FCE members run into a Jack McConnell original

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

By Ivory Riner

Staff Writer

While shopping in an antique store in Pulaski, members of the Family and Community Education Club stumbled upon a piece of history which may be worth big bucks.

Every year the women of the FCE club take a tour of historical locations in surrounding towns. Last October they toured downtown Pulaski.

While stopping in ReGenerations, an antique shop on the square, Linda Mulliniks, member of the FCE, found an original Jack McConnell hat. She was familiar with the well-known designer, so insisted on its purchase.

"I knew that type of hat and that Jack McConnell was a relatively famous hat designer who had a connection to Marshall County. That's when I decided to share what I had found with the other women," said Mulliniks.

The Marshall County FCE club, also remembered by some as the Home Demonstration Club, is an organization of mostly women who aim to learn through shared experiences, improve home and community life, strengthen adult education, and promote projects that enhance family and community life.

The Lewisburg Club, Ostella Club, and Forever Young at NHC Oakwood are the three FCE branches in Marshall County.

In his early years, McConnell lived in Mooresville, but decided to pursue his acting career in New York City. Once arriving in New York City, he specialized in southern accents for radio shows.

His career was put on hold to serve three years in the Coast Guard during World War II. While stationed at Staten Island at the time, he was dating a woman who was a hat designer.

He wanted a hat to take to one of his aunts in Tennessee, so decided if his friend could make a hat, so could he. He went to the millinery district in New York and bought the essentials needed to make a hat; a frame, satin, a red rose, and a navy plume. After making the hat, he said he never made it to Tennessee because a woman offered to buy the hat for $3.50.

He went into millinery designing and learned by making model hats for Laddie Northridge, an acclaimed milliner.

In an Associated Press article by Joy Stillery, Jack McConnell said, "To be right a hat has to have the same personality as the woman who wears it. A feminine type would look ridiculous in a flamboyant hat and, conversely, a little hat would be wrong for a lady who is outspoken, who has a strong personality."

McConnell took hat making seriously, saying that you can't pick a style by looking at other women or at photographs in magazines. He proclaimed lifestyle, age, figure, facial features, and especially the length of the neck must all be taken into consideration in choosing millinery.

The Association Press article also added that McConnell said, "When trying on hats, you should not only look in the mirror while sitting but to get up and walk away, turn and walk towards the mirror to see if the proportions and balance are right. Pay attention to what it looks like in the back."

He later opened a hat business in New York City's garment district and named it Zada Enterprises in respect to his mother, Zada McConnell. His signature style was the use of feathers, which he said are very durable, and he always sewed a tiny red feather behind the label of his handmade hats.

McConnell became the top hat designer in the mid-20th century, making hats for the most well-known stars. His designs were modeled by actress Joan Crawford and model Wilhelmina. The hats were even shown at the finest couture fashion shows all over the United States.

McConnell was referred to as the perfect "Southern gentleman" who had a lot of affection for the hat tradition in the South, especially among African-American women who were known for their fancy Sunday hats.

On Oct. 27, 2007, McConnell passed away at age 91. His ashes are burried at Bryant Cemetery in Mooresville.

Last Thursday, Gayle Headden, Peggy Hunter, Mulliniks, and Melba Price donated the hat they stumbled upon to the Marshall County Historical Museum, located in the Hardison Office Annex.

The Historical Museum houses artifacts of Marshall County and its residents. Exhibits found at the museum include old photographs, yearbooks, clothing, hospital equipment, early home appliances, maps, books, and much more.

McConnell hand made and donated three beautiful, unique hats to the museum that, still today, have never been worn.

One hat is white with pearls and netting covering down from the front, one has peacock feathers and diamonds, and one is made of guinea hen and pheasant feathers flowing down alongside it.

Another hat was added to the collection by a donor. This hat features vibrant colorful polka dots. The hat the members of the FCE donated is a bubble toque with pink and green rose buds.

Altogether, the museum has five beautiful, and still in good condition, Jack McConnell hats on display.

Although Mulliniks purchased the hat for $10 at the antique shop, many of them sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars online.