The cards didn’t look stacked in favor of Women’s Council of the Arboretum President Kay Weeks and 2021 Mad Hatter’s Tea Chair Jolie Humphrey. Since last March the pandemic had squashed most in-person events including last year’s Mad Hatter’s fundraiser for the Dallas Arboretum.
With fingers crossed and arms vaccinated, Jolie and Kay decided to create a scaled-down version of the get-together that would provide the stringent restrictions and allow guests to show off their chapeaus fitting the “Out Of Africa – Into The Garden” theme on Thursday, April 15. Instead of 500 guests, it would be 350; instead of a morning champagne see-and-be-seen scene, it would be an afternoon delight in the Ginsburg Family Plaza with the winners of the hat competition being revealed; instead of a seated luncheon on the terrace, it would be an elegant seated tea in Rosine Hall; instead of a high-staged catwalk, it would be a slightly elevated walkway for the models wearing Tootsies fashions in the Hall.
Things were looking up as the event sold out the week before and people seemed to be eager to escape the cabin fever that had swept the country.
But then pesky Mother Nature showed signs of threatening to upstage everything. In the days leading up to the Tea, area weather guessers were predicting rain starting just as the festivities got underway at 1 p.m.
Evidently Kay and Jolie had pulled some strings and the rain avoided the Arboretum during the outdoor reception and everyone was high-and-dry in Rosine Hall for the fashion presentation.
And the reception didn’t disappoint, with the hats following the theme to a “T.”
Veteran head-turners included Kunthear Mam-Douglas arriving with her pals Andrea Reich wearing a hat topped with a lion wearing its own floral headdress and Tricia Sims, who admitted that she had focused on her ankle-length, form-fitting white tiger print dress… Folks didn’t know whether to look at Carmen Hancock‘s towering hat with creatures in African tall grass or her sparkling rifle. It was her hat that proved to be the scene-stealer, with a couple of meerkats watching a choo-choo jugging along the back of the brim transporting an itty-bitty giraffe… Elizabeth Smith Theis admitted that this attempt at heady delight wasn’t her first, but it definitely was a roaring success with a lion popping out of the hat growling. Elizabeth claimed that the toughest part of the creation was finding the lion….Sherwood Wagner once again tested the powers of her glue gun, putting together her gal squad Chapeaux Safari made up of Lisa Evert, Marena Gault, Sharon Popham and Sherwood, of course.
Early on the scene was Kimble Wooten with a cheetah topping her chapeau. Judge Gregg Hudson (aka Dallas Zoo president/CEO) was impressed, saying it was a rare form of cheetah… Yvonne Evan‘s vintage ensemble featured an antique blouse, soft baby blue ankle-length skirt with matching spencer jacket and beige Edwardian belt. Her blue wide-brimmed hat with an arrangement of white flowers trailed an ivory-English netting train designed by Jenny Mathison-Foster… While Julie Doshier‘s leopard print top hat looked like a playground of lions, elephants and hippos, she pointed to her pal Sheryl Wood‘s wide-brimmed grassland with water buffalo, lions, hippos and elephants. Julie pointed out a tiny little green rhino peeking out from the greenery… Mothers and daughters like Karen Dianis and daughter Barbara Dianis and Prashi Shah and mom Deanna Shah showed their matching looks… On the other hand, Jolie and her mom/2021 Mad Hatter’s signature artist Barbara Elam wore floral prints but went in their own directions when it came to their hats.
Of course, with that many gawkers and reasons to gawk, accidents couldn’t help but happen, like the run-in between a rolling walker and a grounded flute of champagne next to a couple of zebra statues. As the bubbly soaked into the stone flooring, a server quickly scooped up the shards of glass. The walker wasn’t cited for the smash.
Speaking of assisted walking, Mari Epperson‘s accessory du jour was a metal crutch as she recovered from hip replacement…. Patricia Cowlishaw was escorted through the crowd by Arboretum Gardens and Visitor Services VP Dave Forehand until he was called away. Not to worry. Patricia had brought along her trusty black walking cane.
Seated on one side of the green carpet as guests strutted their stuff vying for the day’s awards, the judges (Patti Flowers, Gregg Hudson, Giuliano Matarese, Kim Noltemy, Ken Weber, C’Mone Wingo and Nick Wingo) thoroughly enjoyed the roll-out of the entries. Some of the hats followed the theme to a “T” and others just looked like they could easily be worn for Easter Sunday. Guests happily posed with each other and with the life-sized faux gorilla, zebras and rhino.
Sure, there were some over-the-top toppers and others that made Disneyland look downright blah, but the past years of outrageous upstaging seemed to have taken a pass this year. That’s not to say that all the judging was limited to the officials along the carpet. Looking over the crowd in the Plaza, one observer smugly asked her intimates, “Did you see the one in the tacky outfit?” Oh, girls will be girls.
As the minutes ticked by and the clouds held, the program got underway on a platform in the Plaza. The only problem was hearing the announcements. Jolie and Kay were confronted with two unforeseen challenges. First of all, everyone was having such a champagne good time, they didn’t want to stop chatting. Second, the wireless mics were part-time friends. Like batons in a relay race, one after another the mics were exchanged between speakers and production people. A good old-fashioned megaphone would have been more successful.
Luckily, the din of the crowd simmered down as Honorary Chair Carole Ann Brown, who chaired the first Tea in 1989, addressed the guests and encouraged them to continue to grow the fundraiser for the Arboretum.
Tootsies team Nerissa von Helpenphill and Dustin Holcomb, who were providing the fashions that would be presented during the tea, told the guests that despite the main store being in recovery mode from Winter Storm Uri, they were still in action at their temporary digs next to Bachendorfs.
That calm started to rear its head but was stopped dead in its tracks upon hearing the category winners would be announced. As each judge announced the category and the recipient, the Mad Hatters applauded the picks that included:
- Karen Blixen Style: Most Elegant and Romantic — Yvonne Evans
- Sundowner Chic: Cocktail Hour in Africa – Most Fascinating Fascinator — Tatiana Graham
- African Floral Garden: Best Botanical Using Fresh Florals — Jennifer Bell
- Safari Riders: Best Group in Hats — Sherwood’s Chapeau Safari (Sherwood Wagner, Marena Gault, Sharon Popham and Lisa Evert)
- African Queen: Most True to Africa — Jordi Bostock
- Animal Instinct: Most Outlandish! Go Wild! — Elizabeth Smith Theis
- Out of Africa: Most True to Theme — Kimble Wooten
After a group photo of winners and judges that tested the sturdiness of the platform, all adjourned to their assigned tables around the terrace and in the Hall. And as guests departed with their hats, the rains still held back, much to the relief of Jolie and Kay.
If you haven’t already seen them, there are loads more pictures of the Mad Hatters at MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.