Trying on Hats in Bronzeville, 1941

Jack Delano, 1941

Jack Delano, 1941

This evocative photo, captioned “Buying hats in a ten cent store which caters to Negroes,” is included in the volume Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures, 1941-43 (2003). The book matches photos taken by photographers working for the federal government with local writing from the black press.

The two women are wearing winter coats, while many of the hats are summer straw—perhaps one reason why they ended up in a budget store. However, the hats they have on look like they match the season. The older woman wears what looks to be on a conservative felt style, turned up in the front.

If you are interested in what ordinary Americans wore in the 1930s and 1940s, there is probably no better source than the photographs made by the Farm Security Administration, later renamed the Office of War Information. Photographers hired by the federal government fanned out across the United States. Their pictures included people often left out of the photographic record, like the urban and rural poor. Since the effort was funded by the government, they are all part of the public domain. Look for them at the Library of Congress or make use of this innovative search tool, Photogrammar, sponsored by Yale University.

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6 Responses to Trying on Hats in Bronzeville, 1941

  1. Sewer says:

    I remember stories about black women not being able to try on clothing in the department stores in D.C. They had to guess the right size, pay for it and hope for the best.

  2. Photogrammar– WOW! Thank you.

  3. fabrickated says:

    What a fascinating post (and comment) and a useful resource. Thank you Lynn.

  4. Sewer says:

    Yes, thanks for the link to Photogrammar.

  5. Jen O says:

    I noticed the bunnies on shelves behind the women, it is probably pre-Easter shopping, hence the straw hats. Photogrammar is awesome (I can’t see if the decades are fixed or can it be set to search into the 1950’s for example?) Thank you for this great link.

  6. Jen O says:

    RE: oops, answered my own question–Photogrammar decade years are fixed (amazing what info one can find if one takes the time to read)

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