Alan King

Rhode Island Store Still in Business Despite Owner’s Death

Contrary to rumors and internet postings, Estella’s Hats is not for sale. After the death of Estella Forbes Wheeler, hat designer and former owner of the boutique, the fate of the black owned business was up for speculation. Wheeler did not simply make hats, but designed symbols of dignity for African-American women. She started the hat boutique more than 30 years ago and became a local fashion icon among celebrities and D.C residents.A sale sign in front of the building led many to believe that Estella’s Hats was on the market. Even internet postings currently list the boutique and the building located on Rhode Island Ave for a price of $ 825,000. However, Mrs. Wheeler’s son Darius Wheeler said rooms located in the same building are up for sale, but not the boutique itself. Mr. Wheeler also said that his mother passed on the business to his sister Danyell Wheeler, who worked closely with their mother. Now both own and operate Estella’s Hats. Danyell designs the hats and Darius handles the business aspect. “My mother was a wonderful woman and our family will continue her legacy through her business” said, Mr. Wheeler. Hats are part of a deep rooted African-American tradition with spiritual ties. Slaves the majority of the time were not allowed to go anywhere except church, so they wore their best clothing to service. Many African-Americans still honor the practice by wearing their best attire to worship. However, hats are more than a fashion statement, but a representation of cultural pride among those who wear them. When blacks were considered second class citizens African American women expressed their sense of dignity through their elaborate hats. “My mother wears hats, and I know when my grandmother was alive she wore hats too. Looking at old pictures my great grandmother also wore hats, so I guess it goes back from generation to generation”, said Melissa Montgomery a student at Howard University. With less than a handful of milliners left in the D.C. Estella’s Hats keeps a tradition among many black women alive. Estella’s hats are featured in the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” by Craig Marberry. They are also on display in the Broadway musical “Crowns” which was inspired by Marberry’s book. Mrs. Wheeler memory will always be remembered through the thousands of hats she created, so that those who wore them would embody grace and pride.