“Wearing a hat is like having a baby or a puppy; everyone stops to coo and talk about it.”
Probably both the most loved and the most despised fashion accessory is the hat. Unlike belts or bags, simply the word “hat” conjures up Advanced Level Style, yet simultaneously instils such angst that few dare to wear one, even in the secrecy of their own home. Back in the good ole days when everything was better, no outfit was complete without a hat. Then again, those were also the days when ties with jackets on a sweltering day were de rigueur and we washed our hair once a week (hence the hat!).
The British Invasions
Along with girdles, millinery began its decline as jeans became acceptable daywear. The British Invasion eventually levelled it. Little was sexier than the Beatles’ and the Rolling Stones’ revolutionary hatlessness. By the 70s, Queen Elizabeth and American pimps with purple Cadillacs were the only ones left sporting felt and feather headdresses.
Ironically, the Second British Invasion in the 80s snuck hats back into pop culture. New Wave and New Romantic music endorsed tight jackets, narrow ties and black porkpie hats as the antidotes to the silky kimonos and naked torsos of punk, folk, heavy metal, disco, and folk music.
The resurgence of hats today is actually linked to medicine and technology. Soaring skin cancer rates and the anti-aging obsession has us running for SPF 50 and sombreros. Additionally, deliriously high-speed IT and technological advances has increased our craving for “slow fashion”, such as heritage and vintage.
Thankfully, the vainest people on the planet – Hollywood stars – have stylists who figure out great Greta Garbo-like sunglasses and hat looks for us to imitate, all conveniently documented by the tabloids.
How to wear them
Firstly, you must accept that, indeed, people will stare. You might feel like you are in a royal procession and should half-smile and wave ever so slightly, but the reality is that people are actually admiring your courage and flair.
Secondly, remember the golden rule of economics: you get what you pay for. A cheap hat from H&M will quickly lose its shape and won’t fit right. If you thought just wearing a hat would draw attention, imagine how you’ll look when you have to chase your too-big hat down the Grand Rue. Know your hat size.
Accessorize has a wide selection of inexpensive hats with better value. The Top Shop online has some models made in England. Personally, I recommend going straight to Stetson, the eponymous American manufacturer – wide selection, mid-range prices, and eternal quality (many still made in the USA!). The Village Hat Shop has arguably the best online shop with unbeatable customer service.
Your first hat should be a neutral color and a softer material, like cloth or fine straw. Tall women can wear bigger hats, small women should only wear smaller ones. To get used to the sensation of slightly impaired peripheral vision, start with a good quality baseball cap. Not a trashy, Justin Bieber one, but something simple to wear with jeans or your yoga outfit. Keep it low key, like in black or white. Over-coordinated is a no-no: forget the red baseball cap with your red polar fleece. Instead, channel Cindy Crawford doing the school run: pop on some Ray Bans and people will start asking you for an autograph.
Moving on to Advanced Beginner Hat-Wearing, our reference is Elle Macpherson and her straw cowboy hats. For decades she has been wearing them with a bikini, a tunic or jeans and a tank top at the beach. They are always carelessly popped on and pretty beat up, but in a super sexy way.
Straw Panama or trilby hats are the big thing in France because they are flattering on literally everyone. A plethora of qualities exists, but like shoes, you’ll get more mileage and pleasure out of a decent quality one. Definitely keep it in a hat box when not in use. With a Panama, trilby or fedora, don’t feel you have to go androgynous with a tuxedo jacket or a masculine outfit. You’ll feel much more at ease with soft, loose clothing: a tank top with baggy jeans or a silk maxi-dress.
Once you feel confident, try an Intermediate Level Faye Dunaway sunhat, imperatively in a color that flatters your skin tone. It can be a solid or in a small print (for example Liberty of London), but again, beware of over-coordinating. Contrasts are good; a silk dress with a fine gauge straw or a flowered print dress with a floppy felt hat. For example, with a multi-colored, print sundress, don’t match the hat to the primary color but to a sub-color that flatters your complexion, for example the sage green of the leaves on the print which matches your eyes. Large printed sunhats will certainly attract a Joan Collins amount of attention. Proceed at your own risk.
Lastly, avoid a porkpie hat pushed back on the head, Boy George style. Nothing good will come of it and yes, then everyone will laugh.
By Kristina Svensson, June 2013