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July 2004
Hats off to this exhibition
Dai Rees hat on the catwalk
You can see this very hat, created by Dai Rees, in all its glory at the City Gallery.
Self confessed mad hatter Annie O'Brian popped down to the City Gallery in Leicester to get her head round the new Hats and Gloves exhibition.
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FACTS

Also included in the exhibition are portraits with fictional headgear by painter Huw Jones; new works by artists Suzanne Langston-Jones, Ellen Bell and Peter Clark.

"Let's celebrate hats! I love hats..." A talk with David Shilling. Wednesday 18 August 6.30-8.30pm. Free. Booking essential.

"A history of hats and their place in Society." A talk with Hannah Spooner of the Hat Museum, Stockport. Thursday 22 July. 6.30-8.30pm. Free. Booking essential.

Ellen Bell talks about "Getting Dressed: clothes and identity". Thursday 26 August. 6.30-8.30pm. Free. Booking essential.

Phone the City Gallery to book places on workshops and talks: 0116 223 2060.

The City Gallery, 90 Granby Street, Leicester LE1 1DJT: 0116 254 0595 Admission Free. Opening hours: Tuesday - Friday 11am - 6pm Saturday 10am - 5pm.

This is a national touring exhibition originated by The City Gallery.

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I'm always a little concerned when I set of to see something marketed as "de-coding the symbolism of a social phenomenon".

Gender Specific installation of water filled gloves is copyright to th artist Fiona Mathison
The Langmead family from Market Harborough commenting on Fiona Mathison's "Gender Specific" in Leicester City Gallery's window.

I needn't have worried. Not only does the big summer exhibition at the City Gallery explore many different aspects of how hats and gloves convey messages about social aspiration and subversion, it also lets you get your hands on some rather fabulous headgear and muck about with it.

Posh hats:
Obviously the David Shilling, Vivienne Westwood, Dai Reese, Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones hats in the exhibition are off limits - strictly a "look but don't touch" rule. But boy are they good to look at. And you can get right up close and see how they are painted, structured, stitched, and starched. And you can also see them 'in action' in the footage of some of the top fashion shows that is played alongside them.

Mable Smith (right) and Joyce Queenborough (left)
What's grandma been up to? Joyce Queenborough (in the hat) and Mable Smith, both of Hinckley Rd., Leicester, get involved in the gallery's hat parade.

Hat Parade:
And it seems that online auction sites have turned up a good job lot of hats that you can get your mits on. The first thing visitors stumble upon is the hat box and stand. Between 12 and 3.30pm each day a lovely feller will take your photograph in your chosen crowing glory (I found a particularly fetching milkmaid's cap). A copy will be sent to you at home, and you sign away your modesty by allowing the gallery to display the photos at a later date. The ones on the wall already were a great study in how people change when they put on a hat - embarrassed, confident, silly, feeling different.

Old hat:
And just check out what your gran and grandad have been doing if they've been into town. The number of people pretending to be pirates, mexicans, or 50s sex kittens, increased dramatically as a number of people well into their silver years turned up at the gallery. Joyce Queenborough and Mable Smith of Hinckley Road used to have to wear hats on Sundays, expecially for Sunday school. I bet those were nothing like the pith helmets, sombreros and bishop's mitres I saw them skipping about in during their visit.

Annie O'Brian and David Shilling's mother
Yours truly in a milkmaid's hat, standing next to a photograph of a rather more glamorous Mrs Shilling dressed for Ascot.

Phat hatz:
As usual, the summer exhibition is accompanied by an astonishing choice of workshops and talks for people from three years old to adult.

  • Three to six year olds can enjoy any of twenty events from Painted Paws to Kooky Caps in the Sunny Sombreros choices.
  • Urban Turban events for seven to 13 year olds cover Cool caps, gorgeous or gruesome gloves and Heavenly Hat Boxes.
  • Phat Hatz, from the more cool 12 to 17 year olds offers hAttitude, Fashionista and Hip Hatz with 'Seize' an urban illustrator.
  • And there's more, from the Batty Bowlers family club to the adult workshops and artist talks.

Not forgetting the gloves:
Yes there are gloves - lots of them. Apologies to g-lovers the world over for only getting to them now. Button encrusted black ones, a collection of lost gloves, latex gloves filled with water and made gender specific with sacks of pollen. You name it, you'll find it here too.

So, there's something for everyone here. Intellectual and fun. Breathtaking, subversive, establishment and just plain wierd. Go along and have a look.

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