Behind-The-Scenes with Debra Shirley

We had the opportunity to meet the very talented and creative Debra
Shirley at our first Oak Brook Polo match of the season!

Her hats and fascinators are not only fun and stylish, but very
beautiful and transformative!  She continues us to inspire us to think outside the box, dream big, and just do it! She has amazing energy and can turn anything into a beautiful creation!


We are so excited to share a few of Debra’s favorite things:

BEHIND-THE-SCENES with Debra Shirley

FAVORITE PLACE TO RELAX: The Alfred Caldwell Lilly Pool in Chicago.
It’s nearly a hidden spot in back of the Lincoln Park Zoo. I find it
to be such a tranquil place where if you sit still for a while, you
may have a magical encounter with a dragonfly, or with one of the many
other creatures that live there.

FAVORITE ACCESSORY: My pink, cropped jean jacket with a soulful
woman’s face on it. The beautiful face is made out of leather pieces.
When I was a teen I found this amazing leather jacket in a vintage
store from the 1960’s that had this woman’s face on the back. It cost
$5. It was a very small size that did not fit me but it was the most
incredible garment that I had ever seen, so I snatched it up! It sat
on the back of my desk chair as display only, until one day when it
occurred to me that I could un-stitch the lady and sew it onto a
jacket that did fit me! I first put her on a baby blue jean jacket
that I cropped, she’s also been on a plum jacket, and now she has
returned to her original pink and here she will stay.

FAVORITE TRAVEL COMPANION: Steven Fonti a story board artist in
animation. He’s my best friend and confidant. We have traveled across
the United States several times in a 1986 Pontiac Fiero.

Love of hats at the age of 10, when I borrowed a book on her from the
library. She was so stunningly beautiful in all the  hats that she
wore that I think she seared my 10 year old brain into linking beauty
with hat wearing.

I ALWAYS HAVE…AT MY DESK: A tattered pin cushion, and a pair of purple
hologram scissors.

FAVORITE PLACE TO GO FOR INSPIRATION: My local thrift store. I’m often
inspired by color combinations on an article of clothing or a piece of
jewelry. Often times  I restyle and repurpose pieces as I want them to
have new life on a hat.

FAVORITE WORDS OF ADVICE: Where given to me by Raymond Hudd a renowned
Chicago Milliner who’s career spanned from the 1950’s to the early
2000’s. He was known as the Mad Hatter of The Midwest. When I was a
Millinery student I brought him four of my hats designs to see what he
thought of my workmanship. He looked at the four hats and said.
“They’re good, now make forty”.

my Mother, Mary.  She passed away 16 years ago, but I would Love to
thank her for all of her hard work, struggles and sacrifices raising
me alone as a single parent.

FAVORITE PLACE FOR VACATION: Los Angeles. It’s urban, but a stones
throw from the beach or mountains. I always feel like anything is
possible when I am there.

past curfew with my best friend Linda in downtown Chicago.  We noticed
a movie was being filmed and we stopped to watch. It was a car crash
scene with a young good looking actor about our age. We watched them
film the scene many times where the good looking actor gets out of the
car to access the damage. During a break, the young actor came
sprinting up to us and says to me “I like your hair, I think it’s
really cool” ( An important note to mention is that my teenage self
had very tall, “Punk” spiked hair ). This was the best looking guy
that I’d seen in my 15 years on the planet, and he’s giving -me- a
compliment. The actor, by the way was the late River Phoenix. Later we
ended up chatting with him and one of the other actors from the movie.
A Night In The Life of Jimmy Reardon. They thought that we were cool
because we were regular teenagers and we thought that they were cool
because they were actors. At one point I asked River if I could have
his autograph, he replayed “Sure, can I have yours”? I was trembling
with nerves but I wrote my name (and my phone number) down and stuck
it in his pocket! In retrospect I wish I would have put it in his
hand, I’ll never know if he realized that I put it in the pocket of
the costume that he was wearing.
This was a tremendous experience for me that reinforced that looking
different can be a great thing.

SONG YOU CAN LISTEN TO ON REPEAT: Cabaret by Liza Minnelli. I like to
turn it up loudly and belt it out in unison with Liza. It feels great
and satisfies my theatrical side.

BEST PART ABOUT MAKING A HAT: To watch it evolve past my own
imaginings. I may have a general idea or silhouette in mind when I
start a piece, but the fabric and details always tell me what they
want to do. I have learned over the years to listen.

There is an amazing quote from Marianne Williamson that inspires me…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our
darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be
brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to
be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the
world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as
children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is
within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we
let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission
to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence
automatically liberates others”.

When I wear a hat, I feel my most beautiful, my most confident, and I
want other women to feel the same way.

DEBRA SHIRLEY can be found:


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