Bay Willow Design hat shop: My latest blog post highlighting the amazing women who make historic McKinney, Texas, such an utterly fab place to live and visit. This time I profile Jenny Mathison-Foster.
“Hats Don’t Look Good on Me!” … the first sentence owner Jenny typically hears from visitors.
If you’ve yet to discover that a talented milliner has set up a hat shop in McKinney’s historic downtown, perhaps you just need to meander a bit more off the Square. Just a bit south on Virginia street, to be exact, between Hugs Cafe (stop by for lunch!) and Eclair Bistro (which offers up excellent jazz on weekend nights in its upstairs bar, at no charge).
Bay Willow Design hat shop, the new baby of first-time shop owner Jenny Mathison-Foster, is quickly becoming one of historic Mckinney’s popular destinations. What draws people in, says Jenny, is curiosity. Because though once viewed as a fashion necessity, hats (we’re not talking ball caps, people!) are now primarily worn only by the stylishly courageous.
“They can’t quite believe that a shop sells hats,” says Jenny, her eyes twinkling. “And what they usually say is, ‘I don’t look good in hats!’ I take that as a challenge.” And so Jenny patiently waits (well, as patiently as one can, when chomping at the bit), to introduce visitors to the “magic” of being found by the “perfect hat.”
In my case, it was a black, felt cloche that found its way to my head.
Now, I had walked by Bay Willow Design hat shop several times on my way to Eclair’s jazz jams. But I’d not had the courage to enter. Mostly, I didn’t want to get talked into buying an expensive hat that didn’t properly fit my small head. But I finally visited, after receiving an invite to a “behind the scenes” look at the hat world, along with other ladies from my downtown McKinney church. Safety in numbers! I could do that!
So on that warm June evening, I grabbed a seat in the back row of chairs set up to accommodate Jenny’s talk. After she spent a half-hour filling us in on some of the reasons for the societal decline of hats—World War II was a big one—Jenny began picking victims…err, ladies…from the audience to model various hat styles.
“Don’t pick me, don’t pick me,” I silently chanted. But she did. And much like the sorting hat in Harry Potter’s world, as I gingerly set the cloche atop my head, it immediately settled in.
It didn’t fit perfectly, of course, as pre-made hats tend to keep falling until they hit the bridge of my nose. But the hat felt like heaven, enveloping me in a feeling of yum, like a fluffy robe on a chilly winter morn. And when I chanced a look in the mirror, the coy curl of the brim made me laugh. I could do with more of that!
And so Jenny and I played with felt colors and ribbons and the garnet broach I’d purchased some 20 years ago (and worn only once!), to birth my custom hat. It was more pennies than I typically spend on “accessories,” but I’m hoping it becomes a staple in my fall and winter wardrobe. (I also bought a straw sun hat, which I just wore to a wedding, so chances are good for that.)
Should I get really daring, and choose to go all out by enhancing the cloche with 40’s era clothing, I know just the gal to create that outfit: Jill Luigs, the talented, big-hearted dressmaker and fiber artist who shares studio space with Jenny at her Virginia Street storefront.
Fellow local entrepreneur Yvonne Evans, the shop’s first official walk-in customer, has already paired the skills of this dynamic duo. Yvonne founded the McKinney Tour de Coop, which marked its fourth year of celebrating McKinney chicken coops in April. Yvonne commissioned the gals to create the “beehive” hat and apron (pictured below) for the event. Read all about Yvonne in this blog post.
Says Yvonne, “Hats complete an ensemble, or inspire us to create one. That’s why Jenny and Jill work so well together. It’s so great that McKinney now showcases their skills. McKinney was already wonderful, but they’ve made it even better.”
While I have obviously just begun my foray into hat collecting, Yvonne has already collected a dozen. (Total addict!) From Jenny, she has already purchased four hats and a fascinator! An avid fan of the Victorian era, Yvonne believes that hats empower us when we add them to our personage.
“I’m a movie star without a movie,” quips Yvonne, with a laugh. “Hats really heighten the experience of an event for me, whether it’s the chicken coop tour, the theater, or going to dinner. People who won’t try on hats, simply don’t know what they’re missing.”
I get that. I was that person missing out.
Now, even just fingering my felt hat’s soft rounded top or saucy, flipped brim, I feel the pull of invite into the world of make-believe. I feel bold. Interesting. And yearn to see hats regain their former glory, not just worn to camouflage bad hair days or to fend off the sun.
“Hats are just downright fun,” says Jenny. “I’m hoping, in the next ten years, to become known as the local place to buy hats.”
And not just for Derby parties, or celebrity videos, either. (Shameless plug for local songbird Madi Davis, a 2015 contestant on The Voice, who recently filmed a video in Jenny’s shop. Both Madi and her band leader/keyboarder Austin Cope have purchased Bay Willow Design hats.)
“It took me a while to get good at making hats,” shares Jenny, “mostly because I couldn’t find milliners willing to share their craft. How ridiculous is that? It’s a dying art and they’re hogging their knowledge? We need to bring hats back, period. I am happy to share what I know to get people excited about wearing hats again.”
Jenny smiles, in obvious contentment. “It took a lot of guts to open the shop. But the space felt so right; to me, my husband, and my daughter. Bay Willow Design hat shop is definitely my happy space. I get to be creative all day long. And I felt so blessed to introduce people to this art form. How great is that?”
So consider this your official invite to pop by Bay Willow Design hat shop in historic McKinney and “yack hats.” But just know that once you peek through the open door leading from the front retail space to Jenny and Jill’s expansive studio area in the back, you probably won’t be able to resist the allure of stepping in—and stepping back in time. Jenny’s huge collection of 200+ hat blocks, which she purchased from a milliner and a retiring master block maker, will likely start whispering in your ear.
“Oh, baby,” one will croon. “Gimme a chance. I’m gonna make you look so good!”