“What a regrettably large head you have. I would very much like to hat it.” -The Mad Hatter, Alice In Wonderland
Since the first cave woman threw a pelt over her unruly locks, hats have played a role in women’s lives. Evidence of structured hats dates back as far as tomb paintings in Thebes and the millinery profession has existed in Britain since at least the early 1700’s. Rules throughout history, even those unspoken, mandated that women’s heads were never to be left uncovered. Wimples, caps and kerchiefs, while varying degrees of fashionable, were staples in wardrobes from courtier to servant. But in the early 18th century, milliners, a word derived in the English courts denoting hat-makers who brought their wares from Milan, and plumassiers, craftsmen who dyed and fashioned feathers for hats made the accessory a fashion must-have.
Across the centuries, and the ocean, the fever continued. From the 1930’s through the 1950’s New York City boasted millinery workrooms in department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman, where couture head-wear was fashioned for the discerning pates of Manhattan society. While changes in etiquette, formality and fashions have led to the decline of hats as part of our daily wardrobe, fashion designers and milliners know that no other accessory has the same potential to draw attention to and flatter the face. And now, with the royal wedding of the century only weeks away, a young Anglophile’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of mile-wide hats and how a girl can get her hands on one.
“I can wear a hat or take it off. Either way it’s a conversation piece.” –Hedda Hopper
The Brits have always led the pack in making grand statements with their hats: weddings, christenings, coronations and diamond jubilees are all a cause for hats great and tall. The annual races at Royal Ascot are known as much for the race-goers outlandish headgear as they are for the horses and for many years the heads of the British monarchy were festooned with more cabbage roses and ostrich plumes than any noble noggin should have to wear. That is until 1981 when the 19-year-old Diana Spencer, became the most famous bride the world had ever known. Quickly, the newly-wed princess infused the palace with swanky style—not an easy feat in the ‘80’s—and became one of the world’s fashion icons. While in her early days royal advisers chose many of the fashions she wore, Diana developed her personal style in short order and became known for combining young fashion with royal glamour. Suddenly, with her chic choices, it became cool to wear hats again.
Now her son, Prince William, is getting ready to wed the next royal fashion guru, Kate Middleton at the end of the month. A commoner, albeit one from a very successful family, Kate, fresh-faced and undeniably cool, brings a hip, classic, clean style with her into the spotlight. It doesn’t hurt that the princess-to-be worked as an assistant accessories buyer in the fashion industry after university. Perhaps that’s where Kate developed her penchant for hats, and like Diana, a loyalty for British designers. “Hats seem very fashionable at the moment.” Peter Whitely, of Whitely Fischer Milliners, says on people.com. “Once someone like Kate starts wearing them, I’m sure people will follow.”
As the 29th of April approaches, the speculation as to who may design a headpiece for Kate on her big day is rampant. High-fashion milliner Phillip Treacy, who has designed hats for everyone from true blue-bloods to Hollywood royalty, has been commissioned to dress the heads of some of the wedding party including Kate’s mother and rumor has it he may be designing something for the bride to accompany the dress she will change into for the reception.
While your schedule, or your coin purse, may not allow a trip to London’s Bond Street, the Golden Coast boasts some very chic, very fun options for shoppers of toppers.
One of Britain’s own, Louise Green, of Louise Green Millinery, has been making her statement here in Los Angeles since 1987. “I have always loved to wear hats.” Louise writes, “I realized early on in my career as a milliner that most women had lost the art of wearing a hat with confidence. With that in mind, I set out to create a line of luscious, romantic hats that are comfortable and easy to wear.” And she’s done just that. With a 9,000-square-foot factory in West Los Angeles, she creates thousands of wearable works of art every year, many having been featured in top fashion magazines, films and on television. Her website is a veritable treasure trove for millinery mavens.
“I, myself, have 12 hats. Each one represents a different personality. Why just be yourself?” –Margaret Atwood
Ariane, a Los Angeles boutique features the millinery designs of Azita Ariane Azarpira. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Ariane opened her boutique in 1999 and has since had her creations worn at the Kentucky Derby, Royal Ascot and the Melbourne Cup. Her company’s motto, “A good hat can build wonderful morale” is evident on the faces of famous clients, such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, pictured on her website. Her store at 8121 Melrose Avenue carries hats for men and women along with clothing,jewelry and other accessories.
And for those of you itching to let you inner Mad Hatter loose, there are classes in the art of millinery design here in Los Angeles and throughout California. The Millinery Guild of Los Angeles is an organization that sponsors fashion shows, charity events, lectures and classes. Upcoming classes are listed on their blog. Judith M. is a millinery supply house whose site has links to classes in L.A. and throughout the United States. And finally, the aforementioned Ariane boutique offers classes that can be scheduled by calling 310-770-9021.
“The fashionable female hat is nothing, after all, but a caprice.” -Harper’s Weekly 1857
No matter your budget or sewing skills one thing is certain: nothing makes you feel more like a princess than dressing up and finishing the look with a great hat. So on April 29th set your DVR, put on a pot of tea and don your finest morning chapeau. There’s a wedding to attend and all the best hats in the world will be there.