Who would have thought that wearing a hat could be seen as an act of subversion? Historically a requirement of occasions such as weddings or high-society events, finely designed hats were a key accessory on autumn/winter catwalks across the fashion capitals, making a case for introducing chic bucket shapes, wide‑brimmed fedoras or more adventurous styles into everyday wardrobes.
“People think of hats as something worn in the 1950s,” says milliner Stephen Jones, “but they are just as relevant today.” Jones has a long working relationship with Dior, and this season collaborated with the brand on a collection of elegant leather bucket hats, which were derived from its 1947 Bar hat. “Christian Dior himself considered hats an essential,” says the house’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. “They complement the face – they define and enhance features. Wearing one requires a certain posture of confidence and elegance, and our collaboration with Stephen really interprets the hat for the current moment.” Chiuri’s collection for autumn/winter is a romanticised vision of 1950s British Teddy girls; paradoxically, the hats modernise the look. “They have an almost masculine design, based on the traditional English rain hat, but made in leather or cotton, and characterised by a detail that celebrates and redefines femininity – a rippled mesh veil that draws attention to the eyes,” says Chiuri. Valentino Garavani also elevates the bucket hat with a high crown and deep, slanted brim in subtly shaded felt, treated fabric or lace that bring 1950s elegance to modern silhouettes. At Lanvin, it morphs into a sweeping cotton-canvas style with a turn-up brim – which new designer Bruno Sialelli made in cream or rust or with an illustrated print.
Saint Laurent’s broad-brimmed fedoras are given a glamorous edge with the use of brilliant colours such as glossy purple or emerald. More traditional styles come via Matty Bovan and Stephen Jones’ collaboration with Coach, whereby top hats and trilbies are made from the brand’s signature monogram fabric. Bovan believes hats “hark back to an era of glamour, no matter how unconventional the materials”.
The low-crowned, wide-brimmed fedora is a Chanel favourite, which this season comes in different tweeds. “It’s very tough, durable and structured, so you can wear it at the front or back of the head,” says designer Priscilla Royer of Maison Michel, the Chanel-owned company that creates the brand’s hats. Over four years, Royer has upgraded Maison Michel’s range in response to growing consumer demand. “We still have the cat ears and nautical caps, but now there is more variety using new materials like waterproof fabric, rollable felt or very tightly woven straw that, in sophisticated camel and black, makes a great trans-seasonal city hat.” Its quilted rabbit-felt bucket hat with pearl trim was recently one of Harrods’ top seasonal choices.
Upscale versions of caps can be seen at Fendi, where shearling trapper styles are shown with demure knee-length dresses and pleated skirts, a cheeky postscript from the late Karl Lagerfeld on the timeless tension between bourgeois and street; Prada, where peaked caps are trimmed with colourful mohair; and Louis Vuitton, where a close-fitting leather cap will add edge to everything from tailoring to ruffles.
This renaissance of bold hats for everyday wear could, in part, be a knock-on from last year’s ultra-wide woven hats, courtesy of Jacquemus, that became instant sell-outs. Loewe’s weirdly wonderful leather hat, which looks like a toreador’s montera, is sparking interest, as are the Dior and Valentino bucket hats, according to Harrods’ head of womenswear Maria Milano. She reports a “significant uplift in interest, including in adventurous styles and not just for special occasions”. This follows a revamp of the store’s millinery department three years ago, under designer Philip Treacy’s guidance, to showcase the world’s best hatmakers.
Treacy is also behind the newly revived British Hat Guild, itself further evidence of the hat’s comeback. A historic trade association, it closed in 2003 due to competition from imports, before being relaunched earlier this year in an attempt to nurture the craft. Thirty seven of Britain’s top milliners are involved, including Jones, Noel Stewart and Awon Golding, who creates commissions as well as ready-to-wear collections. “Designers can elevate utilitarian shapes or vintage styles with new materials or unexpected trims. I cut crin straw with a soldering iron to put a modern spin on bridal or party hats.”
Evening hats are also part of this millinery revival. Michael Kors’ veiled sequin half-hats by Jones are inspired, he says, by “off-duty dancers from the 1930s and 1970s, when hats were important; now an embellished fascinator instead of jewellery spells modern glamour.” Erdem’s elegant, veiled brocade or feather designs integrate perfectly with current cocktail style; Saint Laurent’s crystal crochet cloche plays nicely against a mini “tuxedo” dress; while Treacy’s lace‑veiled beret is sheer romance. Likewise, Ascot stalwart Stewart teamed brilliant ostrich feathers with multicolour-sequinned outfits for 16Arlington. The brand’s founders Marco Capaldo and Federica Cavenati say it all: “Hats bring a certain attitude – they can make you feel fierce and ready to explore a new self, a visual extension of your personality.”