Dianne Isbell’s one-of-a-kind designs have been featured in too many area fashion shows to count. The owner of HATS by DI-Anne, she has won awards too numerous to list, including the 2011 New York Fall Fashion Week Diet Coke Contest. Her designs also were selected for a year-long display in the Kentucky Derby Hat Museum at Churchill Downs, where she was selected as featured milliner in 2020-2021.
Still, she says with all of her awards and recognitions, she is “most proud of growing up on a farm, going to a one-room school for three grades and receiving my master's degree.”
About her successes, Dianne says: “I honestly never thought I couldn't accomplish what I have accomplished—I just did it.”
“I recently found a photo of me at 8 years old, and on the back, it stated: ‘Dianne made this dress all by herself from an old slip of her mother’s and a nylon stocking for a belt,’" Dianne says. “I was already into fashion then.”
It was about that time that she says her grandma taught her how to crochet and embroider. “My mom and grandma were both excellent seamstresses. They taught me how to sew with a little crank sewing machine.”
It was the knowledge gleaned from them that would prove invaluable when Dianne began designing hats. “I think this is where I learned one of the mottos I live by: ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing right,’ to which I have added, ‘Or don't do it at all.’
Dianne taught herself how to type on a typewriter her mother had purchased and studied English, college-prep classes, shorthand and business in high school, so she could work as a secretary to put herself through college.
While working full time at Scott Air Force Base, and taking evening and weekend classes, Dianne earned her bachelor’s degree in social psychology—graduating Summa Cum Laude—and her master’s degree in business management. She worked in the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, finishing as the director of Protocol for the Air Force Communications Service (AFCS), reporting to a two-star Air Force General and having a secretary and a five military member staff of her own.
After 26 years of civil service, Dianne started her first business, Etiquette Plus, teaching a six-week course to kids on the rules of etiquette. Soon she taught all types of manners and protocol to all ages in all walks of life, including CEOs and presidents of companies, from table manners and proper posture to respect and dignity. For 36 years, she’s written an etiquette column for the Belleville News Democrat.
As she built her business, Dianne garnered three more promotions, for a total of 11 throughout her career at Scott, as well as being selected for a spot in the Department of Defense’s prestigious year-long Executive Leadership Development Program, which included actual military training such as parachute jumping and driving a tank at Fort Bragg.
In January 2001, Dianne, though only 55, retired. She was immediately offered a job in Washington, DC, with a high-level communications corporation.
In June, a girlfriend introduced her to a widowed, former Army officer and Green Beret. “We had our first date in August, and then 9/11 hit in September,” she says. “I realized I could have been at a meeting in the Pentagon that day, if I had already moved to DC. I decided life was too short, declined the position, and married the Green Beret the following year.”
She continued her etiquette classes and teas for little girls but added fancy dresses, purses, boas, gloves, jewelry and created special Victorian-type hats.
Her older sister saw some of the hats and asked if she would create one for her to wear at her Red Hat Society outings. Soon Dianne was creating one-of-a-kind hats for Society ladies all over; and her designs—red, purple, pink and lavender—were in boutiques from Springfield, Illinois, to Springfield, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado.
Dianne then met a lady who wanted to carry her designs in her boutique in all of the Society colors and then some. “This was a turning point in my business, because when you add a color, you must add all the trims, feathers, flowers, veiling and millinery fabrics in that color to create the designs.”
Today, as always, she “lives for the look on my clients' faces, when they put on one of my designs and look in the mirror. It’s an instant: ‘I feel beautiful’ look!'”
Dianne created three designs for Lady Gaga’s "Fame" perfume rollout and several designs for William H.T. “Bucky” Bush’s wife, Patty Bush. She also designed or gifted hats and fascinators for and to Karlie Kloss of "Project Runway;" Belgian designer, Diane von Furstenberg; and NBC co-anchors, Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush.
Dianne meets with clients in her home studio or in clients' homes by appointment. She also conducts many trunk shows and pop-ups every year at various boutiques in cities across the United States.
She says she is thrilled to see a resurgence of hats, old and new, such as the women’s fedora and the cloche. Besides staying very busy creating designs for the Kentucky Derby and the Ascot Races, where fascinators, perchers and hatinators are now becoming more popular than hats, “There are many vintage car clubs where women wear hats designed to match the era of the cars.”
It’s also becoming more fashionable for men to wear a hat, bow tie or pocket square to match or complement the color of their lady’s hat or fascinator.
Facebook/Instagram: Dianne Isbell or HATS by DI-Anne