Even when attending $100-a-plate dinners and decked out in our best cocktail finery, it’s good to know we Mainers still maintain our characteristic frugal edge. Such was the case at the Maine Historical Society’s fun and fabulous Mad Hatter Affair on Saturday night. The annual gala drew hundreds of supporters to The Woodlands club in Falmouth for a party that centered around the Kentucky Derby action broadcast live from Churchill Downs.

Hats were the couture du jour.

Margot Levesque, who looked smashing in a white cocktail dress and a huge white hat, said her hat may have looked rich but was actually a TJ Maxx bargain.

The story was similar with Alison Baxter Marlow’s hat. She’d already purchased one to go with her gorgeous turquoise gown, but then as she was passing by Sear’s in Cambridge, Mass., she happened to see a wide-brimmed hat on sale in the same exact shade of turquoise. She scooped it up and returned the other for a full refund.

Bibi Thompson had similar luck at a discount retailer, picking up her hat at the Christmas Tree Shops.

“I’m pretty sure it’s a door decoration,” Thompson confided with a laugh.

Her friend Jane Sawyer didn’t even need to hit the stores.

“I had the base hat,” Sawyer said, “and I added the ribbons and flowers.”

As expected, horses were a common theme with people’s headgear choices. Eric Young wore a straw hat, but jazzed it up by attaching a brown pony to the top with Velcro. Ryan Doil, who served on the event committee chaired by his mother, Aynne Doil, was wearing something that looked suspiciously like a horse-shaped mask.

“I got it in the children’s section at Michaels,” he said.

Susan Schraft, wearing an outfit inspired by the brown polka-dot dress Julia Roberts wore to the polo match in “Pretty Woman,” topped it off with a hat she paid $5 for at the Good Cause Thrift Shop in Portland.

Schraft showed up at the store the day before the party in desperate need of a hat. The volunteer manning the desk told her most of the hats sold out the day before. However, they managed to find one and the clerk even brought out a glue gun and added a few silk flowers. Quite the service for a $5 purchase.

While I may have been wearing a designer hat, I’m happy to report my Madgirl World headgear, which was black with a yellow flower to match my dress, came courtesy of a loan from designer Meredith Alex.

A number of partygoers donned hats they’d fabricated last month at a special Mad Hatter Tea Party hosted by Harmon’s & Barton’s Flowers in Portland. Richard D’Abate, the society’s director, was among the do-it-yourself milliners who benefited from the tea party. He was sporting a flashy burgundy top hat embellished with pink roses, tufts of feathers and a decorative dragonfly. Others who took advantage of the hat-making festivities were Sara Montgomery of Camden, trustee Eric Baxter, whose great-great grandfather James Phinney Baxter was one of the founders of the society, and Eric Baxter’s husband, Lonnie Leeman. Leeman, who was wearing a red lobster hat that appeared to be fashioned from one of those paper accordion-style decorations, went on to win for Male Most Hysterical in the Hat Parade.

He was joined in the winners circle by Tom Newhall, who’s black top hat won Male Most Historical, Jo Marsanskis, who won Female Most Historical, and Jacqueline Mylroie, who won Female Most Hysterical.

While Leeman’s hat was clearly on the comedic side of things, the hats worn by Marsanskis and Mylroie were both equally lovely in my eyes. Mylroie’s hat, which featured green ostrich feathers and flowers, was another of the creations from the tea party.

Marsanskis made her winning pink hat embellished with silk flowers at home, and offered up her services for others hoping for a future win.

“If people want hats made next year, I’ll do it,” Marsanskis said.

The hat winners were announced after the cocktail hour, which featured mint juleps and Mad Hatter martinis, and the three-course dinner.

During the dinner, I had the pleasure of being seated at a lively table between two fascinating ladies, Charlene Strang, who continues to make the social rounds at 90, and Elizabeth McLellan, who runs the Partners for World Health charity. Others at our table included Strang’s daughter, Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, Doug Stewart, Elizabeth Astor, Carolyn Murray, Dr. Joseph Schenkel and Barbara Schenkel, who’s a Portland Museum of Art trustee.

In his after dinner remarks, D’Abate kicked off the live auction with these words: “I just received a message from Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Fed. He said bid freely, spend wildly, because the market is going up and even if it doesn’t the Maine Historical Society is a fabulous organization.”

And while we Yankees may guard our wallets when it comes to hat shopping, we have no trouble opening them for a good cause. Many of the auction items raked in more than a grand, and when everything was tallied, the event raised $43,000 to support the society’s efforts to preserve and share our state’s history.

Not a bad night’s work for a group of frugal Mainers.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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