Pictured are (left to right) Bay Village Historical Society President Catherine Burke Flament, Patti DiBenedetto Corna and Pamela Ebert wearing hats from the Ann DiBenedetto collection.

By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
When it came to fashion, the late Ann DiBenedetto rightly let it go to her head.
The owner of Heady Lady Millinery in Bay Village, DiBenedetto became known for her hat shows and for her personal collection of more than 2,000 hats. She had a great love for fashion, especially hats. A friend once asked DiBenedetto to talk about some of her hats at a cocktail party. The guests loved the presentation. After that, DiBenedetto began doing hat fashion shows in Cleveland, Palm Beach and Boca Raton, FL to raise money for charities. She donated the proceeds from her shows to the American Red Cross, the Christ Child Society and the Hemophilia Association, along with numerous other organizations.
DiBenedetto then took her talents for fashion and began doing talk shows, including “The Morning Exchange” with anchors Jan Jones and Lee Jordan. She would often present hats from her own vast collection,

Ann DiBenedetto. Photograph provided by the DiBenedetto family.

relate a story associated with each hat, and trace the evolution of hat fashion through the years.
She stressed the importance of wearing a hat and talked about skin care. DiBenedetto had many beach hats. “I never put my face in the sun. There are all kinds of ways you can wear hats to protect your skin,” she noted. She said a hat finishes an outfit.
DiBenedetto often traveled with her building developer husband, “Sparky” DiBenedetto. “I had a wonderful husband. I never changed the furniture in my house, but I bought a lot of hats,” she said. They were on a trip to Paris when she heard that there was a private fashion show by invitation only at a Christian Dior boutique. She decided that she was going to try to get into the sold-out event. She told her husband that if he did not see her return in ten minutes, it meant that she got into the show and he should come back for her in an hour. While at the show, she eyed a stunning Dior hat. It was so expensive that she passed on the purchase. A few months later, DiBenedetto had the opportunity to take a trip to Rome, where she spotted the same one-of-a-kind hat in a boutique. She told the shop owner that she had recently seen a similar hat in Paris. The merchant responded, “This is the hat you saw. It was just sent to me today.” The hat was marked at half price, so of course DiBenedetto bought it.
DiBenedetto, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 92, was honored as a woman of achievement at the Northwood Institute of Florida. She was a member of the Cleveland Fashion Group International for more than 50 years and was honored at Fashion Week of Cleveland. She served on the advisory board of Ursuline College and the fashion department of Kent State University.
She often sent hats from her shop to celebrities, and to first ladies Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter.
About 75 of DiBenedetto’s hats are currently on display in a show titled, “Hat Extravaganza” at Rose Hill Museum in Bay Village. Included in the exhibit are hats designed by Mr. John, Emme, Frank Olive, Eric Javitts, Mr. Rickie for Halles, Alan Couldridge, Adolfo and Dajon. DiBenedetto’s family is in the process of finding a permanent home for the collection of 2,000 hats and they hope to accomplish that by 2025.
Admission to the show at the museum, located at 27715 Lake Rd. in Bay Village, is free of charge every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Group tours can be arranged by calling 216.319.4634. The show continues through December.