What Is a Milliner? Do Dictionaries Have it Wrong?

The dictionary says that a milliner is a person who makes or sells women’s hats. But many hat makers disagree. Many say that a milliner is a person who is far advanced in the art of fine hat making. Simply selling hats in a hat store or making run of the mill women’s hats would not qualify you to be called a milliner; you would be a shop keeper or a crafts woman who makes hats, but not a milliner. Being called a milliner implies a high degree of Mastery of the Art.

“He is not a milliner, just a hat seller” and “She is no milliner, she’s still got a lot to learn before being true master of hat making” are phrases that ring out across the ateliers of hatters. I have heard it said that the dictionary simply needs to update its antiquated notion of what milliner is, since it’s definitions are no longer true. Don’t even ask if you are a hat designer. That is several steps from a milliner.

Indeed people who hold this rarefied view of what a milliner is, are gatekeepers who defend the realm of the milliner with so much vigor that few people do dare to call themselves a “milliner” unless they are in fact far advanced in the art of hat making. Those who do may be put on notice that they are violating the spirit of the Art

Therefore the following dictionaries are hereby put on notice of the need to update their definitions:

Dictionary.com has definitions from Random House and Collins:

Random House Dictionary: “A person who designs, makes, or sells hats for women.”

Collins English Dictionary: “A person who makes or sells women’s hats.”

Merriam Webster has this definition: “A person who designs, makes, trims, or sells women’s hats”

American Heritage Dictionary states: “One that makes, trims, designs, or sells hats.”

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary has this definition: “A person who makes or sells women’s hats”

They were Milanese – The word “milliner” originated in the 16th Century from a word meaning a native of Milan, Italy or dealer of goods from Milan. The Online Etymology Dictionary (quoted in Dictionary.com ) states: mid-15c., vendor of fancy wares, especially those made in Milan, the Italian city famous for straw works, fancy goods, ribbons, bonnets, and cutlery. Meaning of “one who sells women’s hats” may be from 1520s, certainly in use by 18c.

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