mad for hats

Big hats, little hats, silly hats - Meredyth Etherington-Smith loves them all - and not just in Ascot Week.

Until the appearance on the fashion scene of such stars of the moulded straw, the feather, and the veil, as Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy, hats were regarded as non-starters. They were boring, irrelevant and ageing, reminding one of dull speech days and mothers in battered-but-not-bowed navy straws with tired silk roses hiding in the brim. It took the savvy French to discover the joys of post-modern milliners such as Treacy, Jones and their own Philippe Modell. And we in England are only just beginning to follow suit.

The English have a love-hate relationship with hats; we breed the best milliners in the world, educate them at expensive art colleges and admire their work - then we go out in a panic the week before Ascot or a summer wedding and buy our one (mostly unsuitable because too elaborate) hat of the year, which is worn once, plonked uncertainly on top of a protesting hairdo, put away to gather dust in a cupboard, and eventually sold at a bring-and- buy charity hat sale.

I belong to quite another school of thought about hats - that they should be a way of life, not a desperate last-minute obeisance to the gods of socially-correct "occasion" dressing. I have been wearing hats day in, day out, since my twenties. Big hats, silly hats, furry hats, hats made out of feathers, wonderful hats from the past, one Edwardian hat so big Air France gave it an airline seat for itself, and futuristic hats made out of aluminium or millions of shocking pink, nylon tulle frills. I wear hats for a variety of reasons, the main one being that a really good hat is the best way I know to scene- steal, especially on a bad-hair day.

I am particularly fond of what used to be known as the "cocktail" hat. This is the absurdly frivolous hat you cram on at the end of a hard day in the office and sally forth to a cocktail party looking as if you have spent the afternoon getting ready rather than staring at a computer screen. The best cocktail hat I owned was a black velvet hat in the shape of a high-heeled shoe up ended on my head. Out of the heel of this surrealist shoe stuck a curving feather which was three feet long - the hat was a museum piece, having been designed by Elsa Schiaparelli for Madame Salvador Dali in the Thirties and it caused major upheavals whenever I wore it. Sadly, it came to a bad end when a drunk in a cocktail bar in New York sneaked up behind me and cut off the feather. I was in despair for weeks.

Recently, Jo Gordon, a brilliant young milliner beginning to make a name for herself with her witty feather hats in neon colours, produced a shocking pink cloche for me, composed of thousands of rows of tightly crimped tulle net frills. Worn with a dull little black dress I had been toiling in all day, this frivolous confection caused a sensation this winter at a very smart party indeed. If you think about it, the cocktail hat is the perfect party accessory. If you are in a crowd, all that can be seen is your face and, possibly, your shoulders, so a hat will attract attention from across a very crowded room.

Believe it or not, really silly hats can have their uses at work, too. One of the silliest and most useful hats I own is a wonderful explosion of ostrich feathers made for me by Philip Treacy. He divided the feathers into a forest of single fronds and dyed them to match the colour of my hair, giving the effect, when worn, that I had suffered from a major electric shock. Knowing that a

meeting I was going to would be difficult, not to say stormy, I decided to wear this hat - at 8.15am. On entering the meeting, the six men sitting crossly round the table caught each others eyes and burst into uncontrollable laughter. Bad humours were forgotten and the meeting became very jolly indeed. When challenged later that morning by my boss why I had worn the hat, I replied, simply that I was having a bad-hair day. "You might consider having a few more of them," he replied, trying desperately not to laugh.

The most difficult hats to find, however, are not those designed for special occasions but the everyday hat - the casual hat that doesn't look out of place in the office but hides horrible hair or protects it from getting wet. Very high on my list of such hats is a large, false fur hat that is a more effective protector of hair in the rain than any umbrella. Or take that emblem of the young - the Kangol beret. Jaunty, breezy, in fun colours, it has become a major fashion re-discovery and the nimble hands at Kangol cannot keep up with the demand from, amongst other devotees, Madonna, who jogs in hers. And what could be more attractive than that steal from the man's sporting wardrobe: the flat tweed cap in grouse moor colours of faded sage, deep burgundy and mud brown? As an everyday winter accessory worn with a cashmere or lambswool scarf, this is the perfect non-event hat for all weathers.

It is what might be called the cool factor of such hats, together with the stunning designs of our brilliant young milliners, that, to my mind, means that the hat is not dead nor buried but undergoing a welcome renaissance amongst the young who realise that a great hat implies that you have attitude, savoir-faire, self confidence and the capacity for making fun of oneself or of a stuffy occasion. Hats are indeed valuable social glue in this increasingly image-conscious world, as well as being just as much a fashion statement as the right designer bag.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Sauce Recruitment: Partnership Sales Executive - TV

    competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global multi-media...

    Sauce Recruitment: Account Director

    £26017.21 - £32521.19 per annum + OTE $90,000: Sauce Recruitment: My client is...

    Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea