Jodie Bailey: The Mad Hatter of Indy

Located just off of Meridian Street, Jodie Bailey’s whimsical collection of hand-crafted hats shimmers in the sunlight flooding through the wide-slatted blinds of her millinery boutique – The Hattery.

Cloaked in pink marble and adorned with headpieces of various forms and fabrics, The Hattery is the product of Jodie’s lifelong dedication to design, her passion for bold self-expression through artistic dress, and the childhood trips she took with her mother on Saturday mornings to the third-floor millinery department at Robertson’s in South Bend, Indiana.

During those weekend excursions, she would trail behind her mother and watch as she elegantly tried on hats of varying forms ranging from pillboxes to berets. 

Even though hats fell out of fashion in the following years, those shopping trips with her mother at Robertson’s stayed firmly rooted in Jodie’s mind, sparking her interest in arts and design. Jodie’s mother ignited her creativity, taking her to various art classes and teaching her to sew.

Jodie’s creative energies flowed full force through the years, fueling her with the drive to start working as a florist and create her own interior design business. Eventually, she decided to enroll at Indiana University at South Bend to begin her undergraduate degree in costume design. Life changes led her to move to Indianapolis, which led to a job in the costume shop at the Indiana Repertory Theater as the assistant manager. 

After a season at the theater, Jodie decided to chase her dream of having an art degree and obtained her undergraduate degree in art history at the Herron School of Art and Design. Her mother’s influence was called to mind during a creative writing class where she wrote a story describing the Saturday mornings spent with her mother in the millinery department. 

A year and a half later, she received her master’s degree in visual arts and public life.

“I’m really interested in how we navigate public spaces as a person,” Jodie said. “We express ourselves through dress, and some of us express ourselves artistically through dress – we become a work of art.”

Once Jodie received her master’s degree, she moved from Indianapolis to St. Joseph, Michigan, where she was invited to hold a position at the Krasl Art Center running the educational program and the museum interpretation program. In order to further her work, she later moved back to Indianapolis to start a position at the Herron School of Art and Design.

Then, budget cuts hit, and Jodie was back in her own studio – and inspiration struck. In 2017, she remembered the story she had written during her undergraduate degree. Jodie thought of her mother, who had experienced hair loss prior to her passing, and decided that she would make berets for women in the hospital experiencing hair loss. 

But why stop there? 

Jodie used her arsenal of design experience to begin creating sculptural headpieces in her studio. 

“That’s when it all took off,” Jodie said. “You’re wearing the sculptures on your head, and it’s a wonderful experience you have when you enter a room. We can wear fabulous shoes, but unless you’re on a runway, nobody’s looking at the shoes right away. The hat keeps the focus on your face, the eye contact, the interaction you can have.”

She calls herself the Mad Hatter of Indianapolis, and the nickname is a fitting one: the inspiration behind her artistry involves a whirlwind of dreamscape imagery similar to the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Jodie’s most artistic ideas come to her when she has just woken up from a nap, and she captures them within years’ worth of filled sketchbooks and journals.

“Naps are like gifts from the creative universe for me,” Jodie said. “I’ve decided it’s that semi-conscious state. Waking up and coming out of – it will literally be a picture in my mind. Sometimes it’s a fuzzy picture. The finished product would be a derivative of that, it would be refined.”

Jodie’s hats have been crafted in a variety of studios across Indianapolis since 2017, but today, she creates them in a private studio and displays them at The Hattery, where they are visible by appointment only.

While she has yet to have a grand opening for the space due to the pandemic, Jodie has been enjoying taking commissions from clients for events. This past spring, she had a group come in to try on hats for the Kentucky Derby.

“One woman tried on a lot of different hats,” Jodie said. “She seemed to be a mellow woman, not necessarily emotionally reactive. Then, she tried on this hat I made that had Barbie legs. The minute she put that hat on, she just lit up. She embodied it. That hat – it was almost like it was made for her.”

The Hattery is a gorgeous space, a dream of Jodie’s brought to life – perhaps reminiscent of the classic department store millinery sections of her youth. It reflects the joy that Jodie’s customers feel when they try on one of her whimsical wearable works of art, just as she felt watching her mother years ago.

“I think of my mom every day,” Jodie said. “I think of how tickled she would be, how thrilled she would be. She always was. I remember her coming to one of my first public studios, and she would see how I did things and get such delight out of something that I even looked at as practical. She would look at it with wonder, and I carried that with me. She’s with me in that way every day.”

Jodie shares that captured joy with others everywhere she goes – she enamors those around her with her creations. One can’t help but be overcome with excitement when spotting – or sporting –  one of her headpieces. 

“I’ve never ever received negative feedback,” Jodie said. “People are always very welcoming to me and encouraging, and it brings a smile to their face. It really does. The women or men who wear my hats get the same kind of response from the world. To me that’s, that’s my mission.”

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