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Your Mad Hatter Tea Recap: The Real “Hat Wives,” Turkey Legs, and Absolutely No Horseplay Allowed

It was a one-horse party Wednesday at the Dallas Arboretum until Henry the pony got kicked out.
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Catherine Wendlandt

Your Mad Hatter Tea Recap: The Real “Hat Wives,” Turkey Legs, and Absolutely No Horseplay Allowed

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It is my solemn duty as a journalist to report the news, whatever it may be—good, bad, or silly. Which is why I must report that Henry the horse was kicked out of the Mad Hatter’s Tea at the Dallas Arboretum last Wednesday.

Amber Griffin brought him. She wanted to dress “Texas Glam” for this year’s “Dallas” theme, but she didn’t want to wear a grand hat. So she borrowed the white miniature pony from a friend. “I just wanted something cute and adorable” walking down the aisle.

Since 1989, the Women’s Council’s has put on its popular Mad Hatter’s Tea party each spring at the Arboretum. Supporting the Women’s Garden, the event features a fashion show, a luncheon, and an outrageous hat competition. Partygoers design extravagant caps matching that year’s theme and strut down a runway. The competition can get intense; it isn’t unusual to see someone create a hat with, say, live goldfish to stand out.

Catherine Wendlandt

So a horse isn’t that out of the norm. At first, Griffin’s ploy worked. Henry was the mane event as he clip-clopped through the Arboretum’s entrance. He was decked out in a rhinestone tiara, zebra-print harness, and bejeweled mane. Partygoers fawned over him. Alas, Arboretum officials told Griffin to hold her horse; she had not gotten a permit for Henry. She could stay, but the horse had to go.  

While some were sorry to see the tail end of Henry, a Tea official told D Magazine that no animals are allowed at the Arboretum except the ones that already live here. So perhaps next time, if you want to sneak an animal in, try a squirrel. Although, you could probably make a strong argument for the White Rock Lake eagles. 

Of course, Henry was not the only gimmick guests used to stomp out the competition.

Linda Burk dressed up as the State Fair. Her hat included the iconic Ferris Wheel, Big Tex, and even corndogs. She finished off the look with a basket chock-full of treats. Burk walked around the champagne reception handing out corndogs, turkey legs, and cans of beer. 

Elizabeth Smith topped her har with a rotating display of Barbies dressed in past Mad Hatter themes. Each doll had its own hat, too. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, Smith was trying to hat-ception her victory deep in the judges’ subconscious. Smith chose the hat to appeal to the judges, she says. She had won the past two years and was hoping for a third. 

Everyone “oohed and awed” over the giant Pegasus sign atop Prashe Shah’s hat. Shah says her kids helped paint the sign, and she accented it with red, white, and blue flowers. And although the Pegasus looked to be in just as much danger of falling as the real one, Shah kept it up without the aid of a City Council budget item. 

Some women, in a move familiar to fans of The Bachelor, used their hats to promote their businesses. Connie Siegel covered her Dallas Zoo-themed hat with figurines from Ardmore Ceramic Art in South Africa, which she sells at her shop, Elements Boutique. 

More than 530 people attended, the event’s largest crowd yet. As the sun burned through the clouds, partygoers sipped champagne—while it could have been there, I did not actually see any tea—and snapped photos of each other’s hats. 

At long last, it was time to announce winners. There were seven categories, including “Uptown Girl” (best fascinator) and People’s Choice. Linda Burk and Prashe Shah snagged “Everything’s Bigger in Texas!” and “Most True to Theme,” respectively. Terri Irby and Sharla Bush tied for Best in Show.

One of the fiercest categories was Best Group Hats. There was a large contingent of women in matching hot pink head gear. A group of 10 friends each chose a different industry or locale of the city and came as the “Real Hat-Wives of Dallas.” The category’s winner was a small posse of women called the “Dallas Arboretum Gardens Group.” Each’s hat was about three feet tall and represented different events at the Arboretum. Pandering, you say? No one seemed to mind. 

The most brutal enemy of all was the wind. Hats were flying. Drinks spilled. “This wind is amazing,” event chair Claire Catrino told the crowd, “almost as amazing as you.” 

Even Elizabeth Smith’s Mad Hatter Barbie hat fell victim to the gales that afternoon—the spinning top literally toppled to the ground. However, Smith reattached it in time to accept her three-peat win. (She tied for “Best Botanical Component.”)

After the awards, the luncheon got started around 2 p.m. There was plenty of tea-appropriate food, such as finger sandwiches, devilled eggs, salads, and bite-sized pastries, but again, I did not see any tea. Wine, however, was free flowing. 

I was seated outside, with a lovely view of the lake. At each seat was a “fashion show menu.” The afternoon show featured pieces by New York-based designer Tanya Taylor, who was a guest judge in the day’s hat competition. As models showed off outfits provided by Tootsies, guests could circle which looks they liked on their menu. Jan Strimple Productions put the whole thing together, which included a thoughtful range of models in terms of shape, race, and age. 

Everything wrapped up around 3:30 p.m. There was quite a wait in the valet line. I heard whispers of guests slipping $20s to the parking attendants to get their cars faster. But everyone was in good spirits, chatting about the day’s events. Many, myself included, finally admitted defeat to the wind and took off their hats for another year. 


Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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