A Heady Experience

The fashionistas of yesteryear loved the creations of a Nashua milliner. When Gabriella Bouthillier closed her Nashua store in the 1990s, she also closed out an era in fashion history. For decades Gaby's Exclusive Millinery Shoppe at 85 West Pearl Street had sold the finest hats, hosiery, gloves, purses and clothing to stylish sorts in Nashua and beyond. But it was the hats - handmade by Gaby and her sister Cecile - that really drew the customers. "She was very creative with flowers, netting and feathers," says Beth McCarthy, curator of the Nashua Historical Society. "She really had a unique style." And McCarthy can point to more than 50 hats from the '20s, '30s, '40s and some even earlier as proof. The hats and a collection of bejeweled hat pins (see below) are now on display at the Historical Society's Speare Museum at 5 Abbott St. "Hats Off Nashua!" was kicked off in March and it will continue into 2010. Since the exhibit opened several more of Gaby's hats have been donated. Not all of the hats on display are hers; some are men's hats - a derby, a top hat and the like. Women's hats are staging a comeback, so the exhibit is a popular one. It's also a destination for the Red Hat ("when I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat") women's groups. McCarthy says they have come from all over New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. The museum contains a wealth of other information - Nashua's origins, its evolution into a mill town in the 1800s, its continued growth as a city and as a leading manufacturing and technological center. The exhibits bring alive scenes of other eras, complete with authentic costuming, furnishings and accessories.
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