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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

T'hat's lovely

When it comes to hats, women divide into three categories: regular wearers; eccentric aristocrats; and those for whom having to don one is the equivalent of a bungee jump (only more terrifying).  The only place you will see all such women congregated at the one time is at a wedding.  The first two categories carry millinery off with aplomb.
But the woman who feels obliged to acknowledge the special occasion by plonking the equivalent of a flying saucer on her head is the one who stands out.  It’s not just that she’s blocking the view of the happy couple. Guests can sense her discomfort simply because the other 364 days of the year she’s more likely to wear a suit of armour than an enormous hat. Wearing hats wasn’t always such a challenge. A century ago, no respectable woman (or man) of any class left the house without one – to  do so meant you needed your head examined, so to speak. In the 1950s, the headscarf took over  – look at those old photos of mothers and grandmothers and the scarf is as ubiquitous as the daisy bell bicycle.

Now, we’ve come over surprisingly coy about headgear – even when our little skulls are anaesthetized during Arctic snaps. Rare attempts at style nonchalance – almost always at a wedding – are as convincing as a media mogul’s apology. There’s always the lesser evil of the feathery ‘fascinator’ of course, but Looking Our Best must confess a slight aversion here, not least because that name is surely ironic?  In the wrong hands, fashion’s solution for the millinery challenged can end up looking like a pigeon has just dropped a mess on top of your head. Even in the best hands (i.e. our own Philip Treacy) ‘ridicule’ can closely follow ‘millinery’ in the fashion dictionary, as shown at the royal wedding in April when the biggest talking point wasn’t Kate’s frock, but Bea's hat. 
Even though she ended up donating it to a charity auction, Treacy stuck up for the grand old Duke of York’s daughter against fashion blogs criticising her look (and using some right royal swearing when he was at it). “She is only 22, and there was a little bit of bullying going on. I didn't give a f**k about 140,000 bloggers. In the future, we'll look back and think she looked wild.” It should be remembered that Treacy also created 35  headwear designs for other royal wedding guests, and to much more approval from the fashion cognoscenti.
(Zara Phillip, here, and Sophia Winkleman (otherwise known as Lady Frederick Windsor) at the top of the post, both resplendent in designs by Galway's famous hatter). 
But what is the answer for us less posh wedding guests who rarely, if ever, wear hats?  Over again to Mairead Fullam, from the personal shopping team at Debenhams (and who LOB quotes in the previous post). Size matters, so basically, if you are petite, opt for a fascinator or very small hat, she says.  We tall people, on the other hand, should think big.  (Although 5’ 10” LOB finds having to wear a huge hat encourages small children to attach ribbons and dance round her singing about the ‘May-Oh’)  How the hat is placed on the head makes a huge difference, says Mairead.  “A lot of people simply don’t know how to wear a hat, and make the mistake of placing it too far back on their head. It’s more flattering to place it right on top, and also to tilt it slightly at an angle.”  
(Miriam Gonzales Durantes,  wife of British Liberal party leader Nick Clegg, does the tilt to perfection in her black turban with oversized coral flowers, pictured at the Royal Wedding.) 
As for the side effect of obligatory wedding hat wearing – the dreaded ‘helmet hair’ –LOB’s solution is to pretend you’re the Queen, and keep it on right throughout the reception. Keeping it on while dancing into the wee small hours, however, might look a little odd. On the plus side, boogie-ing on down while balancing something the size of a cartwheel on your head will label you as eccentric. Which, in hat wearing terms, means you are now a natural....

(All pics by Getty Images) 

Looking Our Best praises vintage headwear, as worn by iconic l960s model Jean Shrimpton:

 'The Shrimp', in stiffened net picture hat by Madame Paulette, photographed by John French, 1963

At Melbourne Races, 1965, and also modelling the emerging 'mini'skirt (Getty Images)

A woman who could wear a sombrero without looking like a cheesy tourist
... and who also had a way with a patterned scarf

The youthful 1960s take on the formerly matronly headscarf (John French, Victorian & Albert Museum prints) 

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