Everything You Need To Know About Buying An Occasion Hat

From weddings to the races, a hat is essential for many of summer’s big events, but getting it right is no mean feat. So, we thought we’d go back to basics and enlist the help of some experts to offer their advice. Whether it’s where to start, how to style it or just how big is too big, here are all your hat questions, answered…

Start With A Milliner

If you really don’t know where to start, we suggest heading straight to the experts. Chelsea-based Milliner Jane Taylor tells us ‘a great hat will only look good if worn correctly, so visit a milliner where they are experienced in putting hats on and can tell you how to fit it securely and get the angles right.’  Taylor also recommends ‘taking your outfit with you to your hat appointment, to ensure the colours, shape and styles work well together. But also don’t be scared of trying things you hadn’t thought about - we don’t wear hats often so you may walk away with something unexpected.’

Ditch The Matchy-Matchy Look

Gone are the days when it was considered stylish to match up all your accessories. For a modern approach, we recommend mixing things up, and milliner Beverly Edmondson confirms this; ‘sometimes matching accessories can kill an outfit and make it look bland, so don’t be scared to have one hero piece then have other accessories to compliment but not distract from it.’ Our advice? Stick to one colour palette and then opt for different shades - a navy dress with a lighter blue hat, for example. Or, if you’re feeling bold, really go for the clash - a red dress and pink hat combination could be seriously impactful.

Big Isn’t Always Better

We’ve all seen disastrously large hats paraded at the races, so if you want to get the balance right, there are certain rules to follow. ‘If you want to go oversized – that means a brim wider than your shoulders – then your silhouette must be very neat and fitted.’ Jane tells us. ‘This is only advisable if you are on the taller side as well. Your hat should be in proportion to your outfit and body shape.’  And when it comes to knowing when bigger is better, follow the advice of award-winning international milliner Awon Golding: ‘there’s a time and a place. If you’re the mother of the bride go for a big hat, if you’re a guest then pare it back a bit.’

Stick To The Rules

Next up - the biggest hat no-nos. All our experts had different advice to offer; for Jane, sunglasses teamed with a hat is the ultimate faux pas, whilst Lisa recommends tying your hair back because ‘it creates a longer neckline and will always make your hat look more elegant. Your hat should also be secured well to your hair – bases with just a comb to keep them in will not stay in, they’ll need a head elastic too. Take extra bobby pins with you in case of emergency.’

Strike A Balance With Details

It goes without saying that if your dress is busy, you should keep your hat simple, and vice versa. Jane specifically recommends the former for the races - ‘For Royal Ascot it is best to select a simple dress so your hat can be the centre of attention’. For Lisa, however, it’s all about confidence. ‘I have a friend whose motto is “more is more”, and although her looks are always over-the-top and usually over-embellished, she wears them with absolute confidence and looks spectacular. It’s all about owning your look – the minute you start questioning it, that’s when it all falls apart.’

Ditch The Fascinator

If you’re not a big fan of the flower or feather adorned hairband, there are endless fresh alternatives for something a little different. ‘Fascinators are unstructured headpieces that, more often than not, are made poorly and don’t provide much of a statement for the wearer.’ Says milliner Lisa Tan. ‘I’ve always thought of them as a bit of a lazy accessory – something one wears when they’re forced to wear headwear but really don’t want to.’ With so many options out there these days (see below) there’s no excuse for the dated look.

Don’t Be Afraid To Go Bespoke

Finding a stylish hat on the high street is no easy feat, but surprisingly it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to have something made from scratch. ‘Some outfits can prove a tricky blend of colours to be able to pick up something off the shelf’ says Beverly. ‘Our bespoke fascinators start from £85 and percher styles from £150 and full hats from £230, just make sure you leave enough time for bespoke lead-times. We ask for 6 weeks for most styles.’ Lisa also dispels the elitist myth surrounding made-to-measure fashion - ‘I ask all of my clients if they have a budget in mind, and I don’t have a minimum budget myself when taking on a new client. Having something made is the best way to ensure you have a completely original design and won’t come across your double.’

Look To The Royals For Inspiration

It comes as no surprise that the royals are still setting the trends when it comes to hats. From Kate’s thick, embellished head-band style at Prince Louis’ christening to Meghan’s pill box and wide brim designs, they’re who we look to for inspo these days; however, Lisa recommends also looking further afield ‘the ladies attending the Melbourne Cup Carnival in Australia are always very fashion-forward and brilliant at channeling the runway trends for special occasions.’ 

Try Out New Trends

All of our experts agree, hairbands are, of course, the obvious choice this year. British milliner Martha Lynn recommends them for cost per wear - ‘They are more accessible and less of a commitment than a hat, especially on your pocket. They are a great starting point and you don’t have to be going to a formal event; a headband can complement a nice dress for more casual events too.’ Not sure it’s for you? ‘Jackie O style pill boxes are also very on trend’ says Jane. However, heed her words of caution - ‘Your outfit must be on trend rather than occasional/traditional in style - this look can add ten years!’ Details are also having a moment. Says Lisa ‘In recent seasons, we’ve seen a shift back to big brims, which I’m welcoming with open arms. Also, less fussy trims, and used in a more minimal way, e.g. feathers are sharp, trimmed and placed sparingly and deliberately rather than in bunches.’ Lisa’s also seen the rise of another surprising trend ‘I’ve been making boaters for a few years now and they’re still as popular as ever, I think mostly because they’re a functional, multi-occasion hat – you can wear it to the polo, a picnic, or a wedding or to the races, and it’s a style that suits almost everyone.’

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