As we entered the brightly colored store shimmering with sparkles and gems, we were met by a Teacup Yorkie named Yobi, who follows his owner, Jeannie, everywhere she goes, including on her newest venture in Manhattan. Jeannie has been selling headwear on Long Island since 1987, and decided to open another boutique on the Upper West Side in 2015. She had been searching on the Upper East Side, where she has a large customer base, for years, but was not having much luck until she ventured to the other side of the park. “I can’t believe how nice people are, here!” she exclaimed.
She was proud to tell us that she is the only American retailer to carry Philip Tracy, a milliner designer from England, who specializes in velour. Jeannie was also eager to show us her packable, collapsible hats, for which she is apparently well-known. I was particularly intrigued by a stiff hat curled into a ring that could be twisted into different shapes before worn. Jeannie guided the Manhattan Sideways team around the shop in a whirlwind of suede, leather, and sparkles, happy to model any of her designs. Everything is handmade, she assured us. Nothing comes from a factory.
While drifting from one intricate piece to the next, Jeannie told me about her background. I learned that she was a teacher with a Masters degree in reading, but that she quickly realized that this was the wrong profession for her. She traveled to Argentina in the 1980s and met a hat designer with AIDS who taught her how to make hats. When he passed away, Jeannie inherited his supplies and her next career began.
In addition to hats, Jeannie carries scarves and jewelry – as she explains, “anything connected to the hair and the head.” She demonstrated how a scarf made entirely of beads can be twisted into an infinity scarf, and then pulled out a collection of stone bracelets with magnetized cuffs. There were also pin-less brooches with hidden magnets and light-weight yoga clips that will not pull on one’s hair. When Olivia, a Sideways team member, mentioned that she was beginning to recognize a pattern in the inventory, Jeannie confirmed that the pieces in her store are not only glamorous, but easy to wear. She went on to say that many dancers, especially tango dancers, come in to shop, as comfort is very important to them. After I noticed a sewing machine behind the counter, Jeannie acknowledged that she also creates custom-ordered fascinators.
When I asked who, in addition to dancers, her customers are, Jeannie told me that she caters to a lot of Orthodox Jewish women and church-goers, where there is a high demand for hats. She went on to say that there are a lot of people who come in and tell her, “Thank you for opening this store.” I was curious, however, what occasions there were at which an average, non-religious New Yorker could wear a hat. Jeannie got a twinkle in her eye and said, “If you buy a hat, you wear that hat.”