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.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there