The sight of formally dressed Americans attending the Kentucky Derby’s Churchill Downs each first Saturday of May is a throwback to a more genteel era. As the Kentucky Derby runs for the 140th time, we’re reminded that it hasn’t been that many years since hat stands were found in every front hallway, as one simply didn’t leave the house without one.
My hat and me
“Until the 1960s, the article of clothing that performed the most important role in indicating social distinctions among men was the hat,” informs Professor Diana Crane in her book, “Fashion and Its Social Agenda: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing.” In London in the 1980s, it was still commonplace to see gentlemen in bowlers coming and going from the office.
The Queen is not amused
Today in England, a hat is frequently worn by both men and women as a 21st century accessory for all sorts of formal and informal occasions, spectator sporting events, garden parties and for taking tea. A millinery department is found in most English department stores to this day, complete right down to the featured fascinators currently in fashion. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth was not well impressed with her niece’s choice of Philip Treacy-designed headwear for the 2011 Royal Wedding. The following summer, Royal Ascot moved to require proper hats on women, banning fascinators from the Royal Enclosure. Princess Beatrice redeemed herself by auctioning the odd piece off to charity on eBay for more than $120,000 after it spawned its own Facebook page.
Bartholomew’s 500 hats
Back in 1938, Dr. Seuss informed us that his character Bartholomew Cubbins had 500 hats in the Kingdom of Didd. The story informs us that even in feudal times, that many hats was annoying to the fictional king. How many good hats do you have as accessories — not just a beanie for the cold or a cover up for the beach — but something stylish for occasion wear? Do you wear a hat to church, to a wedding, for a black tie event or for graduation day? Looking around at those mingling over their mint juleps at this year’s races, perhaps you’ll be inspired to pop a hat upon your own head more often.
American hat tradition
I caught up with one of America’s oldest hatmakers, Goorin Bros., established in 1895. Their handmade hats in neighborhood shops hark back to the day when a hat-buying experience was a friendly, personal one. With 29 shops, this family-owned business based out of San Francisco has created “The Derby Collection” of ready made and custom made (sometimes within 24 hours when a last minute occasion arises) in honor of the “Run for the Roses.” Goorin publicist Monica Powers refers to the company website snippet, “The Kentucky Derby is a spectator sport with one eye on the horserace and the other eye on the latest hat extravagance and summer style.” With an emphasis on head-turning feathers, bold but classic design and crisp straw hats, HRH Queen Elizabeth and even her father, George VI would approve, for he was born in 1895 — just like Goorin Bros.