Fashion and Style

Wearable Whimsy

May 12 2020

The Chicago History Museum is home to one of the largest collections of Bes-Ben hats in the world. In 1919, the brother and sister team of Benjamin and Bessie Green-Field opened a millinery store in Chicago. Though Bessie left the business shortly after to get married, Benjamin continued to sell hats for more than fifty years, serving clients from Chicago’s high society and Hollywood stars. Benjamin Green-Field became known as the “Mad Hatter of Chicago” in the 1940s when his designs became increasingly whimsical and witty, incorporating unique elements such as kitchen utensils, dice, playing cards, or cigarettes and matchbooks.

Conical hat made of black tubing and beads, trimmed with three bumblebees and beaded veil, c. 1950. CHM, ICHi-040584-A

Green-Field generously donated more than 500 hats to the Museum, plus all the trims, materials, and hat blocks from his shop, as well as many suits and robes from his personal wardrobe. A significant contribution funded the creation of the Benjamin B. Green-Field Gallery and the Bessie Warshawsky Gallery in memory of his sister.

Orange woven straw hat with green leaves and vegetables, c. 1955. CHM, ICHi-085571

Today, we invite you to explore the Bes-Ben hats in our costume collection and celebrate Museum Week by creating your own Bes-Ben inspired hats using materials from around your home. Share them on social media using the hashtag #CultureInQuarantineMW. See more hats.

Velvet hat with organic abstraction embellishments, 1957. CHM, ICHi-085563

Founded in 1974, the Costume Council supports the Chicago History Museum’s work to care for, conserve, interpret, and display items in the costume collection. Through the Council’s efforts, the Museum has been able to maintain and grow one of the world’s premier collections, with pieces dating from the eighteenth century to the present. The Council also generously supports the Museum’s costume-based exhibitions, furthering the public’s understanding of history through clothing. Learn more.

CHM staff with their hats

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