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John Lamb, Published May 01 2012

Hat’s entertainment: Local events put fun focus on hats

FARGO – Fargo is not much of a hat town.

Stocking caps in the winter and baseball caps year round, sure. But fine examples of millinery? Not so much.

This Saturday, however, Fargo will be turning its head to catch all of the colorful chapeaus at two annual events.

The theme of the Plains Art Museum’s Spring Gala is “Hang on to your hats,” while a few blocks away at Dempsey’s, Brittney Goodman hosts her 12th Kentucky Derby Party.

While both happenings will have people looking up, how they got to their hats are very different routes.

“Hats are mostly a Southern thing and mostly related to church,” says Goodman, a Kentucky native.

When she arrived here 15 years ago, she didn’t see much attention paid to the biggest horse race of the year, something of a holiday in her home state.

She started throwing her own parties, which quickly outgrew her home. For the past five years she’s been throwing a private party at Dempsey’s.

“You’re not only encouraged to wear a hat, you’re pretty much frowned on if you don’t wear a hat,” Goodman says of her party.

Some people wear expensive, store-bought hats, some lids are made out of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans or with a horse head on top.

Like the race itself, she awards prizes for win, place and show, as well as the most humorous hat and the most Southern.

This year she wears a floppy-brimmed sun hat decorated with peacock and ostrich feathers.

“I’m kind of worried about the clearance of my hat,” she admits. “It’s kind of ‘make way for my hat.’ I can’t wait to go to the Empire in my hat.”

Her party ends around 7 p.m., just as the Gala starts and Goodman says a number of skimmers will make appearances at both festivities. She points out that Saturday is also Cinco de Mayo, improving the chances that sombreros will be out and about.

But for her the real celebration is the Derby.

“You can dress up a Kentucky girl, but she’s probably still going to eat pulled pork and drink bourbon,” Goodman says. “And she’s not going to spill and her lipstick is going to stay.”

“I always look forward to the (Plains Art Museum’s) Spring Galas,” says Ann Clark.

So much so that when she was in England earlier this year, she went shopping for the topper-themed event.

After consulting the hat dealers, all agreed a small red hat with feathers, a veil over the eyes and a bow on top and worked best. She describes it as something, “A fancy English lady going to a wedding would wear.”

Which was the assumption the women selling the hat had.

“No. I’m from the United States and we really don’t wear these kinds of hats to weddings,” Clark recalls telling the vendors.

“It’s like they took pity on me for not being able to wear hats to weddings,” she recalls. “It’s kind of like wearing high heels. You have to have a hat.”

For the past few years Christelle Dominique’s walking art has been an attraction at the Gala as the designer unveiled models in specialty outfits.

This year she’s going straight to the top.

“Instead of the regular veils, flowers, or feather embellishments I couldn't help but dive into (Irish milliner) Philip Treacy's mind.”

While she looked to Treacy, the style is all her own. Some fit in with her “secret garden” clothing collection and others something different all together.

“When I discovered that I would be able to attend the Plains Art Gala, my first priority was to find a truly fantastic dress,” says Mara Morken. “That turned out to be the easy part. Interesting hats are hard to come by in these parts.”

She decided to create her own head-wear and fashioned a tiny stove-pipe hat.

“I wanted my hat to be a little bit steam punk and a little bit Stevie Ray Vaughn yet still feminine. I'm unsure it that's even possible,” she says.

She was happy with her first model, which she made in less than 30 minutes and for under $3, but unsure if it was worthy of a gala. She’s making more to choose from come Saturday.

“I’m thinking a little more sparkle may be in order,” She says. “It is a gala after all.”

When it came time to make head dresses for herself and her husband, Karman Rheault turned to a familiar material – stainless steel.

The Fargo artist has been working in the medium for some time and managing to craft flowers and other designs from the material. For last year’s masquerade themed gala she fashioned masks out of the heavy metal.

This year she forged a top hat for her husband Mark and a floral headband-like fascinator for herself.

“It’s just a matter of getting the stainless steel to form and not squish his head,” Karman says.

“Support is key,” says Mark, pointing tow criss-crossed bands inside the structure that keeps the structure from sliding down over his forehead.

“Dancing is going to be interesting,” he says laughing.

But he’s dead serious about one thing: Wearing the hat gets him off the hook from wearing a suit to this year’s Gala.

If you go

What: The Plains Art Museum’s Spring Gala

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave., N., Fargo.

Info: Tickets are $100. Admission includes wine tasting, food by Mosaic Foods and Nichole’s Fine Pastry, silent art auction, music by Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome and more. (701) 232-3821.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533