D.C. ‘Hat Lady’ Vanilla Beane has died at 103 after fifty years of designing elaborate hats for iconic poet Maya Angelou, among others.
According to The Washington Post, Mrs. Beane died at a local hospital in Washington on Oct. 23. Her grandson Craig Seymour, confirmed her passing, saying complications following an aortic tear caused it.
The beloved designer earned herself the title “D.C.’s Hat Lady” after creating elaborate hats for African American church women for 50 years. She also designed some for women at weddings and funerals in the District and even worked six days a week into her 100th year of age.
“Nobody wants to walk into a church and see someone else wearing their hat,” Mrs. Beane once said. She reportedly designed and created her hats at the Bené Millinery and Bridal Supplies shop on Third Street NW. They were once featured in collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture as well as postage stamps.
Mrs. Bean was born Vanilla Powell on Sept. 13, 1919, in Wilson, N.C. She’s reportedly the second youngest of nine siblings and was inspired to go into fashion early on after watching women’s stunning hats at Sandy Point Baptist Church. Following her high school graduation in 1940, she moved to Washington and married Willie Beane Sr., two years later and the couple began producing hats.
Back in 2009, she shared some insight on her design process saying, “some people like real fussy hats. Others like sophisticated hats, and a lot of people like simple hats. I try to please people regardless of their race or background.”
Mrs. Beane’s creations were such a hit that notable civil rights figures wore them, including iconic poet Maya Angelou and activist Dorothy I. Height. Height even wore them for her meetings with famous politicians.
“Hats give me a lift and make me feel real special,” Height said.
Mrs. Beane is reportedly survived by her two daughters, Linda R. Jefferson of Washington, Margaret L. Seymour of Charleston, S.C., her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.