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How to Wear Hats, As Seen on the Runways

— Collage by Ashley Peña

Episode six of Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, set in 1978, depicts Truman Capote and his fleet of swans’ swift and merciless fall from popularity. In a representative scene, Capote accompanies the society doyenne C.Z. Guest on one of her regular trips to Galore Hat Shop, only to find the owner, Terry, packing up and preparing for a closeout sale. “Nobody wants hats anymore,” Terry declares.

Well, Capote and his crew might be having the last laugh, because if the Fall/Winter ’24 collections proved anything, it’s that hats are unequivocally back.

Swanlike pillbox hats appeared in traditional, brimless varieties at Altuzarra and in more contemporary, capped styles at Celine. Add to these the wide-brimmed sun hats at Chanel and the hardy and handsome riding hats at Schiaparelli—not to mention the flood of pillboxes that Alaïa and The Row had already unleashed for Spring/Summer ’24. The overall mood is high society with a retro, dolled-up twist. One that brings to mind the storied panache of the swans for a brave new era.

At the turn of the century, hats were “a normal, often required, part of our wardrobe” Linda Przybyszewski writes in her 2014 book The Lost Art of Dress. They continued to be “an essential element of any elegant ensemble” through the 1950s. We’ve come a long way since then; these days, any hat that isn’t a baseball cap, beanie, or bucket hat is apt to make a statement.

And now feels like the right time to make one. In the years since the pandemic, the fashion pendulum has swung from the unrelenting shine and unmitigated sex appeal of the early-‘00s to the muted palette of “quiet luxury.” “As we’ve all become a bit bored of that, I think hats and headpieces are designers’ toe-dip into the pool of louder luxury,” says Caitlin Donovan, a New York-based stylist. In other words, this fresh penchant for headwear reflects newfound excitement about dressing up. We’re finally settling into the perfect sweet spot that’s sophisticated yet still a bit different, charming, and fun.

Stephen Jones—arguably the world’s most iconic living milliner—was bang-on when he wrote in Hats: An Anthology, that “A hat makes clothing identifiable, dramatic – and, most importantly, Fashion…It’s the cherry on the cake, the dot on the ‘i’, the exclamation mark.” Hats, he continued, “confer a sense of presence and poise to the wearer that, in my mind, cannot be achieved through clothing or other accessories.”

Harry Lambert, a stylist best known for his work with Harry Styles and Emma Corrin, is an ardent advocate of hats himself and always game to find ways to incorporate them into his work. “I love to embrace and use them,” he told me. “They just make a look feel so fun and joyful.” James Rushfirth, the brains behind the London hat label James Pink Studio—Lambert’s “favorite” (they work together regularly)—said that his collaborations with brands usually kick off “towards the end of the collection process, suggesting, designing, and making hats that add the right thing to make the look.” Again, that essential finishing touch.

The hats spotted on the Fall ’24 runways were manifold and multifarious. Yet nearly all of them had one thing in common: they concealed the models’ hair. The hair was either slicked tightly back and then knotted into a low chignon or else tucked into the headwear and entirely shrouded. This effect was only heightened at shows like Jil Sander, where 35 of the 68 looks were styled with sleek, black, helmet-like pieces that contoured the head and sloped down in front of the ears like faux sideburns.

And at Saint Laurent, where every model’s hair was cloaked in a headwrap cut in the same stocking material as the looks. At Fforme, more than half of the looks were finished with knit headgear that recalled a swim cap. Similarly snug styles appeared at Giorgio Armani too, except with a more artful flair. There were also tight, face-framing hoods at Fendi, countless more at Rick Owens in cashmere and felted alpaca, and hoods at Courrèges that didn’t quite frame the whole face, but were no less severe.

Which all begs the question: what of the hairstylists? Some of the hats, like those at Jil Sander, almost resemble hair themselves—or at least the 1920s-era swim caps that were designed to mimic the look of hair. Where, then, does headwear end and hairstyling begin? One hairstylist I spoke to, Sabrina Szinay, told me she loves working in the gray area: “There’s a faint line between wigs and hats,” she said. “It can blur the mediums of sculpting and styling.”

However the hair was styled beneath, there’s a homogenizing effect to this hair-swaddling headgear that invariably draws the eye to the clothes. Stephen Jones seems to agree. When asked which headgear from the Fall ’24 shows spoke to him most, he pointed to the swim caps from Prada’s menswear show. They were “reductive,” he said, but powerfully so. “They had such a strong point of view. Not only because they were swim caps, but also because they took the hair away…I think it focuses the viewer more on the silhouette.”

There’s a protective quality to this type of headgear, too; when worn, it looks as if one might be preparing for battle. The so-called “Atomic Age” of fashion—a movement spearheaded by Andres Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, and Pierre Cardin in the ‘60s—gave birth to similar styles that look like a cross between a bonnet, helmet, and an aviator cap. Fitting, when you think about it, for an era that was engulfed in the cold war.

It would be easy to draw similar comparisons to today’s apocalyptic times, but the Fall ’24 iterations feel more nuanced than that. The hoods at Fendi, Rick Owens, and Courrèges radiate a sense of protection—in the same way a helmet does—but they also provide a form of something you can retreat into. It’s almost maternal, this form of shelter; like the beanies at Balenciaga that were pulled down over the models’ eyes, these styles can likewise shield you from witnessing horrors—whether on our phones or in the real world.

As cool as the clingy caps and hoods, face-framing knits and headwraps may be, I doubt we’ll be seeing them all over the red carpet or on the sidewalks any time soon. They strip you of your hair like a lacefront, and it takes courage to wear something that leaves you that exposed. Even when styling editorials, Harry Lambert told me, he’ll “often get told to remove hats.” But when they are approved, they always manage to work magic. Just look at the lemon bonnet Harry dressed Emma Corrin in at the 2021 Emmys, which elevated her look from sleek and simple to transformative and otherworldly.

No designers are as adept at tapping into this type of preternatural energy as Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. In the hats from Prada’s Fall/Winter ’24 show, there were hints of the capped pillbox styles and dashes of policeman hats, whiffs of peaked styles and even a hint of helmets. And yet, swollen to extreme proportions and coated in velvets and feathers of rich, regal hues, these hats bristled with both emblems of the past and emblems of a time that we’ve yet to traverse. And therein lies the genius of Simons and Mrs. Prada. They used the past, they wrote in their show notes, as “an instrument, a tool for learning,” but without getting bogged down in nostalgia. Instead, they used it to invent something new.

Source: W Magazine

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