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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Owens

Hats Off!: Fashion’s Forgotten Jewel

A peek inside the wild and wonderful world of hats.

 

One of Carrie Bradshaw's (Sarah Jessica Parker) 80,000 hats on 𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘑𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘓𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘵.

For centuries, a good hat was a fixture in every wardrobe. Whether it be a cotton coif, a beaver felt hat, or a molded wool fedora — people wore hats all the time. Have to run to the store real quick? Throw on a hat. Going over to your friend’s house? Better take your hat. Leaving your home for literally any reason at all? Don’t even DREAM of forgetting your hat!


But these days, walking outside in a fabulous little cap earns you a one-way ticket to Clown Town. A hat is considered trying too hard — it’s too over-the-top, too goofy. Once a proud staple of the standard wardrobe, they’re now relegated to the most dedicated fashion lovers among us. Don’t you know? We’re all about comfort and ease now. We’re Clean Girls with chocolate syrup hair who won’t disrupt your visual landscape too much while walking by — and a Jean Paul Gaultier SS98 red beaded ship hat doesn’t exactly scream “blending in.


Jean Paul Gaultier SS10 Couture

In 2022, The Gentleman’s Gazette published an inquiry into why no one wears hats anymore. Writer Preston Schlueter came to four main conclusions:


CLIMATE CONTROL

Most places these days have air conditioning. So, while you’re getting dressed in the morning, you’re not really anticipating being out in the elements for too long. Schlueter explains that you’re really just “leaving your heated office for 20 seconds to get into your heated car, which you’ll [...] then leave for another 10 seconds to enter your heated house” — no need to bundle up in your Ötzi bear fur hat. 


CHANGING NOTIONS OF SOCIAL CLASS

Have we beaten the “quiet luxury” buzzword into the ground yet? Either way, the truth remains, most rich people prefer to wear a regular-degular grey t-shirt (that just so happens to be a $300 special-order from Italy) over the classic robe à la française.


PREVALENCE OF AUTOMOBILES

Can you imagine wearing a tall, plumed Victorian hat while crammed into a Nissan Altima?


MEMELORDS

The “Tips Fedora” meme of the late 2010s decimated the possibility of men’s hats being cool again. Even as a noted #Lover of Fashion, I can’t look at a fedora without thinking about “M’lady.” It does, admittedly, harsh the hat-wearing vibe.


L-R: Jean Paul Gaultier SS98, Stephen Jones, John Galliano FW97

Despite the waning popularity of hats in the general public since the 1960s, we’ve had some incredible millineric contributions in the high fashion space over the last couple of decades.


Stephen Jones is one of the most famous milliners (that means “hat makers”) in fashion history. In the late ‘70s, he entered the scene as a flamboyant club kid studying at Central Saint Martins. Following his graduation, he opened a glamorous hat shop in London which captured the attention of celebrities like Boy George and Princess Diana — that then catapulted him into the public eye. But it’s his decades-long collaboration with John Galliano that has produced some of the finest hats the world has ever seen. 


Specifically, his work in the John Galliano Fall 2007 Ready to Wear Collection is of note. It’s a master class in “fine hattery.” Vibrant birdcage cloches and haunting chiffon veils — his designs are so inventive and bold. They harken back to an older sense of design and theatricality without being kitschy or costumey. You really can’t ask for a better fashion fantasy.


L-R: Beyoncé in Stephen Jones, Dita von Teese in HOOD London, Linda Evangelista for Vogue in HOOD London

Stephen Jones still maintains a cadence of regular work today — having just made a couple of hats for Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour — and his influence continues to ripple throughout the fashion space. Former employees of Jones, Adele Mildred and Gabrielle Djanogly, founded HOOD London in 2015 and have been responsible for some pretty big hat moments in recent years.


We have HL to thank for the lovely headwear in Richard Quinn’s AW22 and SS23 collections (especially this look on Linda Evangelista for Vogue!), this hood worn by Barry Keoghan in his recent photoshoot for W Magazine, and So. Many. Incredible Dita Von Teese pieces. 


I had long been a follower of Adele Mildred — after discovering the bridal headdress she created for her 2013 nuptials, I knew she was a gothic glamour girl after my own heart. HOOD London’s designs are often a little bit darker and Old Hollywood inspired. In their stock, you’ll find little hoods that hover somewhere between “haunted medieval baby” and “Anita Ekberg’s devil costume.” They’re fabulous.


L-R: Alexander McQueen FW96, Philip Treacy FW98, Philip Treacy FW97

I often find myself gravitating towards designs that are darker in nature. I love a moody fantasy. One of the most famous moody fantasies is Alexander McQueen’s “Dante” show for Fall/Winter 1996 RTW.  The hats and headwear in the show included hoods and horns and feather nooses — all designed by Philip Treacy. 


Philip Treacy is a milliner that has long been a high fashion darling. Before he had even graduated London’s Royal College of Art in 1990, he got a job working under the aforementioned Stephen Jones (remember what I said about Jones’ influence making waves in the fashion industry? I wasn’t joking. That guy was a big deal). His career has spanned decades and his work in hat-making has evolved through different styles and genres of interest over the years. My favorite Treacy pieces are his hats inspired by nature — what can I say? The man knows how to make a bug in the hair look chic.


L-R: Kaitlin Owens in her engagement photos, Philip Treacy FW98

All this to say… There are some cool hats out there. We only need the gumption to wear them.


For the past year and a half, I have been tip-toeing into the world of wearing hats. I have successfully worn a hat outside of the house only one (1) time – and that was for my engagement pictures. Even then, I took the hat off after we left the photographer’s studio to go to lunch. I felt like wearing a fluffy fur stole and a nearly see-through nightgown in a small diner was attention-seeking enough — I didn’t need to jump the shark by adding a hat.


That’s the trouble with maintaining a sense of bold style in a world that prioritizes sameness. It takes a good deal of bravery to stand out like that — a bravery I often don’t have. Which is funny coming from a person who owns a closet of exclusively “weird clothes.” Sure, I’ll wear a sheer lace dress to the grocery store, but I draw the line at a sun hat.


An important thing for all of us to remember is: not all staring is bad. Sometimes, people are just thinking: “Damn, that hat looks cool.” 🌀


 

Kaitlin Owens is a vintage fashion writer, movie buff, lover of good eats, and a women’s size 7.5 (if any shoe brands are reading). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Dilettante Magazine. You can find her on socials @magdilettante.

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