Shortly after Jean Kanouff got married, her grandmother took her to a room that had always been locked.
“We’d gone to their farmhouse in Mercer County tons of times, but we’d never been allowed in there,” the Plum resident said. “We went in, and she showed me her mother-in-law’s wedding dress from 1881 as well as her wedding dress from 1911 and a sailor suit she made for my father in the 1920s.”
It sparked a lifelong interest in vintage clothing, which Kanouff will explore during her “Hats Off to History” presentation at the May 9 meeting of the American Association of University Women’s Murrysville chapter.
Attendees will have a chance to see and wear vintage hats and hear brief biographies of historical figures who may have worn them.
“Sometimes I would look at a hat and think, ‘Marilyn Monroe could have worn this,’” she said. “It got me interested in talking a little bit about women’s history in addition to the fashions they wore.”
Kanouff has been presenting vintage fashion shows since the 1970s.
“It gave me a nice break after being home with my children for a decade,” she said. “I could get out of the house and do this show.”
During her time as the librarian at the Penn Hills Library, Kanouff added clothing from the 1960s to her collection and began diversifying the shows.
“Since I worked at the library, I did some research and tried to find out as much as I could about each piece of clothing,” she said.
The AAUW presentation will focus on hats.
“Accessories were such important items,” Kanouff said. “Up until a few decades ago, ladies rarely went out of the house without a bonnet or hat.”
The show is structured as a series of first-person narratives that also touch on women’s history.
“Ladies who are modeling decide what hat they want to wear, and there’s a paper underneath that they’ll read,” she said. “Each story contains clues as to who the person is.”
A model wearing a pillbox hat, for example, will likely read a biography attendees would recognize as that of Jackie Onassis Kennedy, whose Chanel suits and headwear defined early 1960s fashion.
The public is invited to attend the meeting, set for 1 p.m. in the meeting room of the Murrysville Community Library at 4130 Sardis Road. Reservations are not required.
A luncheon for association members will be at 11:30 a.m.