It’s Saturday morning at Maison Michel’s jewel box of a shop in Burlington Arcade and two women, dressed in an eclectic mix of Céline neutrals and graphic Marni prints, are navigating their way through the store’s latest delivery. They coo conspiratorially over rabbit-felt fedoras in muted shades of dusty beige and muddy grey, encircled with hazily dyed grosgrain ribbon. They flirt with the store’s grown-up take on a baseball cap – the Shariff (£460) in black rabbit felt – and the quirky pinched and folded new Joan bucket hat (£640), before finally returning to the classic fedoras, which, from £420 a pop, are no mere impulse purchase.
Buying hats to wear to work or at the weekend – and not just for formal occasions – would have been unimaginable a decade ago, but hats have been stealthily undergoing a revival. Those beautifully made and incredibly chic Maison Michel fedoras have become de rigueur; at Selfridges, where it’s possible to choose from among 50 different options, the brand’s sales have increased by 27 per cent year on year. The French milliner (£490) – which was founded in 1936, made hats for Coco Chanel and was later bought by Chanel’s Paraffection subsidiary in 1997 – has been central to the re-emergence of the hat as an everyday high-fashion accessory, thanks in large part to its creative director Priscilla Royer.
At Fenwick, which has long enjoyed steady sales of formal hats through the summer season, a new specialist area is a response to the growing demand for hats for everyday wear; this year the New Bond Street flagship has already seen a 24 per cent increase in sales. The store’s vast selection for winter includes forest-green, burgundy and white trilbies (£89 each) by Helene Berman, trilbies (£310) in grey, black or pink with rockstud trim by Valentino, and chic pale-grey fedoras (£395) with pink grosgrain trim by Mich Dulce. The store also stocks classic shapes by Italian brand Borsalino, which began making hats in the mid‑19th century. For more of an edge, London fashion boutique Browns has added LA-based Nick Fouquet to its hat options – his Panamas (£1,120) in beaver felt with rusted pins have a distinctly gaucho air.
Ready-to-wear labels, too, are embracing headwear. Hedi Slimane’s rabbit-felt fedora (£600) for Saint Laurent – which featured in his first collection through to his last – has flown out of stores. At Gucci, Alessandro Michele is also putting hats firmly back on the fashion map with a quirky array of pillboxes, turbans and more classic fedoras – this autumn there are felt wide-brimmed hats (£255) in turquoise, black, green and an orangey-red, all with grosgrain ribbon and a gold cat’s-head pin. Ralph Lauren always uses hats in his shows and this winter has added wide-brimmed versions (£1,400) to the Ralph Lauren Collection. At Selfridges, Stella McCartney has wool fedoras (£200) in charcoal or black with grosgrain ribbon, while Rag & Bone’s fedoras (£165) – made by America’s oldest hat manufacturer, the Bollman Hat Company, in Adamstown, Pennsylvania – are one of its most popular accessories.
Janessa Leone launched her cool, utterly wearable millinery label in 2012, just as hats were beginning to swing back into vogue. Her starting point was a vintage men’s dress fedora that she discovered in Paris, and the spirit of that hat, beautifully made and totally timeless, remains central to her brand. “From my experience, designs that withstand trends and become classics are skilfully constructed and focus on simple yet intentional shapes,” says Leone from her LA studio. “The hat I found in Paris was just as relevant the day I found it as it had been in the 1940s when it was made.”
From scouring the wool for the felt to hand-blocking, each of Leone’s hats passes through 30 hands as it is made. This winter, Net-a-Porter has her wool-felt fedoras (£180) in gorgeous colours, including rich burgundy, moss green, ivory and black. For Leone, the democratisation of fashion online and the proliferation of social media sites such as Instagram have helped to repopularise millinery for everyday wear: “Hats are an immemorial accessory. And now we are able to be interactive with fashion in a way that wasn’t possible previously; you can see your friends wearing certain trends and you are able to have it in your wardrobe by the weekend. Everything’s so instant.”
At Net-a-Porter, where sales of everyday hats have more than doubled over the past two years, it was Maison Michel that kickstarted the revival, says the e-tailer’s retail fashion director Lisa Aiken: “It has become our customers’ go-to brand for felt fedoras. The quality is incredible and the structure of the hats makes them timeless.” Other labels to pick up on the new popularity of chic winter everyday hats include Eugenia Kim, better known for her straw holiday hats; now she makes fedoras in pretty colours with embellishments, such as her lilac-pink wool-felt fedora (£340) with floral appliqués, or her burgundy Georgina fedora (£305) circled with a band of folkish feathers.
Wearable, go-anywhere hats appeal to women who wouldn’t have imagined buying a smart hat to wear to work. These classic styles look good on almost everyone, says Net-a-Porter’s Aiken. Once you feel more confident, you can branch out to richer colours and ornamentation, but keep it simple to start. “This autumn a fedora looks chic with a crisp white blouse and faded denim jeans,” she says. “For the colder months, team it with an oversized cashmere scarf and a classic camelhair coat for a city workwear look.”
For Leone there’s certainly no such thing as a hat person – she firmly believes that anyone can look good in one. “The key is to be comfortable,” she says. “People can feel self-conscious because hats can make you stand out; they are one of the first things people see when they look at you. But stand tall and take ownership of that and a hat can be the best thing you can do for your confidence.”