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Vanilla Beane Sewing Machine
Vanilla Beane

Vanilla Beane

American Fashion Icon & Centenarian Businesswoman


Bené Millinery & Bridal Supplies


NAFAD Hall of Fame; Merit Mother of the Year; Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs


Washington, DC


You got to do right!

Early Life

Vanilla Powell Beane was born on 13 September 1919 in Wilson, North Carolina. She was the second youngest of nine children born to John and Martha Powell. Beane worked on a farm where she learned to pick tobacco and cotton and had a job babysitting. She got her early education at Sugar Hill school, a one-room schoolhouse in Nash County.

In 1940, Beane moved to Washington. Two years later she married the late Willie Beane, Sr., a World War II veteran from Kilmarnock, Virginia. The couple settled in Washington where they raised three children, and eventually became grandparents seven times over. At 102 years old, Vanilla Beane can still make a hat, and is still a proud resident of Washington, DC.

Historical Perspective






























Lift Every Voice & Sing was officially named the Black National Anthem by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Beane would later design hats for NAACP President Emeritus, Dorothy Height.


The 18th Amendment prohibited the sale of alcohol in the United States and would stay in affect until it was repealed in December 1933. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June, effectively ending World War I.

The first transatlantic flight left Newfoundland for Ireland on 14 June. The first transatlantic commercial flight wouldn't take place until 1945.

Babson College was established ten days before Vanilla Beane's birthday. 101 years later, the institution would induct Beane into its prestigious Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs.

Women's fashion staples included fur coats, dresses with large belts and buttons, and small, round hats. Wide brimmed hats were frequently worn for a night on the town.

Vanilla Powell was born on 13 September 1919, in Wilson, NC. 


The 19th Amendment was ratified on 18 August 1920, granting all American women the right to vote. Black women would not vote until 1965.


The first Miss America was crowned in 1921. Penicillin was first used in 1928. The first Academy Awards took place on 16 May 1929.

Beane, then Vanilla Powell, moved to Washington, DC. She followed sisters Inez Dade and Margaret Harris to the Nations Capital. The United States was engaged in the second World War, and would be for the next five years.


Vanilla Powell married Willie George Beane on 3 January 1942, prior to Willie's tour to Italy and France with the US Army during World War II. The two were married at the home of Beane's sister. The bride made her own wedding dress.

The Beane's purchased moved into their first home in Washington, DC. Beane's sisters lived nearby.


The first annual Fashion Press Week, the predecessor to New York Fashion Week took place on 19 July 1943.


On 7 May 1949, the Kentucky Derby was first televised. Thirty years prior, in the magical year of 1919, Sir Barton would be the first horse to win the triple crown.

Beane began working as a clerk at the Washington Millinery & Supply, Co.

The American Flag gained a star when Alaska was added as the 48th state on 3 January 1959. This marked the first change to the Old Glory since early 1912 when both New Mexico and Arizona were added.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in the US. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, giving black women the right to vote. The first Super Bowl was held in 1967.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, in Memphis, TN.


In 1975, the National Association of Fashion & Accessories Designers inducted Beane into the Hall of Fame.

In 1979, Beane opened Bené Millinery in the Manor Park neighborhood of Washington, DC.


On 7 December 1993, Willie Beane, Sr. died in Washington, DC. The couple's first child and only son, Willie George Beane, Jr., predeceased his father in 1980.


In December 1995, hat designer and one of Beane's mentors, Frank Olive, died at the age of 66.


On 22 November 2003, Beane was given an honorary key to Washington, DC. The day was also proclaimed "Vanilla Beane Day."

Vanilla Beane created a hat for a guest attending a birthday party for Maya Angelou, hosted by Oprah Winfrey. The late poet wrote a note to Mrs. Beane thanking her for her "the beauty of [her] art."

"If This Hat Could Talk," a musical based on the memoir of Dorothy Height debuted.


Barack Obama is elected President of the United States. Vanilla Beane has lived to see 19 Presidents in office, 12 of them in office for multiple terms. Beane would meet Obama at the White House while on a tour with her daughter. She would be invited back for the annual Christmas Open House by friend, Cynthia Chase.


On 23 March 2016, The National Park Service invited Beane to speak at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site for Women's History Month.

The National Museum of African-American History & Culture opened in Washington, DC to the public on 24 September 2016.

Google selected a green turban, made by Beane, to be part of their 3-D interactive display at the NMAAHC.


Vanilla Beane celebrated her 100th birthday. Mayor Muriel Bowser named 13 September 2019 as Vanilla Beane Day in the District of Columbia.

Chris Wallace selected Beane for Power Player of the Week. In this interview, Beane opined on the best advice she had ever been given.

The American Mother of the Year organization honored Beane with the title of Merit Mother of the Year.


Beane was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs. The 2020 ceremony was postponed due to the global pandemic.


Vanilla Beane Sewing Machine
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