Joanna Yarbrough

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Former Hollywood socialite set to model for Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival.

Joanna YarbroughJoanna Yarbrough was born in1942 in the small town of Portsmouth, NH, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a ballerina and a movie star. Growing up in the 1940s also influenced her penchant for hats.

“Everyone was always wearing them, and I always just sort of liked them.” Then when she moved to the South – first to Atlanta 22 years ago – her fondness for fashion became more functional. She’d often pull her unmanageable long hair back into a bun and wear a hat. While in Atlanta, she picked up a number of expensive designer hats at yard or estate sales for only a couple of dollars.

That’s when her collection really began growing. To date, she has more than 2,000 hats! She has accumulated her hats either by purchasing them at a bargain price, or by donation from people who no longer want them.

Her 15,000-square-foot home in Rose Hill has a 2,000-square-foot room where she displays all her hats, hat boxes and other accessories in somewhat of a mini-museum. In addition to hats, Yarbrough has an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which also has its own large room in the home. Most of the items are in the style of the 1940s and from that era.

It’s a valuable collection that she hopes to sell one day. For now, she settles for wearing some of the fashions as the unofficial model for the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival, which will be held Oct. 20 - Nov. 2. Yarbrough left for Hollywood at a young age, landed a day job with a law firm and danced on the Sunset Strip at night. She has worked as a dancer on Hollywood a Go-Go, was an extra in Roustabout with Elvis, married and divorced Beverly Hillbillies’ star, Max Baer, and even worked as a pilot, flying a lot of vintage planes from World War I and World War II, and rode motorcycles. Soon she met and married Wayne, an attorney, in 1978 and after several visits to the island, they moved here in 1986. As for the difference between old Hollywood and the Hollywood of today, Yarbrough said there’s no comparison.

“There was a huge difference just from the 1940s to the 1960s, so it’s hugely different today,” she said. “I think it was truly wonderful then ... What it is now is not wonderful.”