September 11, 2015

Hat Histories: Bes Ben

The hat above is my favorite Bes Ben hat. I mean just look at it, gold metal cicadas, silver beaded edging, a hard sculpted base softened only by the use of plush chocolate brown velvet...I want it! With a brown tweed suit? Divine! Today on hat histories we learn a bit about Bes Ben and admire some of my favorites from designer Benjamin B Green-Field.

Benjamin B Green-Field was born in Chicago in 1898 and in 1919 opened his first millinery shop with his sister Bessie (hence Bes, for Bessie, and Ben, for Benjamin). Bes Ben hats began relatively traditional and stylish, but grew in the early forties to become more surrealist and occasionally absurd (in a good way!). Benjamin embraced non-traditional materials during the rationing war years, like kitchen utensils and napkin rings (on hats yes) and never looked back. Doll furniture, miniature animals, fruits, dolls, birds, nothing was exempt from being put atop a hat, not even miniature hats! The sense of humor and high design combined with interesting materials mad Bes Ben hats incredibly sought after both in their time and today. 

Mr. Green-Field's success in business afforded him a sumptuous life filled with travel and collecting. He became a passionate philanthropist and in 1987, not long before his death. he endowed the Benjamin B. Green-Field foundation in order to improve the quality of life for children and the elderly of his home town of Chicago. From starting out life as the son of an iron worker, he sure made a life for himself with his whimsical hats! Where is a movie about this man? I need more fashion history films! Lets look at some Bes Ben hats shall we?

Look at this cute little hat! I like hats that sort of clip onto the top of the head and this shape is really cute with the swirls on the sides. Note the plastic tubing around the edges like piping, it's a material Bes Ben used frequently.

Like in this hat where the whole thing is made out of said tubing!

This is a rather subdued Bes Ben, but i really like it! Perfect for fall right? Should I get creative with some felt and some brass stampings? I feel a repro coming...

Another style Bes Ben are know for are these little jewel/bead encrusted hats. This one is more cap shaped but some of them were just little strip like figure-8's covered in plastic gems.

 How could I not adore this hat, it combines two of my favorite things, hats and celluloid combs! Gorgeous, just so awesome! A good recycling idea for combs with broken tines!

1936-1938, LACMA
 This little velvet doll hat is super cute, I love the little flowers on the veiling!

This would be such a perfect x-mas/new years hat! This one would be easy to DIY with those glitter Christmas stems from the craft store for making wreaths. 

 I feel like bright satin hats like this would actually match nearly anything. A black suit? yes. A navy dress, yes? A bright yellow cocktail dress? why not!

I'm pretty sure the hat on the right above is covered in leather leaves? Super cool, I'd love a leather leaf hat!

This fruit basket hat is super cute, I love fruity hats! The chenille dot veiling is really pretty too.

 I don't know where in life one would wear this showgirl-tastic hat, Vegas perhaps? It is really pretty though!

A hat with tiny skunks? Of course! There is that beaded edging again too, something I need to try in a future hat for sure. If there was a version of this hat with foxes I would be even more enthused!

A hat with bees! I love bees! With feather wings? So cute!
 I love this straw bee themed hat too! Another possibly DIY by painting brass stamping bee's white? These Bes Ben hats give me so many ideas for future hat projects!

 Upright owl appliques? Sure why not!

 These are actually little tiny straw hats with lots of decorations in a little pile! Hats on hats!

 Jockeys riding through leaves and berries and also random clocks--perfect for the races!

I really love this newspaper bow, it would be cool to make one with colorful comic pages!
Golden scissors, a perfect hat for a seamstress like me!

More bees! I really need a bee hat you guys!

 Coated in plastic gems! It would be quite fun to coat a hat in beads, perhaps I should make one with all the leftover beads without a match in my crafting stash.

Early 1940's
 I love this hat, I love it! Such pretty colors and I love the mix of feathers and millinery flowers/berries!

So yummy!

I haven't even scratched the surface of Bes Ben hats, and I chose the subtler ones, so imagine what the rest look like! I highly encourage you to browse other Bes Ben hats on Pinterest because they are endlessly inspiring and rather uplifting to look at! I know I have a lot of ideas for hats I want to make now just after compiling this post!


  1. I've always been drawn to whimsy in fashion and will never forget the first time I saw a Bes Ben hat many years ago now - it was a beehive shaped one with (faux) bees and I was utterly, endlessly smitten. If money was no option, I would love to collect this milliner's incredible creations. They're so sweet, fun, and lighthearted - while still huge on chic (vintage) style. Thank you for highlighting the work of this truly talented man, dear Bianca.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. They really are perfectly fun little creations! I have definitely been inspired to come up with something more whimsical for my next hat creation. I know they still sell those brass cicada's on Etsy so I may just have to have a hat like the first one. Even if real cicada's freak me out, my biggest fear is insects/bugs, but I like the jeweled ones!

  2. What lovely hats! I especially adore the one with scissors! It certainly would make a wonderful "seamstress" hat .

  3. Gosh, I absolutely love these! I didn't know anything about this milliner and now I need to go Pinterest stalking! I can't even choose a favourite!

    1. Have fun! I am finding them super inspiring at the moment, I have gotta figure out how to craft some fun little bees!


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