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Hats Off to Millinery: The fabulous headware of ‘Nell Gwynn’

A pivotal moment in Nell Gwynn occurs when a new visitor to the court promises to wear a most spectacular hat to the theater, thereby upstaging Nell.  To no one’s surprise, Nell gets revenge as only she can. We spoke to milliner Adelle Gresock, who created the fabulous chapeaux seen onstage. She describes below how she helped create this wonderful moment (light spoilers ahead!).


I met [costume designer] Mariah Anzaldo Hale in 2010 at The Lost Colony and we kind of kept up on Facebook since then, which is where she saw that I was making hats now. When she asked me to help with the project and sent me renderings, I knew there was no way I couldn’t because it looked like way too much fun.

I started by doing some tag board mock ups based on what I thought was a fairly accurate interpretation of Mariah’s designs.

That’s what we used for the fittings to make sure they were the right shape, size, etc.. Mariah gave me some notes (she wanted both of them to be even bigger).

Normally I would make a cavalier hat from pulled felt, but because she wanted the larger one to be wearable and presumably not seamed together several times, I had to figure out something that would be both lightweight and stiff enough to hold the shape of the brim. I eventually decided on fosshape, which is a material that starts out the same texture as a very thin foam, but turn stiff when heat pressed—almost like a thick poster board.

I then wired and covered the fosshape with fabric.

I came up with a drawstring lining for the larger hat so that I could make the crown proportionate to the brim, but it would also fit correctly.

I then had to hand stitch the trim on because neither of the hats would fit under a sewing machine.

The result? A pair of (almost) matching hats and one of the comedic highlights of Nell Gwynn.

The most challenging thing about theatrical millinery is determining what type of material to use based on the needs of the show. The whole process is fairly time consuming and usually involves several phases of overnight drying. It’s incredibly satisfying to take on a creative project like these hats for Nell Gwynn and to have it not only work, but come out looking beautiful.


Thank to Adelle for taking us through the process! See her creations in action before Nell Gwynn closes on March 10. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.


Nell Gwynn
by Jessica Swale
Original music by Kim Sherman
Directed by Robert Richmond; scenic design by Tony Cisek; costume design by Mariah Anzaldo Hale; lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin; sound design by Matt Otto.

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