Washington DC

‘Part of DC's Story': Vanilla Beane, the ‘Hat Lady,' Dies at 103

Beane owned Bene Millinery & Bridal Supplies in Northwest D.C.

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Vanilla Beane, known as D.C.’s “hat lady,” has died at 103.

Beane moved to Washington, D.C. in 1942 and opened Bene Millinery & Bridal Supplies in Northwest D.C. in 1979. She was presented with the Mayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honors on her 103rd birthday for her contributions to the city, the D.C. mayor’s office said in a release.

“Combining grace, elegance, and longevity, Ms. Vanilla Beane embodied Black excellence. Her talents have been on display in our city since I was just a little girl,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a release. “No matter the occasion or the outfit, whether she was designing for a neighbor or a civil rights icon like Dorothy Height, Ms. Beane always knew how to make the perfect hat.”  

The Bene Millinery & Bridal Supplies website said her most notable hat client was Dr. Dorothy Height, former president of the National Council for Negro Women.

"Customers range from church-goers to derby-goers, to Washington’s well-heeled. She has created hats for movies, charity events, and even for a guest attending The Royal Ascot," the website reads.

In pictures on her store's website, she is seen wearing hats of varied colors and creations. There is also a photo of her with former President Barack Obama.

Vanilla Beane, known as D.C.’s “hat lady,” has died at 103. She owned the Bene Millinery & Bridal Supplies in Northwest, D.C.

A 3D version of a green velveteen hat she made is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Beane — a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother — inspired generations of Black women to turn their talents into businesses, Bowser said.

In 2019, her 100th birthday was declared Vanilla Beane Day in D.C.

“I was honored to celebrate her at this year’s Mayor’s Arts Awards, and now her story is a part of DC’s story,” Bowser said. “She was D.C.’s Hat Lady.”

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