This season hats may not be bigger than Jacquemus' SS18 sunhat, but they're just as beguiling

The late American author and humourist Erma Bombeck once said, “I have a hat. It is graceful and feminine and gives me a certain dignity, as if I were attending a state funeral or something. Someday I may get up enough courage to wear it, instead of carrying it.” This is how I feel about hats; admiration coupled with trepidation. It’s also how I feel about winged eyeliner (when did everyone learn to do this?) and Maria Tash piercings.

Fifty years ago, wearing a hat ensured you blended into the crowd, but in recent times sporting headwear outside of a wedding or the races is like hanging a neon sign around your neck saying, “Look at me”. Consequently, hats have been the fodder of wannabe street style stars and Z-list celebrities for far too long. Think Victoria Beckham before she became the most chic fashion designer in town and a global style icon – military hats, newsboy caps and fedoras were part of the former Spice Girls’ day-to-day uniform, and they almost always provoked a newspaper headline.

In his posthumous memoir, Fashion Climbing, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham documents his time as a milliner in New York. Known then as William J, he built a successful business creating headwear for the most fashionable women of Manhattan until 1962, when the store was forced to close due to lack of demand. Women had simply stopped wearing hats. The 1960s was a decade dominated by youth culture, and the clothes of the era reflected this. Even the Catholic Church dropped its dress code in 1967 requiring women to wear hats to mass. Hats no longer said “fashion”. They now suggested old-fashioned.

I associate hats with movies not modern dress; Audrey Hepburn’s outrageously elegant wide-brim creation in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Kristin Scott Thomas’s undulating dusty pink hat in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Meryl Streep’s exquisite wedding headpiece in Out of Africa. Outside of the movies, women today who wear hats well have an inherent eccentricity (and confidence) I can’t lay claim to – Daphne Guinness and the late Isabella Blow to name but two. Here at home, my former colleague Niamh O’Donoghue makes an extremely strong case for wearing hats; to her, donning a purple feathered fedora is as easy as popping on a pair of sunglasses. The first time I met activist Sinéad Burke was at a Brown Thomas event where she wore a cowboy hat with utter conviction. The closest I’ve come is a hairband or woollen hat (sans pom-pom – I’ve never felt comfortable wearing clothes designed for little girls).

Last year, hats, or one hat in particular, became the big talking point of the entire season. Jacquemus’ 22-inch-wide straw sunhat became an instant hit on Instagram and the subject of 101 memes, and it sold out on every luxury retailer’s website. Suddenly, hats became a point of interest again for customers rather than just an indulgent aside for designers.

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Headwear is to SS19 what the statement earring was to SS18; it’s the final piece in your sartorial jigsaw puzzle. The choices of headwear this season, thankfully, are more plentiful. Prada presented bejewelled Alice bands, Moschino Pretty Woman-style showstoppers, Christian Dior ballet-inspired hairbands, and Anna Sui boyish bucket hats, while Simone Rocha went for full-on beekeeper (for the non-experimentalists among you, Rocha’s signature pearl hairclip made a return too). Michael Kors kept it real with floppy sunhats; pragmatic as well as pretty. The season hasn’t been without its sensational pieces either. If you think Rocha’s beekeeper hats are a challenge, take a breath… 29-year-old Hong Kong-born designer Ryan Lo appears to have taken inspiration from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Wizard of Oz, with his Wicked Witch of the West-style hats created by Stephen Jones. Meanwhile, Shanghai designer Xiao Li reimagined Jacquemus’ giant straw sunhat in a metallic gold foil. Given this is her first time on the London Fashion Week schedule, it won’t do her any harm to have one of the most Instagrammable pieces on her runway.

Michael Kors SS19

Simone Rocha SS19

Late last year, I met Anthony Peto, one of Ireland’s foremost milliners, for the first time. The English-born hatmaker, who has a shop on South Anne Street in Dublin and an atelier in Paris, says there are two essential components of a gorgeous hat. “The first is technical,” he explains. “It needs to be easy to wear (ie, not fall off the head) and it needs to be flattering, making the most of the wearer’s features (like accentuating the eyes) and possibly compensating for other factors, such as giving the impression of height or balancing out features.” The second component, he says, and the most important, is “fantasy”. “A hat should be a ticket to another place.” Perhaps this is the reason for my hesitancy with hats; I’m a confirmed homebird.

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