If you are approaching the summer season and its many hat opportunities with trepidation, you could do worse than model your style on Bette Davis, shimmering in Now Voyager above. Bette could carry off a hat with spectacular style. Even if we can’t all be Bette, as you approach this summer’s racing, weddings and other hat-worthy events, here are a few guidelines that might come in handy.
First work out what you need. Unlike a bag or a pair of shoes, a hat is an intensely personal accessory – more akin to choosing a hair style or pair of glasses. So your choice of milliner matters and they are all different. If you are starting from scratch, go to a shop where you can try a wide variety of styles from a range of milliners. Harrods has a rather fabulous millinery salon and will be hosting a Meet the Milliners event on 28-29 May – an ideal time to drop in and find out what suits you. Fortnum and Mason in London’s Piccadilly has an enviable selection. Atelier Millinery, a jewel of a shop nestling in a tiny Soho square always has beautiful stock and if you visit their Ascot Preview on 25 May 6-8pm you can try on hats with their experts and a glass of fizz.
Key questions to consider include:
- size of hat – the crucial thing is keeping it in proportion with your height and shape;
- with or without brim – I love a big brim and on a hot sunny day it helps to shade your skin but big brims can get in the way and be a bit overwhelming;
- the best angle and positioning for you – usually hats work best sitting directly over your hair parting, brims work best when angled in line with your jaw line (check out Bette above);
- your hairstyle – it is usually best to tone down hair and leave the hat to make its statement.
Then find your milliner. There are many out there and many of them operate as sole traders, producing small collections but also working on a bespoke basis for clients. You may find some of their work in department stores but most prefer to sell direct from their websites, showrooms or sites like Etsy. Here’s a brief selection of my favourites covering a fairly wide range but it’s a tiny sample of what is out there so do explore.
Rosie Olivia – her hats are easy to wear and style and you will probably have seen them in the newspapers adorning the lovely head of Zara Philips; her current collection features mostly brimless or small-brimmed hats with feather and bead trimmings in some sparky colour combinations.
Rachel Black – statement hats that manage not to overstep the line into becoming overwhelming with some very flamboyant big brimmed styles.
Piers Atkinson – quirky is the best way to describe these hats; a kitten face on a toque, my little pony features, and Kawaii-cute features that would appeal to any Harajuku girl.
Rachel Trevor-Morgan – milliner to HM the Queen: enough said.
Benoit Missolin – Parisian style melded with London coolness, veiling tends to be a strong feature.
J Smith Esq. – romantic, always eye-catching and highly unusual.
Tina Giuntini – a specialist in 20s, 30s and 40s styles to unleash your inner Lady Mary.
Think about your hat in the context of your whole ‘look’. Don’t be tempted just to pull out a dress and then colour-match a hat to it. A hat is a statement item and should be your starting point. Get your hat right and everything else will fall into place around it. Its not for nothing that in the early twentieth century milliners like Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin were regarded as stylists and ultimately evolved into couturiers. So start with an idea of what you are looking for based on the points above. Talk to one or two milliners and test different styles and colours and then work with them in building the outfit around the hat.
Work with the rules. Whether it’s a country wedding where you need to take care not to upstage the bride and other principals or Royal Ascot where a formal set of rules apply, make sure you understand any restrictions before you start. The essential hat rule for Ascot is that hats MUST be worn and must have a solid base of four inches or larger. There are also additional rules applying to clothing.
Finally, enjoy your hat! Wearing a hat is like walking onto a stage – it draws attention and demands performance. Be ready for that and embrace it, inhabit that version of yourself, play the role and have fun!