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London Milliners Usher in New Era of Experimentation

Hats are making a comeback just in time for summer in the capital.

MAD HATS: The death of the fascinator means more adventurous clients and a return to the hat for London milliners.

The annual summer spate of weddings, garden parties and races is sure to bring on many more toppers. Of course, there’s a class system attached to headwear, with fascinators — a spray of feathers or netting or a flower stuck onto a headband — coming embarrassingly at the bottom of the hierarchy. To wear a fascinator these days is to invite sneers and harsh judgment from fashion cognoscenti.

“Fascinators are (or can be) cheap and easy to make. They are a hat but without the hat bit, and so are great for the high street to [sell] in bulk and for craftspeople and budding milliners to make at home,” explained milliner Piers Atkinson. “But I think the market became flooded with the cheapest and most unattractive designs, and this gave the fascinator a terrible reputation.”

So much so, that Royal Ascot issued a ban on wearing them in the Royal Enclosure, arguably the most formal area of any sports venue. “In 2012 we decided that fascinators weren’t quite the right fit for the Royal Enclosure,” said Nick Smith, head of communications at Royal Ascot. “If anything, it seemed to make visitors more keen than ever to be adventurous with their hats.”

London milliners concur there’s a new sense of experimentation in headwear.

“People are becoming a little more adventurous with hats,” added Atkinson, crediting the likes of Lady Gaga, the Duchess of Cambridge, Anna Dello Russo and the catwalk as trend influencers. “I think a hat is less shocking than it was even five years ago.”

“We have definitely seen a return to the hat,” confirmed Helen David, head of women’s wear at Harrods, citing growing interest in pillbox shapes. “There has been positive growth over the past 12 months across the millinery department. We have seen a greater interest from customers in wearing hats, and they seem less afraid of trying new shapes and taking a risk. This season customers are not afraid to go big, with the large, side-sweeping designs performing extremely well.”