My shoes were killing me. Even though the Bard Graduate Center gallery where “Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones” was being celebrated with an opening night gala was only three floors.

On the way to the top floor, I asked the elevator operator if he would carry me. When the crowd dies down a little more, he told me, smiling, he would happily do so.

After I conferred sainthood on him, I was instantly rewarded with having the third floor all to myself — except the back of one man in a blue windbreaker.

It was Bill Cunningham!

I had long been a fan of the New York Times photographer — his weekly montages of fashion moments are a roadmap of cultural history.

I hobbled toward him and he greeted me with a broad smile. He was photographing the collection of Elsa Schiaparelli shoe hats and their various iterations — including one of his! I had no idea he was a hat designer.

How could I be such a fan and not know that? Short answered: It’s possible.

We had so much in common: He loves fashion, I love fashion. He’ll do almost anything for a story. Ditto. He rides his little bike around town. I ride my little bike around town. He rides his bike and shoots his camera. I would peddle off into the Hudson River if I tried that. Plus, I’m the world’s worst photographer.

Still. He designed hats. I love wearing hats.

I briefly considered asking him if he would fashion the shoes I had on into a hat. That’s all they’d be good for at this point.

But a secret stash of his hat designs go on sale today at noon on 1stdibs.com. About 50 William J. hats (according to Claire Miller, he didn’t use his surname because his creative bent would have upset his conservative New England parents) adorned with rooster feathers, or fascinators with pheasant, and headsets of raffia, which run from $500-$1200.

Check out this story for more on how this secret stash became available.

This is fashion history — grab a hat while you can; maybe you can catch him on his bike somewhere and get him to sign a hat.

The documentary filmBill Cunningham New York might help you find him.


Gerit Quealy writes on Style & Substance at NBC’s StyleGoesStrong.com.