Society / The Seen

The 2023 Mad Hatter’s Luncheon Delights With Whimsical, Wonderful, and Wacky Spins on ‘English Elegance’

10-Pound Poodles, Charcuterie Boards, and More Unforgettable Moments Atop the Brim

BY // 04.27.23
photography Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass

When the official 2023 hat competition rules underscore that “live animals are not welcome guests at Mad Hatter’s,” you know you’re about to attend a luncheon that’s “curiouser and curiouser.” Alice found herself in Wonderland after following a White Rabbit, smartly dressed in a waistcoat and obsessing over his tardiness, down the proverbial rabbit hole. 

Similarly, I found myself at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden on Thursday, April 20, dressed in a sweeping floral frock by Molly Moorkamp with a 10-pound boxwood topiary poodle perched atop my head. I couldn’t be late for this very important date, either.

Every spring, the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden hosts its signature spectacle, the Majestic Mad Hatter’s Luncheon. Cherished by Dallas gals about town, the event benefits A Woman’s Garden and always inspires creativity. Co-chairs Ann Stodghill and Kristina Wrenn, along with Honorary Chair Kim Hext, chose “A Celebration of English Elegance” as the theme for this year’s 700 guests, a striking contrast from 2022’s “Dallas” theme that elicited Texas-sized toppers.

Undoubtedly, Brits would have been chuffed by the completely outlandish Texan interpretation of “English Elegance,” but isn’t that what makes our city so great? Too much is never enough for Dallasites.

MadHatters-HLs-TCP-059 (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)
A hat at the 2023 Mad Hatters Luncheon in Dallas. (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

A bicycle full of lemons. A rattan basket overflowing with juicy grapes and a crusty baguette. A decadent charcuterie board of cheeses from around the world. Teapots and tiers of finger sandwiches. Though it sounds like the set of a Nancy Meyers movie, I am describing the scenes depicted atop women’s heads. 

In addition to picnics and high tea, many hats paid tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II. One partygoer played “God Save the Queen” via a speaker festooned to her hat. Another tucked a stuffed corgi under her arm. (The real thing would have been better, but, as we know, *no live animals*.)

Bering's Gifts

  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's
  • Bering's Gift's

For every wacky hat witnessed, nine chic fascinators followed. Whether they were handmade by a British milliner or overnighted from Amazon, who’s to say? More importantly, who cares? They looked fabulous.

35th Annual Majestic Mad Hatter’s Luncheon – A Celebration of English Elegance (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)
The 35th Annual Majestic Mad Hatter’s Luncheon – A Celebration of English Elegance (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

By picking up a paddle (that conveniently doubled as a fan), partygoers entered the hat competition by promenading past the discerning judges who sought their diamond of the season. 

The stacked judges’ roster of Anglophiles, fashionistas, and philanthropists included Neiman Marcus’ President Ryan Ross, children’s book author Emberli Pridham, accomplished milliner Cassie MacGregor, fine art photographer David Yarrow, Creative Director of Gro Floral and Event Design Nathan Johnson, past Mad Hatter’s chair Barbara Bigham, and married fashion designers Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia.

Also promenading through the arboretum, tall, gazelles of women modeled bold-hued, floor-length Sachin & Babi gowns. Miraculously but not surprisingly, the models never broke a sweat like the rest of us. 

The luncheon itself took place both indoors (within A Tasteful Place) and outdoors. Stodghill and Wrenn elegantly dressed the tables in celadon linens with emerald goblets. For an event at the Arboretum, the florals held court, of course. Guests merrily posed for photographs in front of a classic red telephone booth bursting with a vibrant and eclectic arrangement of flowers reminiscent of an English garden. 

Table setting:The Scene at the 2023 Mad Hatter’s Luncheon (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)
Table setting — The Scene at the 2023 Mad Hatter’s Luncheon (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

In addition to passed cucumber sandwiches and scones, guests delicately dined on lightly dressed cucumbers and strawberries, as well as chicken salad. The delicious chocolate-dipped cannolis filled with clotted cream felt particularly decadent.

After the requisite remarks, each of the seven judges introduced the winner of their category, which ranged from “Most Creative Use of Fresh Botanicals” to “Best English Garden Hat with a Texas Twist.”

Ross joked that the luncheon appeared to be “sponsored by Hobby Lobby and glue guns,” a tongue-in-cheek dig the crowd happily embraced. 

Sarah Jo Hardin, President, Women’s Auxiliary; Kim Hext, Honorary Chair; Anne Stodghill, Mad Hatter’s co-chair; Kristina Wrenn, Mad Hatter’s co-chair (Photo by Tamytha Cameron and Celeste Cass)

Pridham, who authored the children’s book Real Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana, announced Kathy King as the winner of the “A True Princess Diana” category, applauding King’s “revenge dress,” pearls, and simple fascinator.

Alas, my name wasn’t called as the winner of the “Best in Show” category, despite wearing a dog on my head. I wondered why I wore such a ridiculous hat in the first place. But, as the Mad Hatter himself would say, “You’re entirely bonkers. But, I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

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