CHAPEAU CHIC: Workin' That Chi Chi Alternative to the Veil

Greystar Pictures

If Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a sequel, we’d probably find Holly Golightly sporting a hat on her wedding day.  A hat bride is a bit Golightlyesque in the sense, once she makes her entrance, the hat is something unexpected and unique.  Worn imaginatively, hats do make style-savvy statements. Did you know Rita Hayworth wore a cartwheel hat when she married Ali Kahn?  And Bianca Jagger a picture hat when she married Mick?  Celebrities and second-time-around brides aren’t the only ones opting for a hat on their wedding day; a few first-timers are bypassing the veil in favor of a hat.  Ball gowns, A-lines, evening gowns, and sheaths all look fantastic paired up with the right hat.  Today topping off your gown has more to do with choice and whatever makes you look and feel your best 
Once upon a time about three generations back, the rule was whenever you went out the door, you had to cover your head.  Better to have forgotten your purse than the hat since getting caught bare-headed in public was considered a disgrace.  Luckily times have changed and the decades have left behind a wealth of memorable head chic.  Below are a few of the best styles that survived.  Just wish we could cover them all.       

Pillbox-Pictured above, round and brimless, this hat is worn either centered or back on the head.  Though this style was introduced in the 1930s, Jackie Kennedy revived the look.  And guess what? Martha Stewart wore a pillbox when she got married in the early sixties?  Her version had a wisp of dotted nose veil across the front.  Generally, this hat looks best with suits and fitted sheath designs; super with most other silhouettes.   

Photos LirettePhotography

Cocktail Hats-Include toques, pancakes, and beanies to name just a few.  Small and brimless, these hats sit tilted or perched atop the head, usually accented with flowers or a spray of long feathers; a cover of net or nose veil typically wraps all or part of the face.  To add a touch of fun to a simple gown, cover a cocktail hat fully in marabou or ostrich feathers.  All cocktail hats look great with upswept hair and most silhouettes.  Ideal as a headpiece attached to any length veil.

Turban-Adapted from Eastern headdress, the classic turban is a piece of fabric that wraps around the head.  Trendy in the late 30s, the 40s ushered in some interesting variations on turban dressing, mixing functionality with chic.  Factory workers wore scarves tied up turban style to keep hair in place while working machinery.  Consequently, designers went on to glamorize this style in satin and velvet so it also complimented eveningwear.  Tulle and net turban head wraps topped off with bows or florals became quickly assembled head adornments for wartime brides.  So if you think a ball gown and turban might look a bit odd, check out a Joan Crawford flick called, The Women (1939). Hollywood Designer, Adrian does some incredible things with headwear, especially turbans. Unfortunately, you won’t see or get to try on too many turbans these days unless you check into a spa and have a facial.  They aren’t really trendy right now.  If you love this look you’ll be better off visiting a milliner and having one custom-made. The one pictured above was styled for a client out of ivory tulle and clipped closed with an antique brooch. 
Cloche-Close fitting helmet-like hat worn low on the forehead with or without a brim.  All the rage in the 1920s.  Today’s versions are mostly felt and straw, complimenting vintage dresses and suits. Look best worn with a bob or other short hairstyles.

Picture Hat- The most classic hat for daytime formals.  Wide-brimmed and typically constructed out of straw or horsehair, they are sometimes swathed in netting and organza.  Picture hats conjure up images of croquet parties at Jay Gatsby’s and all those 1930s movies situated in garden party chic. Evoking an edgier image is the wool felt picture hat synonymous with women in Irving Penn photos of the 1950s.  Whatever look you want to create with this style, here are some things to consider when wearing it.  Go ahead and put on your picture hat for the ceremony.  Just do yourself a favor at the reception and take it off when you’re receiving guests.  Unless your hat is made out of that bendy sort of horsehair with lots of give, when you reach out to hug and kiss people the hat will either fall off or scrape someone.  Picture hats go great with most silhouettes, especially ball gowns.  The wide brim balances the volume in the skirt.
  Wide-brimmed Picture Hat by Amy-Jo Tatum/Photo by Stephanie Williams Photography 

You can use some of the same guidelines in choosing hats that apply to veils: the more minimalist the gown is in detail, the more ornate the hat can be; whereas the more ornate the gown, the simpler the hat.  Once you start trying them on, you’ll see it’s all just a matter of getting the symmetry right. You do need to get in front of a mirror, gown on, and have alterations done to rightly evaluate how the hat and gown work together.  As far as accessorizing your gown with a hat, add gloves, earrings, and pearls and you have a real vogue look.  The length glove you choose has to do with preference and the style of your gown.  Generally, long gloves and wide brims proffer more of a high fashion look—short gloves and little hats, a more lady-like appearance. 

Experiment.  Getting the right look is all about personal choice and working out the proportions you like.    And speaking of proportion, if you’re petite you can certainly take the width of a picture hat as long as you scale down the brim some to match your proportion.  Also, any hat that adds height like a derby or pillbox will work well.  A taller bride with her heart set on one of these styles might have to experiment a bit, wearing a pillbox tilted to the side or back further on the head.  She might have to forego the derby altogether and settle on something lower in the crown.  Generally, fuller silhouettes like ball gowns need wider brims to balance out the skirts, although evening gowns and sheaths also look great with wide brims.  Smaller hats work best with more columnar looks; try adding poufs of veil or netting to work with fuller skirts.
  Following hat trends isn't as typical in our culture anymore.  There are styles out there and your initial search will probably start online as well as perusing books on Hollywood costume and fashion history.  Bookmark and clip any photos and pictures you like.  You’ll find the best selection of hats you can feel and touch in millinery boutiques.  Here you’ll get lots of personal attention from plugged-in aficionados passionate about headwear.  Show any clippings and pictures to your salesperson so she’ll have an idea of what sort of style you have in mind.  Ideally, you should take along your gown.  If it hasn’t been delivered, take fabric swatches since you’ll want to match the shade as closely as possible.  If you don’t see anything you like in the store, chances are they can custom design a hat for you.  Another option is the department store millinery salon.  Here you might find exactly the style you want but say it’s in orange.  If this is the case, they’ll usually check another one of their stores or with the manufacturer to see if it can be ordered or sent in white.  Vintage clothing shops are another good source.  True, most of the hats in these places are at least thirty years old but you might run across that rare and excellent find you never dreamed possible.  Vintage shops also carry 'retro-inspired' hats.  Simply put, these are new hats fresh out of the plant that have that fifty-sixty-seventy-year-old look without the wear and tear. 

    One of the questions a bride often asks is, “Can I wear a hat and veil all at once . . . together?”  In other words, can you have the best of both?   Of course.  Wearing a hat by itself is one option you have.  But choosing to wear a hat doesn’t necessarily mean having to do away with the veil entirely. Realize any length of tulle veiling can be attached to the crown, back, or inside of almost any hat. And hats acting as headpieces—even big ones—look stunning.  So the answer is yes.  Wear both.
photo by Rob Martel
   The most important thing to remember is, there’s a hat match for every face, body, and gown style. In your search, you might find the perfect hat right off; you might have to try on many.  And once you find the right one, you'll look back at your reflection . . . and you'll know its the right one.

Hats and Gowns by Amy-Jo Tatum