore bells on her slippers and jingling bangles on her arms to announce her entrance into a room. “I like beautiful shoes in gay colors, with thick platforms and high heels. I like splashy jewelry that clinks when I walk, and I like my earrings big. I am Lilly Daché, milliner de luxe.”

Lilly’s passion for hat-making and her out-going personality led to the success of her career. In the prime of her business, she was producing 30,000 hats each year. She closed her business in 1968 and later died in France in 1989. Her legacy lives on in her quote, “Glamour is what makes a man ask for your phone number, and a woman ask about your dressmaker.”


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