I think it’s rather sad that hats have gone so completely out of fashion. Oh, sure, once in a while this or that style makes a brief resurgence, and a small segment of the female population will sport berets or cloches for a season. For comfort and protection, we’ll pop on a floppy sunhat at the beach or a knit cap when the snow flies. But the days of every well dressed woman complementing her outfit with a hat are long gone. It seems to me that the quickest way to turn an ordinary summer day into a Sparkling Vintage Summer day is to try on a hat. But which style?
Grace Margaret Morton, author of the 1943 (updated 1964) book The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance (from which most of the illustrations on this post were plucked), had reams to say on the subject. Here are just a few tidbits from Miss Montgomery:
“The hat is more than a protection. It is a frame for the face, a trim for the dress, the single most important accessory to a smart appearance, the culminating note by which drama is given to the tout ensemble (ed. “whole outfit”). A hat may need to be gay and a bit frivolous, young and casual, or dignified and sophisticated. A hat should be an adornment. It should give its wearer a lift. Unless it actually does something for her appearance, it should not be purchased.”
She acknowledged that “many young women, and older ones too, do not know the types of hats that are becoming to them or right for their needs. Many women find it difficult to distinguish hats that are right for sports and street and those intended for more formal wear. ” To that end, she set out to explain exactly which hat belongs on which face at which occasion.
“The beret and the casual hat suggest a youthful wearer and an informal occasion such as spectator sports or street. Another beret could be of velvet and suitable for wear to luncheons or teas.”
“Bandeaus and decors can be flattering and feminine, and have the added advantage of keeping the coiffure under control for late-day
occasions.” She also describes the bonnet, the breton, the cartwheel, the cloche, the tricorne, the turban (fabulous for hiding not-ready-for-prime-time hair), and a dozen other styles.
Since we’re still in August, perhaps the most perfect hat for summertime is the picture hat.
“The picture hat can be one of the most flattering and feminine of modes. It may appear in straws, felts, velvets, stiffened nets, and laces. It suggests such glamorous summer occasions as afternoon weddings, garden parties, and formal teas. In informal straw versions it may be a beach or gardening hat.” But, Miss Montgomery warns, “This hat is best worn by a woman who is at least average in height.”
And if you’re not “average in height” or otherwise model-perfect in face and figure? Miss Montgomery to the rescue!
“Large people need larger hats; conversely, women of small scale need small hats. Heavy bodies and heavy faces need thickness such as cushion-edged brims or heavy trimming at the crown. The wide, low-crowned cartwheel or sailor with its horizontal movement is not for those who need a hat with bulk and upward movement.
“Delicate features and slender bodies are overpowered by hats with too much brim, crown, or trimming. The crown should be small and the material delicate or seemingly lightweight.
“A round face and pug nose are given piquant, interesting angles when the brim is tilted.
“Weak chins are made less so by wearing dashing, lively hats with upturned brims.
“The heart-shaped dip in the brim of a wide leghorn is often becoming to a girl with a short and broad face, because it produces an effect similar to the widow’s peak so much admired.
“Feather and flower toques do very flattering things to white- or gray-haired women for afternoon. The older woman usually looks better in hats with some brim, or with irregular undulating lines, or with soft trimming such as folds of chiffon. She should avoid large, drooping brims which repeat the downward lines of wrinkles.”
Sounds like hats may be the answer to our most pressing beauty problems! A fun activity on a steamy day might be to locate a nice, cool department store that carries hats and spend a pleasant hour trying on different styles. Who knows . . . maybe you’ll land upon your perfect “signature” hat, and a new love affair will be launched.