Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cheating on my Boyfriend

My co-leader for the summer walking tour I am leading (tickets on sale now!!) jokes that John Doyle Bishop is my "boyfriend" because I'm so excited by any and all things JDB. I always sort of roll my eyes at the joke because being born 70 years apart is just ONE of the reasons why I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work out between us.

But if we go with it, and decide that my "type" is fabulous gay men who worked in fashion in Seattle before I was born, then this week I definitely cheated on my boyfriend. This week I met John Eaton.

It all started innocently enough. One of my coworkers in the library was processing a new collection and came across a reference to a designer named John Eaton. Since no one seemed to know anything we started searching. First someone found an ebay listing for a photo of him. Then I found an article in the Seattle Times historical database. Before long, we knew the following things: 1) While he did design clothes his specialty was hats. He had a shop across the street from Frederick & Nelson called "John Eaton, Of Course!" and later in life he taught millinery classes in Seattle. 2) In the 1960s he was living with his "business partner" James Neher and two poodles named Gigi and Voulez-vous. Now, I don't want to jump to conclusions about men who live with other men and own poodles, but I think the implication there is pretty clear.

Be still my heart!

The more I looked, the more there was to love. First of all, it looks like he was pretty much the biggest deal in hats the city has ever had. His shop was one thing, but his major legacy was his teaching. I saw one quote that claimed all milliners currently working in Seattle either learned directly from him or from one of his students. Second, it turns out that my hunch about him being gay wasn't just an educated guess. In the 1980s the Seattle Times did a feature about gay couples in Seattle and "Jim and John" were included as a happy couple that had been together 33 years. When faced with snide remarks, James said "we chose to ignore it and act like gentlemen."

I can't wait to find out more about Eaton and let more people know about his awesomeness. Tragically for you, if you are interested in those ebay listings for the photos you see in this post, too bad. I already snapped them up. I also bought a hat of his on etsy.

Hmm. I just got a vision of myself on an upcoming episode of hoarders. My apartment will be filled to the gills with old Nordstrom ads, packages of vintage John Doyle Bishop hosiery, and Bon Marche shopping bags, and the therapist will pull something out of the rubble and say "Now, do you really need this photograph of a man and two poodles? Is he even related to you? I'm going to throw this away," and I'll be like "Noooo! I'm saving it for HISTORY."


  1. These posts get better and better.

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