When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you do good,” is the group motto of the Hat Ladies of Charleston, coined by Archie Burkel, founder and “top hat” of the dynamic group of women. Hailing from Chicago, Burkel started the group in 2001 after discovering the friendliness of Charleston residents, who were especially complimentary of the fabulous hats she would wear while strolling downtown.
What began with 15 fashionable ladies meeting for high tea at Charleston Place and later, for potluck luncheons at Alhambra Hall soon evolved into a dynamic group of volunteers committed to serving the Charleston community.
“We are known for our fashion and compassion,” said Burkel. “At least 2,500 ladies—who range in age from 12 to 94— have been members in our 21-year history. We are known as a resource when nonprofit causes need help.”
Whether they are building houses for Habitat for Humanity in pink hard hats or offering an extra pair of hands to help with a silent auction at a fundraising gala while dressed in their most elegant headwear, the Hat Ladies give the precious gift of time. Even better, they are always open to new requests.
The Hat Ladies of Charleston have not only gifted their stylish support to local nonprofits, they have also connected the women of Charleston in a one-of-a-kind way.
“The wearing of hats brought people together,” Burkel noted. “All ages, all colors, all ethnicities, all religions and all backgrounds from all parts of the Tri-County area. Being a Hat Lady resonates with women who had deep family ties to Charleston, as well as newcomers who wanted to be a part of Charleston. Most of all, being a Hat Lady resonates with an extremely important quality that many women struggle with—self-esteem.” Yes, the beautiful byproduct of wearing fabulous hats in a supportive community of women making a difference is a deep self-confidence that shines from the inside out.
Donating gently used clothing to Holly’s Closet at MUSC’s Department of Psychiatry is one way to support the Hat Ladies of Charleston. Another is to join this stylish brigade of volunteers by becoming a member yourself.
“A love of hats of all colors and 25 dollars for annual dues is all that is needed to join,” Burkel exclaimed. “There is no limit to the number of our members.”
From dressing up in hats found in her friend’s attic at 10-years-old to donning flower-adorned warm caps in the cold Chicago winters to making new friends in stylish hats on Charleston’s promenade, Burkel has truly worn many hats in her life. But nothing compares to the hat she wears as the leader of the Hat Ladies of Charleston, serving countless organizations throughout our community and making a lasting difference in the beautiful place we call home.
Learn more at HatLadies.org, or email hatladies@aol. com to get involved.
By Heather Artushin