Twenty-one year old Nell Marchwold is the hat maker of the title. At the start of the novel, she’s been working in a millinery shop for two years, and is starting to do her own designs. When one rich client comes in and her daughters insist on two of Nell’s hats, suddenly there is a rush of business in the shop, all clamoring for Nell’s hats. Nell’s dream is to make hats that bring out a woman’s beauty and working for in this shop seems like the best way to manage that. But when the shop owner, Oscar Fields, begins to get possessive of Nell, things get weird. When a business trip to England- Nell’s home country- brings her into contact with her childhood crush, Quentin, Fields is disparaging and changes plans so that Nell is kept from spending any time with Quentin. Is Fields priming her to be a new designer or to be something else?
Nell is almost too good to be true. She’s hard working, supports herself, has a brilliant sense of design and the ability to bring the design to fruition, cares about her family and friends selflessly, and apparently is as pure as the driven snow, with no interest in the drinking and dancing of the 1920s. But she stutters, which Fields mocks her for, and she’s told it will hold her back as a designer. She didn’t always stutter; as a young girl she spoke freely. Her quest to uncover what changed her provides a subplot, a little mystery that brings Nell’s family into the story.
The story is reasonably engaging and I liked Nell; she developed a backbone during the novel and we got to watch her grow. I loved the descriptions of the dresses and hats of the period; I’m a vintage clothing lover and this is why I asked for the book. But the book didn’t seem to have a lot of depth; most of the characters were rather superficial. I felt no connection with them. Nell is all goodness and Fields is all badness, which isn’t how it usually works in real life. It’s enjoyable fluff.
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