MICHIGAN CITY — Women's hats are for more than keeping your ears warm during the sometimes brutal Northwest Indiana winters.

They are a way to express yourself, to show a little attitude, milliner Amanda Joyner said.

"It is really magic, the reaction when someone puts on a hat. They put it on and they change. There is a confidence, just a glow," said Joyner, 32, owner of Chef Bizzaro Millinery in Michigan City.

"It's all about the right hat at the right angle with the right attitude," she said.

Hats, she believes, are making a comeback, especially for women who want to make a statement.

"The United Kingdom never lost the love of hats. They never lost that sense of style like we did during WWII. There's a milliner on every street there," said Joyner, a Texas native and mother of four, who estimates there may be 200 milliners in the United States, most centered in larger cities.

"We got comfortable in getting comfortable and women tell me they have no place to wear a hat. Hats will come back if you start wearing them. I have a client who comes in twice a month. She wears a hat every day," said Joyner, adding many of her clients seek hats for special events such as weddings.

Joyner creates hats, from 4-inch fascinators to fedoras, cocktail hats to perchers, cloches to sinamays.

Her custom creations also range from the Carmen Miranda fruit-inspired hat to one-of-a-kind designs inspired by everything from "The Little Mermaid" to "Star Wars," "Doctor Who" and the Easter Bunny.

Joyner said if you have a theme, she can make a hat.

She sells about 250 of the custom-designed chapeaus each year through her shop at 717 Franklin St. or through her Etsy online store.

Her creations have included black tier drop-style hats with tentacles and seaweed, ordered by Disney and worn by dancers during an elaborate "Under the Sea"-themed bachlorette party to cocktail hats worn by actress Freema Agyeman on episodes of "The Carrie Diaries." 

Joyner, always fascinated by hats, got into the millinery business almost by accident.

"My grandmother raised me on musicals," she said, adding it was the film "Easter Parade" that introduced her to her future profession.

A song in the movie featured women with hats, each one paraded and telling how they felt about wearing a hat.

Fast forward a decade or so and Joyner was married to her husband, Michael. Two of their four children already had been born. Both she and her husband were pastry chefs.

"I wanted to be home with my kids and it was tough for two pastry chefs to find jobs," she said.

She began dabbling in the art of hat making. At first, she admitted, her creations were amateurish. She then took a "crash course" in hat making from Chicago milliner Joy Scott, who taught her how to block, line and sew.

"I left there like I could conquer the world," Joyner said.

Her creations began to get a bit better and Joyner said she knew she was on the right track when women began to offer to buy the hat straight off her head.

In 2010 she opened her store on Etsy. She also began selling her creations at arts and crafts shows. Two years ago she and her friend Julia Nielsen decided to go into business together and open a brick and mortar shop. Joyner opened Chef Bizzaro — "I was a chef and 'bizzaro' refers to being the opposite of what you would expect to be normal" — with Nielsen opening The Closet By Franklin Vintage in the same space.

Joyner said the demand for women's hats has increased, especially for special occasions.

"Locally, last year I sold out of all my Kentucky Derby and Easter hats. Women going to the Kentucky Derby want custom, unique hats," she said, adding the last couple of years, the hats have moved from the "garish and ridiculous" to elegance. 

The wearing of hats at horse races, she added, isn't only an American style statement. They continue to dominate fashion for women at racing events across the globe.

She's sold hats not only in the States, but has customers in Russia, South Korea, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Joyner said she is working on this year's spring collection, choosing trending colors and materials. She sketches her creations and begins making a hat by molding the material around a hat block.

Then the creativity kicks in, choosing materials from feathers to flowers, to adorn the creations, that, sometimes include the "extravagant" including demon horns and a giant humming bird.

"Each hat is its own person. It talks to me," she said.

This spring, she said, the cloche or flapper-style hat seems to be in.

"The secret to making it look good is finding the right angle for your face. Everyone has a sweet spot for their hats," she said.

Joyner also hosts workshops for those who want to dabble in the millinery arts and participates in several events in Michigan City from fashion shows to Easter parades.


Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a staff writer for The Times for more than 20 years. She is the municipal and education reporter for Porter County. She is an amateur genealogist and writes a blog, Remember your Roots, appearing online each Thursday.