By Cristina Boydell.
When I think of the many English traditions celebrated in the UK – from royal functions and weddings to horse racing events and regattas by the riverside – I immediately think of fancy hats.
Always a fashion statement, hats have long-standing British roots. After the hype of the royal wedding, dressy hats and headpieces have gained a new relevance. Not to mention a global association and international recognition with jolly ol’ England.
Founded by Queen Anne in 1711, the famous Royal Ascot horseracing event celebrated its 300th year last week. During the event, hats could be spotted not just on socialites and the royalty. In fact, London and nearby train stations were filled with people who were making their way to Berkshire for the festivities, and were dressed in tailored dresses, heels and an array of hats and fascinators.
Later on, the Queen, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, along with princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, arrived together in horse-drawn carriages!
The week is as much about the fashion as it is about the horse racing. Women can be seen in extravagant hats and summer brights, often head-to-toe in one solid colour. One of the most popular fashion displays at the Ascot, the Gold Cup Day, took place on Thursday. It is best known as the “ladies day.” If sat in the Royal Enclosure at the Ascot, a strict traditional dress code is enforced, meaning a hat or large fascinator must be worn. Other rules include no midriff, while covering the shoulders, back and knees – so no miniskirts, halters or strapless tops please! Trouser suits must be full length and of matching colour and material. What about the guys, you ask? The gentlemen must wear a top hat with a tailored suit and a waistcoat.
Watching one of my favourite British films last night, Four Weddings & a Funeral, a 90’s classic starring the British hunk Hugh Grant, I could see how the same types of hats were worn even 15 years ago. As my English flatmate said referring to the opening scene, “Now that is a typical proper English wedding.” It seems that traditions have not changed much, if at all, today.
This got me thinking: where exactly do you go to buy head attire for these events? That is – if one isn’t a member or family friend of the Royal family and has one specially made for them, or can’t quite afford couture? From the luxury department store Selfridges on Oxford Street, to a specialized hat boutique in Fulham, to designer goods for less in Putney, I sought out my surrounding areas in London to find a range of luxury hats at diverse price points.
Cherry Chau concession in Selfridges had an exquisite selection that truly sparkled and caught my eye, while Siggi London is a specialized hat boutique with one-of-a-kind, delicate hats that made me really want to find an English wedding to attend as soon as possible! Although TK Maxx had less exclusivity, they were still brand name hats that were more in my price range.
I spoke with the lovely man who works at Siggi London, who kindly invited me in for a private showing of his hat and fascinator displays, even though I arrived at the boutique just after closing hours. He told me which hats were the most popular, and even allowed me to try on a few different styles. It’s been a busy couple of months for them with the Royal Ascot and the wedding season. When I asked if they dressed anyone for the Royal Wedding, he said, “Oh, no one directly in the family, but many attendees, including a few socialites and Prince Will’s godmother.”
Overall, I came across vibrant, intricate hats with feathers, sequins and other fixtures. Some truly unique ones even had a piece of fruit or a bird on them! Let’s recall Princess Beatrice’s, now iconic, Philip Treacy hat from the royal wedding. You can find something perfect to suit your personality from an understated fascinator or summer hat, to a feather the size of an arm on top!
I might be attending the famed annual Henley Royal Regatta that takes place Wednesday, June 29 to Sunday, July 3 in Oxfordshire on the River Thames. The question is – what kind of hat will I wear? I’ll keep you posted.