Hats off to traditional style

By Jan Shure, March 10, 2010
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Hat £429, Gabriela Ligenza, 5 Ellis Street, SW1; Orange silk dress, £379, gold knot cuff, £159, all at Fenwick, W1; sunglasses, £228, Oliver Goldsmith

Hat £429, Gabriela Ligenza, 5 Ellis Street, SW1; Orange silk dress, £379, gold knot cuff, £159, all at Fenwick, W1; sunglasses, £228, Oliver Goldsmith

Our excuse to photograph a confection of gorgeous hats is that it is Pesach in a couple of weeks, when Jewish women traditionally think about acquiring a new spring hat.

We have been looking at the prettiest and most stylish hats, some appropriate for synagogue, some for weddings or other special occasions.

If the pictures have a slightly vintage feel, it is because hats — the decorative kind, as opposed to the practical kind we wear for cold weather, skiing or sun protection — are, sadly, an anachronism in 2010.

Those who wear hats — the Queen, women attending afternoon weddings, Ascot and other ritzy race-meetings and, of course women who attend synagogue (once mainly those who attended Orthodox shuls, but increasingly, those who attend Progressive congregations, too) — are rapidly becoming as endangered as the polar bear.

Our model for the hats, Jacqui Kohen, a personal trainer and occasional model (you may remember her from a distractingly alluring poster for JDate), loved every one of the hats, and looked stunning in them. But in common with most women under 45, she would probably only wear a hat if she was invited to a very posh afternoon wedding or to Royal Ascot.

Channel 4’s otherwise unmmemorable The Queen was a revelation for its reminder of how ubiquitous hats remained even as late as the 1960s. Wear a hat on the street today (other than a very on-trend panama, or to keep warm) and you will be regarded with some curiosity. It is no coincidence that in her humorous poem Warning, Jenny Joseph wrote about always wearing a red hat as a signifier of how outrageously she would dress when old.

And yet, put on a gorgeous hat for a special occasion — an aufruf (or Shabbat chatan, as these call-ups are rapidly becoming known), a bar- or batmitzvah, Ascot or for Shabbat or Yomtov — and you realise that a hat is without equal as an item of apparel that makes you feel gloriously, glamorously feminine and fabulous the moment you perch it at exactly the correct angle on your head (see sidebar, right) .

It would be delusional to use the word “trend” in the context of hats. The collections of even the most out-there designers — like Stephen Jones, who produces witty hats for women who want to be looked at — evolve rather than change dramatically each season. Sometimes the “new” is confined to fresh trims, or to the seasonal clothing colour palette.

Many of the strongest looks for this spring remain evocative of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. The Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly influences fit well with the polished little suits, well-groomed shift dresses, duster coats and sweet little bracelet-sleeve jackets that reign for smart occasions.

If you have the face, the suit and the poise, the 1940s-inspired, saucer-shaped hat by the prodigiously talented Gabriela Ligenza is sensational for spring, sufficiently low-key for synagogue, but a real fashion statement for any summer event. The Chelsea-based milliner is also responsible for the froth of animal-print georgette and for the pair of ravishing 1950s-inspired hats — one a darling little pillbox crafted from coffee and cream silk trimmed with a tiny veil; the other a downturned shape, which could have come straight from an Irving Penn fashion shoot.

In the same retro mood is the ravishing little hat made from a cluster of pink roses with veil, by Lincolnshire-based millinery brand Hostie.

Whiteley, whose collection runs from classic to gently on-trend, has a sublimely retro hat with oversized brim as well as the grey brim hat with oversized bow.

Helene Berman, whose clever clothes range bridges the gap between designer and high street, has added hats to her collection, with huge success. Her neat little straws, like a flower-trimmed trilby and the Audrey-esque shape with wide brim, are stylish but sufficiently undemanding to appeal to a younger hat wearer, or a woman who doesn’t want to make too much of a statement with shul headwear.

Last updated: 4:16pm, March 10 2010