In honor of #NationalHatDay, here’s future First Lady Bess Wallace Truman (left, first image) as a young woman. She lived during a time when women regularly wore hats when going out in public, and as the granddaughter of a prominent family in Independence, MO, she always wore nice clothes.
Her childhood friend Mary Paxton Keely (right, first image) recalled that “Bess wore what the rest of us did; the difference was that she always looked more stylish than anyone else we knew.” She goes on to say that “Bess always had more stylish hats than the rest of us did, or she wore them with more style.”
As Bess grew older, and her husband entered the public eye, her style became more conservative. Bess once told Harry’s cousin Ethel Noland that “a woman’s place in public is sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight.”
Conservative, however, does not mean unfashionable. Bess kept up with changing styles as much as any lady of her age would, and there are hats in the Truman Library collection from the 1960s that demonstrate the influence of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her pillbox hats.
The Truman Library has about 55 hats that belonged to Bess Truman, most of which she wore during her husband’s presidency from 1945 to 1953, and some hats from the post-Presidential years.
Bess Wallace (left) with her best friend, Mary Paxton, ca. 1901. (Truman Presidential Library)
Bess Wallace Truman, age 13, in elaborate straw hat (Truman Presidential Library)
First Lady Bess W. Truman at a party given by journalist Esther Van Wagoner Tufty in Washington, D.C. in honor of India Edwards, Executive Director of the Women’s Division of the Democratic Party. From left to right: Margaret Truman, Esther Tufty, India Edwards, Eda (Mrs. Charles) Brannan, and Mrs. Truman. (Truman Presidential Library)