Today, November 25, marks the day where single French ladies celebrate the steadfast resolve of a fourth-century gal named Catherine of Alexandria, today our Patron Saint of Milliners and Couture. The story goes that Roman Emperor Maxentius had his eye on Catherine, but she refused to marry him and was promptly executed. (Another story, by way of the church, says she was executed for spreading Christianity across Europe.) Either way, Catherine was named the patron saint of unmarried women nine centuries later, and on this day, gals around France place hats on their heads—traditionally a starched cap on the eldest unmarried woman in town and paper bonnets on the heads of the others—and spend the day praying to St. Catherine for a worthy husband. The tradition of hats is what led to Catherine landing the patronage of millinery, as well as launching the term “Catherinette,” meaning an unmarried woman age 25 or older, and a French saying, “to do St. Catherine’s hair,” meaning “to remain an old maid.” Charming!
Thankfully, this holiday has morphed through the years from a humiliating experience for single women to one embraced as a kicky holiday by French couture and design houses and milliners. Young seamstresses traditionally shut the shop doors to the public and have an all-day party with champagne, dancing and sweets, while making elaborate and outrageous hats for the Catherinettes among them.