Now I do like wearing a hat. I think this trait was inherited from both my mother and my paternal grandmother, particularly the latter. Buying a new one (even a basic sun hat) is the only ‘apparel shopping’ I enjoy. No need to struggle out of your gear in a cramped fitting room. You can just pop one on and within seconds helpful fellow shoppers will stop to offer an opinion. It’s a lot of fun.

Unfortunately I arrived in Sydney too late to experience the wonder of June Millinery, which would have been even more fun!

Not June Millinery, but still fun to buy a new hat.

The following is an extract from Memoirs of Bygone Days, by Carmel Wooden, published in 2013;

Our favourite place in Sydney to go to was June Millinery. It was a large shop that was situated in the main shopping centre in Pitt Street. It was down below the street level, and there were stairs and an escalator going down to it, and there was a small window on the upper level. It was a picture when you got downstairs. It was owned by a Jewish family and had been handed down from father to sons. Burnham was their name, and they generally employed pretty young girls to stand behind counters with arches covered with colourful artificial flowers. Other counters had ribbons of all width and colour, veiling and tulle draped around them. Shop assistants were selling hats to be trimmed or shapes to be covered. The milliners, in pastel uniforms, sat on the inside while clients sat on the outside seats, waiting for their hats to be trimmed or a wild creation made just for them.

I must say Carmel’s memories were spot-on. Look at the joy in this woman’s face as she climbs up the stairs with her new purchase.

A happy customer leaves June Millinery.

During the Second World War, the Burnham family faced a staffing problem due to the demands of the government’s Manpower Department. In 1944 the giant jam company IXL required an additional 650 women to process fruit. Girls working in city milk bars and non-essential stores such as hat shops were ordered to work in canneries at Darlington and Stanmore. (Daily Telegraph March 4 1944)

Once the war ended, rationing on things such as fabric eased, with the slightly odd effect of designers creating longer skirts. June Millinery balanced the new look with larger hats and more dramatic trimmings. In November 1947 Mr G. Burnham told a Sun reporter; ‘Small, perched hats are going out this [coming] winter and the trend is towards fitted hats with trimmings galore. Extreme ostrich feather creations, large pom poms, aigrettes, bird and wing mounts will be all the rage.‘ Burnham had spent ₤60,000 on new stock in Europe, but only brought home a few hats plus a lot of ideas from the US, owing to ‘the dollar shortage‘.

Bare 'shapes' at June Millinery.
Male 'trimmers' working at Jun Millinery.

Did you notice that the three staff members in the above photo were young men? Their employment at June Millinery led to an article in the city’s Daily Telegraph on November 14 1948, after one fellow insured his talented hands for £500.

Three young men employed as milliners at a city hat shop receive compliments, gifts and marriage proposals from their women customers. They say they like the compliments, return the gifts and say ‘NO’ to the proposals.

Stewart Medway-Brown was one of the trio and he added, ‘We flirt a little with the women customers. It brightens up the pleasant task of choosing a new hat.’ Stewart then demonstrated the entire process of ‘dressing’ a hat. The decorations were only pinned on, then sewn on by customers at home.

A staff member trims a hat at June Millinery.
A finished at hat at June Millinery.

I’m not sure customers would have appreciated the following observations from the male milliners featured in the article;

Male staff at June Millinery were critical of their customers!

Rupert Burnham married Joy, a former T.A.A. air hostess in February 1951. A good deal of their seven month overseas honeymoon was spent searching for hats…… and ideas for hats. Rupert told reporters that he relied on his bride’s judgement of what Sydney women would like. ‘ We spent six weeks in America and we would go into shops, tell them we were from Australia, and they would show us the most popular shapes. My wife was the frontal attack and I’ll take her on all future overseas trips. She bought nine spring hats for herself, and I’m getting them copied for the shop.’

At this point the city shop was attracting about 3,000 customers per day, with about 1,000 ladies leaving with a hat.

Mrs Joy Burnham wearing a hat she purchased in America while on her honeymoon.

In the 1970s my mother had occasion to take tea with the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Stanly Burbury. She was thrilled to bits when he said, ‘ Oh Mrs Allen, I do love your hat. If only women would wear them more often these days.‘ Yes, the heyday of hats was already over and they had been relegated to race days and vice-regal social events.

Today, June Millinery of Pitt Street is just a memory.

By the way, does a fascinator band count as a hat? I doubt my Grandmother would think so. 😎

Allce Maud Allen. who loved hats and probably shopped at June Millinery

STOP PRESS! – I was delighted when my friend Maureen Cann read this story and sent me a photo of a hat she bought at June Millinery around 1966. It’s lovely.

  1. My mother, in the early 1950s, during school holidays, took me to “town”. We would sometimes venture into June Millinery as well as walk up and down the Her Majesty’s and Imperial Arcades and Farmers and David Jones. The description of the entrance down, with the escalator and stairs, triggered a mental picture. I must have been trained well as I have accompanied my wife, on our various trips, to retail stores and mostly, even enjoy it.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for leaving a message Michael. I’m so glad the story brought back memories for you. Plus I’m delighted you accompany your wife to stores. My husband does too, and is remarkably patient and helpful even though is normally a very impatient fellow! 😍

  2. I used to shop at June Millinery in the 1960s – I bought my wedding headgear from there in 1969.

    • Pauline

      I feel as if I missed out on all the iconic Sydney shops, such as this one, Anthony Horderns etc.

  3. What an interesting story, although I’m amazed at the numbers quoted who visited the shop per day. 3,0000 Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever actually visited a proper hat shop, although big departments stores always had a good range to choose from. It’s definitely a Hat for me. You can keep those silly little ‘Fascinator’ things.

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