White and Vaughn: Millinery

Maxine White
has been creating hats for over thirty years. Growing up in Denmark, Tennessee, she developed an interest in designing as a small child. Her mother was a seamstress, and she wanted to sew just like her. In high school, she began designing her own clothes. In 1982, she found a new interest in millinery and started creating her own designs. Her business, Maxie’s Hats, is a staple in the Jackson community.

Growing up in the home of African American women, hats have always been important for Maxine. From a young age she learned to view hats as a fashion statement and powerful form of self-expression among Black women. The “will to adorn,” as folklorist and writer Zora Neale Hurston famously stated, was something that motivated, encouraged, and promoted a strong self-identity in the women around her.

Apprentice Kaitlin Vaughn will be learning the traditional skills of millinery, including wet blocking, designing, and trimming custom hats. Kaitlin is originally from Jackson and is a senior at Spelman College. She is an aspiring cosmetic chemist and entrepreneur. Kaitlin knows Maxine and her hats well as they attend the same church in Jackson. “Seeing Maxine White proudly wear the hats that she created influenced my decision of wanting to learn millinery so that I can make hats of my own,” Kaitlin says. “Wearing flamboyant hats to church is a deeply rooted tradition in African American culture having both cultural and spiritual significance. Elaborate hats were also worn as a symbol of economic success during the Harlem Renaissance. Therefore, millinery has been an important form of art amongst the black community for decades. I believe that it is important to pass millinery down to future generations, because hat wearing not only allows for creative expression but instills pride and confidence in the wearers as it has done for black women.” Kaitlin is excited to learned to make hats of her own and pass on what she learns to other people in her community.