“Hats trimmed free of charge”

Photo credit: H Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS

January 9, 2012 – Imagine living back in the day when hats provided the finishing touch to the wardrobes of both men and women.

I’m not talking about knit or fur hats that are popular during the cold months, or caps that sports enthusiasts or truck drivers wear to cover up bald spots, but rather stylish head wear made of wool, felt, ribbon, netting and other embellishments that your parents or grandparents wore back in the day.

All you need to do is watch an episode of an old black and white TV show or movie to see this style first hand. “I Love Lucy” will do nicely; Ricky always wore a hat with his suit and Lucy’s favorite activity when she wasn’t trying to break into show business was shopping for hats. It was a bygone era when men dressed in suits every day and women vacuumed in pearls and never considered leaving the house without gloves and a hat.

Unless you were invited to the royal wedding, which boasted some amazing styles and creations, or you attend the Kentucky Derby each year, you won’t see many men or women wearing hats these days.

Lit Brothers, a Philadelphia department store that opened in 1893 at 8th and Market Streets in center city was known for many things; its moderate prices compared to the fancier Strawbridge & Clothier or Wanamaker’s, its Enchanted Village at Christmas, and most notably for its quality millinery department, where varieties of hats were sold every day and “trimmed free of charge”.

Like other classic department stores known to Philadelphians – Gimbels, Wanamakers, Strawbridge & Clothier, etc. – Lit Brothers closed its doors in 1977, leaving behind plenty of memories and charm in the original building that still stands. Now that I’ve become a center city girl, I walk by the architectural wonder on my way to and from the office each day. Each time I pass, I get the urge to go in and buy a hat, something I haven’t worn since Easter 1974 when I sported lavender crushed velvet coat and white flapper style hat with a silk flower on the side.

Photo credit: Getty Images courtesy of Flickr.com

It’s not that I actually remember people buying hats at Lit Brothers. I’m simply reminded of it by the fancy bronze placard on the side of the building still reads “Lit Brothers” and “Hats trimmed free of charge” in old-fashioned fonts that make me visualize men and women dressed in their finest shopping attire entering the store to buy a hat before heading over to the Five and Ten for a cup of coffee and a sandwich at the lunch counter. The tenants that occupy the famous building – Walgreens, Dress Barn, Ross, Citizens Bank on the first floor, along with office space on subsequent floors – most likely don’t carry hats of the non-knitted, winter variety.

Fashion, like many other things in life is cyclical, and certain styles always come back, some rather unfortunately. Still it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see the majority of people on the street wearing a fine piece of millinery atop their heads again. Americans have become too casual over the years for something so stylish, and much prefer the comfort of jeans and sneakers to the classic styles of suits, ties, gloves and hats. I’m no fashionista, yet I find it a little sad.

Isn’t there a saying that claims the more things change, the more they remain the same? Sometimes I wish that was truer than it actually is.

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5 thoughts on ““Hats trimmed free of charge”

  1. I have passed by that sign many times. I also love hats but don’t wear them much. I wanted to let you know there are some really great hats in a shop in the Gallery. They are “Sunday go to meeting hats” that black women still wear to church.

    • I must have passed that sign a million times in my life, yet I just noticed it last week. I love hats too but they look odd on me. Remember the Mad Hatter on South Street? Great hats! Wonder if they are still in business…

  2. We are visiting from Oak Park, IL and staying at the Marriott on Market. We passed the Litt store and I took a picture of that great old building and its frozen-in-time “HATS TRIMMED FREE OF CHARGE”, and wondered what that meant. Thanks to Google and your blog, now I know…a little more about Philidephia and hats and another old department store that I never knew existed. Thank you.

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