Mrs. Jane Greenwood set out to write her autobiography in 1965, she knew she had
to tell the hat story.
Born in Alabama to a Confederate veteran and his
wife, the daughter of a Mississippi plantation owner, Jane Chambers married Pearce
Greenwood in 1900 and honeymooned in New Orleans. As her engineer husband pursued
better jobs, she and her spouse moved westward, eventually settling for good in
Their first stop in
Texas – in 1912 – had been Dallas,
which is where the hat story took place.
Returning home one morning from
a church-related activity, Mrs. Greenwood was surprised when her husband’s car
suddenly raced into their driveway.
“All of you jump in,” he yelled. “I’ve
got to meet a man from New York at the Blackstone [Hotel] in Fort
Worth in about 45 minutes.”
Mrs. Greenwood didn’t want to go, but
her husband prevailed. She quickly washed her youngest one’s face, put a fresh
dress on her next oldest and a clean shirt on their firstborn and got everyone
in the car.
In a scene worthy of a later-day TV sitcom, Greenwood told
his wife that the big shot editor of an engineering magazine had asked him to
attend a conference in Fort Worth.
And, as Mrs. Greenwood later recalled, “he had promised to show the great man
Racing toward Cowtown
as fast a their car could go, which was 35 miles an hour on the two-lane gravel
road then connecting Dallas and Fort
Worth, a horrid thought struck Mrs. Greenwood: She had forgotten her hat!
“That seems very trivial in this casual age,” Mrs. Greenwood wrote more
than five decades later, “but it was a catastrophe then. Saint Paul’s teaching
had nothing to do with it, but all ladies wore hats then, even to go to the grocery.”
Indeed, in the first few decades of the 20th century, a woman appearing
in public sans hat would be only slightly less scandalous than brazenly revealing
a bare ankle. If Greenwood had figured that his wife and family might gain him
ground with the visitor from New York, introducing a hatless wife would have been
a huge fauxpaus.
Of course, women took the wearing of hats more seriously
than the men did. Even then, the male species stood largely clueless when it came
to understanding their wives.
Luckily for Mrs. Greenwood, her son – their
oldest child – had been learning to read. One of the things he did was sound out
the wording on signs they passed when out for a drive. As Mrs. Greenwood contemplated
her impending social disgrace as they drove west through downtown, two words the
little boy pronounced caught her ear: “Hat sale.”
Mrs. Greenwood screamed
for her husband to stop convincingly enough for him to actually to do so, despite
the rapidly dwindling time they had before the meeting started in Fort
Worth. Greenwood parked the car as close to the millenary as he could, but
left the engine running so he wouldn’t have to get out and crank it again.
inside, Mrs. Greenwood found pure chaos. The store’s management had a half-price
sale underway and it looked like every woman in Big
D had come to get a bargain on a new hat. Big, fancy hats flew off the shelves
in a frenzy of feminine fashion-shopping.
“I reached over the shoulders
of customers, got a hat out of the show window and handed it to a saleslady who
said she would find a mirror when she could,” Mrs. Greenwood continued.
there was no time to see how the hat would look on her head. All that counted
was that it was a woman’s hat.
“I handed her two one-dollar bills, all
I had in my purse, took the hat and as I fled, she remarked as she ran beside
me, that now she had seen everything.”
The Greenwood family made it to
Fort Worth in time for the meeting,
which turned out OK, thanks to Mrs. Greenwood’s son, a child yet innocent in the
ways of clothing style and commerce.
And though Mrs. Greenwood had merely
grabbed the first hat she could get her hands on, when she did have time to look
in a mirror she felt it looked “very becoming.”
“I wore it for several
seasons,” she concluded, “as I always hated to shop.”
September 9, 2010