Dubbed “Chicago's Mad Hatter” Benjamin Green-Field paired with his sister Bess to create the millinery label Bes-Ben and opened a store in 1919. Bes-Ben's whimsical creations were worn by the wealthy and famous including such ladies as Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich. The hats would often feature multiple “miniatures” of things including dogs, owls, cigarettes, palm trees and lobsters to name a few. He created a hat topped with real razor blades for Heda Hopper to wear to the film premiere of “The Razor's Edge.” In deference to WWII and rationing, hats were created from kitchen utensils, napkin rings and sponges.
The exclusive hats were priced from $37- $1000 and sold well even during the depression. Famously every summer Bes-Ben would clean house of old inventory with a special $5 sale. Starting at 2am Mr. Green-Field would toss the sale hats out to a waiting crowd. In the 1960s demand for the hats declined, but today they remain highly collectible. In recent times one Bes-Ben hat sold to a collector for over $18,000.
I was delighted to find that my very own Indianapolis is home to many special Bes-Ben pieces. The Indianapolis Museum or Art houses the following treasures: