Lillian B. Head, noted milliner, set new standards for fashion through her bold designs.
After graduating from high school in 1939, Head enrolled in Chicago’s Louie Miller School of Millinery correspondence course. A lifelong designer, she designed not only her own clothes, but also men’s fashions, women’s apparel, hats, and quilts of all stripes. Head graduated from the correspondence program in 1946 and set her sights on a job at Loretta Bonta’s chic 15th Street Atlanta atelier.
After being rejected as a designer (“white girls do that,” she was told) Head was hired as Ms. Bonta’s personal maid. Over time, Head made her real talents known. After being officially hired as a milliner, Head earned a reputation as an innovative designer.
During a time when the fashion industry was staunchly segregated, Head opened doors.
Her innovative and often whimsical designs gained her national attention. Mary McLeod Bethune – one of the nation’s most important Black educators and civil and women’s rights advocates – invited Head to design a show aimed at integrating the fashion industry. Head’s designs appeared in department stores in New York alongside the work of her white counterparts.
In Atlanta, Head designed hats for prominent citizens, including Mrs. Ivan Allen Jr. and this teal hat for Mrs. Gladstone Lewis Chandler. Mrs. Chandler wore this piece to her daughter’s wedding in 1964 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, one of the first Black weddings in a white-dominant church in Atlanta.
Along with high-fashion chapeaus, Head also created “theme hats,” the most famous of which is modeled after a unique Atlanta landmark. When the Hyatt Regency opened in Downtown Atlanta, Head made a hat to match the design of the Polaris restaurant, a coat to mirror the Hyatt’s design, and a handbag modeled after the elevators. These fearless, good-humored designs were originally accessioned by Lois K. Alexander-Lane’s Black Fashion Museum and are now in the collection of the National Museum of African American History in Washington.