Posted on by Hue, The Alumni Magazine Blog of The Fashion Institute of Technology


As Hue always says, one gal in a charming chapeau is enchanting, but a flock of femmes fatales flaunting their fantastical fascinators is nothing short of a fabulous affair.

Hats off to the Hat Ladies of Charleston, who toured FIT during a trip to New York. And to Vernell Washington, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’81, for organizing the visit. Washington, diva-in-chief of GrandDiva Enterprises, sells hats made by Grace Mark, a millinery magician from Nigeria.

Vernell Washington ’81 in a hat that could turn any wintry day into springtime. She has great taste in magazines, too.

The self-anointed Top Hat of the group is one Archie Burkel, whose grandmother was the famed Hat Lady of Chicago. Burkel organized the Hat Ladies 12 years ago because she didn’t want to be the only one in the room sporting a wild head topper.

“We are dedicated to loving hats and doing good deeds while wearing them,” she proclaimed. “It’s fashion with compassion!”

The Top Hat in a top hat: Archie Burkel, founder of the Hat Ladies.

In Charleston, the Hat Ladies lead house tours and bring hats to the children’s hospital, assisted-living facilities, and homeless shelters. “Hat is part of heart,” she pointed out.

The next day, the Ladies held a Hats of the World Luncheon (HOWL) for the women of the United Nations, at the Permanent Mission of Romania.

“Oh, we pull a lot of things out of our hats,” Burkel said with a smile.

The Hat Ladies of Charleston, posing in FIT’s David Dubsinky Student Center. Grace Mark sits on the left, next to Vernell Washington.