My research on the history of the decline of the everyday hat shows how hat wearing in the UK began to subside from about 1950. The beehive and structural hair-dos of the 1960s made it all but impossible to wear a hat too. But perhaps it was the other way around. The elaborate hairstyles replaced the hat. The inventor of this style, Margaret Vinci Heldt, died last month. She said: “I remembered a little hat I owned, a sort of a fez, which was really popular with Jackie O, and I really loved it. I’d always thought, ‘Someday I’m going to invent a hair style that’s going to fit right under that little hat.’”
But being of a hat-norm generation Heldt didn’t entirely see that once you had your hair backcombed and lacquered and set and sprayed the last thing you would want to do was cram it under a little hat. Audrey Hepburn shows how you just treated your now enormous hair hair as if were a hat – putting the trimming directly on the beehive.
This sort of hair, despite its elaborate nature, was nevertheless rebellious and sexy. From now on the hair was more important than the hat. If hats were worn – and there are lots of super examples from the sixties and seventies – they were an adjunct. Youth was again a craze (like in the 1920s) but now coupled with rebellion. It wasn’t done to flaunt your class even if you were very wealthy, so a hat as a signifier of class background was much less important. In fact those that carried on wearing them for traditional reasons (eg bowler hats in the City of London) were seen as passe and fusty.
But while we all agree that hats are not required any more, even for church events, funerals and weddings, they are still widely worn in the UK and across the world. Have a look round one day and do a quick count. I reckon that in an average street that one in 40 or 50 (2-5% maybe?) are wearing a hat. These are some of the hats I have seen in the past couple of days, on the streets or in the media:
- weather hats – to keep off the sun, rain or cold
- “traditional” hats worn, usually by religious groups – turbans on Sikhs, head wraps on Muslim Nigerians, small white hats on Bangladeshi men, Hassidic Jews with kippahs and big black brimmed hats
- safety and related sports hats
- event hats – women going to the races in a big group, mothers of the bride
- royal hats, crowns and tiaras
- joke hats – football supporters etc wearing team colours
- beanie hats and hoods on coats and jackets to hide behind and look anonymous
- old people who are still wearing hats because they haven’t changed their style in years
- extroverts like Lady Gaga and Isabella Blow who love designer hats
When Sam wrote “I’m curious as to when you wear your hats. I love hats myself, but never know when or how to wear them… I always feel faintly ridiculous if I’m wearing one anywhere other than to a wedding” it rang a chord for me. I admit I felt a lot like Sam myself. A hat makes you stand out a little bit. As a senior woman I am OK with that. But I don’t want to look silly. So it needs some thought. My daughter, in response to my recent hat making experiments, gave me one piece of advice.
“OK Mum, if you are going to make and wear hats you have to do it in an understated way”.
I think she is entirely right, and we need to take her advice to avoid ridicule.
However people in the street never laugh at hat wearers. We take it for granted that lots of people cover their hair or wear a hat. You just have to ensure that your hat looks stylish and suitable rather than shockingly different. The hat must work with the outfit and achieve the same tone and feel. It can’t shout out unless that is your intention. Ideally it should be a refrain, a support, an integral part – like your shoes, bag or jacket.
I feel pretty good in a hat. I do get looks, but most are benign or positive.
We worry about being overdressed. So many bloggers and dressmakers worry about making smart or beautiful clothes because they lack “occasions” to wear them.
Rules for hat wearing in modern Britain
I always worry about making up rules – but maybe if we call them suggestions or guidelines then you might be OK with that. Also feel free to challenge me – this is a social website and we encourage dialogue.
- Esme’s rule: Generally, for everyday wear, do understated
- Probably stick to neutrals (or neutral with a colourful band or trim) and simple classic shapes for everyday wear
- Brimless hats are generally understated – beret, beanie, turban, hood
- As a way to ease yourself into hats try wearing scarves.
- Weather hats can be stylish and should, in the UK, form the core of your hat collection
- Take your face shape and colouring into account
- If there is an event where hats are going to be worn this is an opportunity. But don’t overdo it unless you have a very confident personality and a dramatic wardrobe in general. Consider alternatives to the “event” hat, eg fresh flowers on a comb or crown, a tied scarf hat, a simple hat with great trimmings, something from a young designer. I have found it hard to match an outfit to a hat. It is much easier the other way around, especially if you make your own clothes.
- Avoid high street hats eg Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, and anything marketed for Mothers of the Bride. Not only are you in danger of wearing the same as someone else they are just naff.
- Vintage hats are generally great, with a patina and history. The slightly crushed flowers, the faded silk, the fact that they were probably well worn. You can spruce them up with steam or retrim them, eg introducing some of the fabric or trim from your outfit.
- Never wear the elastic under your chin
- if you are very confident and generally a stylish dresser a hat always looks great. Have confidence in your own ability to dress and style yourself and go out with pride.
I think Kate Moss looks good in hats and generally does understated. What do you think? Could you wear any of these looks?