Money might have been short, but time was that every lady had a new dress and a fresh bonnet for Easter Sunday. That ethos still holds true at Chic Chapeau, Earnestine Locke's millinery shop on East Grace Street. Housed in the old Gigi Hats shop, Chic Chapeau has been in business since 2000.
Locke started making hats as a child in South Carolina. Her beginnings were a little rocky, though. After cutting up her mother's sequined sweater and pinning it around her head, "the last thing I remember was being snatched up off the floor" and being spanked, Locke recalls. Next, she cut scalloped edges on the bottom of a Clorox bottle; that experiment left her with bleached patches of hair.
Nevertheless, she's stuck with the craft, first as a hobby and later as a profession, after attending the School of Fashion Design in Boston.
Locke is coming up on prime hat season: Easter and the Kentucky Derby. "Easter is a big and delightful production," she says. "I love the flowers, and I love the bling." Locke and her husband make half a dozen hats a night in preparation for the holidays. They shape the hats with freehand blocking, loosening the material with steam. Then comes the trimming.
The store displays hats in all shapes and hues, decorated with tulle, silk flowers, crystals and rhinestones. Many are Locke's own designs. Others come from London, New York, New Orleans and Florida.
Most of her customers consider wearing fancy hats to church a way to show respect toward God, she notes. Her oldest customers "know the brands, they know the terminology. My senior ladies have a lot of hattitude."