In the heart of Saint Paul’s art district sits a distinctive shop where milliner Angie Hall Sandifer makes hats. Founded in 2006, her namesake brand Angie’s Hats has grown from a class project after getting laid off to an international business, supplying custom-fitted creations to hat lovers all over the world.
Her hats are flashy, extravagant, and one-of-a-kind. They speak to the rich traditions of Black women and their coveted church hats as well as women all over the world clamoring for crowning looks at the Kentucky Derby.
We caught up with Sandifer in her sixth-floor Lowertown studio filled with hats and millinery equipment to talk inspiration, the creation process, and her vision for the future.
MSR: How did you learn how to make hats?
Angie Hall Sandifer: There was nobody [locally] to teach me, so someone recommended that I work at the Guthrie in the costume department. [Then] I ended up finding a master milliner in North Carolina. I had private lessons with her, [but] when I came back, I was [still] clueless. I kept practicing and one day some real hats started showing up!
MSR: How did a class project inspire your business?
AHS: I grew up in the South and I was a Baptist. My mother wore hats, my grandmother wore hats, my father wore caps. He liked seeing us in hats, so that whole church hat thing was an inspiration for me. I love hats, I never thought I would be making them, but it worked out and I found my passion.
MSR: What kind of hats do you make?
AHS: I started out with just basic hats — mostly church hat styles. But, as the years went by, I’ve gotten a little bit more creative. Now I do Kentucky Derby hats, as well.
MSR: The Kentucky Derby is in May. How long does it take to make a hat?
AHS: Probably a week, at most.
MSR: That’s pretty intense. What’s the process like?
AHS: There are different ways to make hats. Sometimes I use fabric, sometimes it’s straw, etc… I make them the old-fashioned way — wood blocks, steam, wire, those sorts of things. A lot of people think that you just buy a mold and add things, but that’s not how I do it.
You come in for a fitting [and] you find different embellishments, such as ribbon or feathers, and I make the hat. Then you come in for a second fitting to find out if I need to make any adjustments. It’s custom-made to fit your head.
MSR: Do you make men’s hats?
AHS: I make fedora-style hats.
MSR: Where do you draw your inspiration?
AHS: Old movies. I just love that era when people got dressed up. They were elegant, they were classy, so that’s kind of my inspiration.
MSR: What’s your vision for Angie’s Hats?
AHS: I want to do more shows. I want to get more involved in conferences that come to the Twin Cities and become a vendor. My goal is to have [my hats] in boutiques and not sell them online.
MSR: Why not online?
AHS: A lot of times we find hats online that are pretty and we order them. [We get them and] they don’t look good on us or they don’t fit [well] because a lot of people don’t know what their head size is. So they send them back. I don’t want to get into shipping orders. I just want to make hats and sell them locally or in boutiques across the country.
MSR: Who is your clientele?
AHS: I sell church hats to a lot of women going to weddings in Europe because hats are customary there. But my busy season is the Kentucky Derby.
MSR: How do you interact with the art community around you in Lowertown and the Twin Cities?
AHS: I’ve been a part of the art crawl, and I usually open my studio for it. People are a little bit surprised to see hats, and people are really receptive.
MSR: What has been the most rewarding part of owning your business?
AHS: I used to work with kids through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and I always used to tell the kids, “The only career advice you need is to find your passion and follow it.” But I never thought I’d find my passion — and I did.
Angie’s Hats is located at 308 Prince Street, Studio 610 in St. Paul. The shop is open by appointment only. For more info, call 651-208-4442 or visit angieshats.com.
Chris Juhn is a contributing photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.