Formal millinery storms the US, Daily Mail NYC // 30 May 2011

My piece for Daily Mail NYC… (or read the piece with lots of pretty pictures at MailOnline)

The days of doffed caps and feather bonnets are long gone, but now a new breed of formal headwear is paving the way for a glamorously decorative barnet.

From the svelte form of a ribboned band or a more ebullient frothy plumage of colourful feathers, a fanciful dash of head bling is the ultimate cherry on top.

Blurring the boundaries of jewellery, hairdos and millinery, the playful eccentricity of statement millinery seems to have well and truly caught on in the U.S. too.

In the UK, hats and fascinators are most associated with the races – Ladies’ Day at Ascot, for example – and weddings, where headwear is often an unwritten part of the dress code.

Who could forget Princess Beatrice’s much-maligned ‘pretzel’ hat at the Royal Wedding, by top milliner Philip Treacy – or the criticism of British First Lady Samantha Cameron’s decision to attend in a jewelled Erdem hairpiece rather than a traditional hat.

But head ‘confectionery’ – as New York radio show host Bill Cunningham put it – is adorning all the most fashionable tresses in a revival he says New York hasn’t seen for 50 years.

Indeed, at this month’s Met Ball, a tribute to late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, A-list heads were encrusted, bejewelled and feathered.

And to SamCam’s credit, many a fashionista sported an upmarket hairclip.

Stella McCartney shone in a sophisticated waved headdress, Naomi Campbell wore a sparkling clip and Kate Hudson sported an Indian-inspired jewel on her crown.

Australian actress, Isabel Lucas, wore pearl and gold head jewellery by Lorraine Schwartz whilst a tiara-esque band sat atop the Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie’s mane.

Tennis player Serena Williams went for a Fifties-style white fascinator, while Yoko Ono wore a playful white veiled mini top hat by veteran milliner, Stephen Jones.

Laurie Kennard of Chicago-based milliners, Chapeau, told MailOnline: ‘There is an increase in “taking a hat chance”, you might say. Much younger women are attracted to hats… It’s not just the influence of the Royal Wedding.’

Chapeau has seen an increase in sales of late, which Ms Kennard says is part of a bigger change in tastes.

‘Perhaps after the supra-casualness that began in the late Sixties, women are craving elegance,’ she continued. ‘Or it could be that when you are in your twenties and your mother’s era looks stodgy, your grandmother’s era looks elegant.

‘Today’s young women would then be looking to the 1950s and early sixties for inspiration, definitely a time of more elegance.’

Of course headdresses are nothing new. The trend harks to the eccentricity of the heady (sorry) pre-WWII days of Paris-based designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Hailed as being ahead of their time, her hats included an upturned high-heeled shoe and many a feather-adorned turban.

Turbans had their heyday in the 1920s, resurfaced in the 70s and are once again back in vogue – Salma Hayek and Nicole Scherzinger have both managed to pull off the look to great effect.

But where once some get-ups were made to stay private, there are some adventurous public airings of previously stay-at-home looks.

Swimming caps – objects of dread from embarrassing school swimming lessons – are coming out of the closet once again, with new designs good enough to be seen in on the beach, particularly matched with on-trend retro swimwear.

And who would have thought the Queen would boldly step out in a (rather fancy) hairnet?

At last week’s Chelsea Flower Show, Her Royal Highness sported a black hairnet adorned with small black bows. There’s no question that we’re all more used to something a little more regal – a crown, say – nestling amongst her grey curls, and the hairnet-with-a-twist was a rare moment of fashion daring.

One onlooker joked that she should ‘sell the offending article on eBay and have the milliner sent to the Tower.’

The Tower is unlikely, given that the ensemble was apparently designed by the Queen’s in-house fashion team at Buckingham Palace. The ‘pragmatic choice’ was in preparation for any unwelcome gusts of wind – perhaps a precautionary reaction to Michella Obama’s flyaway hair which fell victim to Dublin’s inclement windy weather on her recent state visit.

Whether it will catch on, a la the fashionable hairnets of the Forties, is anyone’s guess – suffice to say, a sparkly hairclip or fanciful hat is a more on-trend option for now.

Marissa Vitano of Bloomingdales told MailOnline that ‘hats are the must have accessories this season.’

We have no word, so far, on the sales of designer hairnets.


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