With all that’s going on in the world of late, it can sometimes be tough to find pockets of inspiration throughout the day. There’s the news, the heightened demands of life and all our usual responsibilities, and they’re pulling our attention left, right and centre.
But, there’s one element of life and style we can always rely on for an instant mood-boost – the fabulous hat.
There’s something magical about millinery, and there’s no limit to the uplifting stories that accompany the art. From the trilby to the top hat, the bucket hat to the beret, every design has its fascinating secrets and a rich history of hidden stories that even the fondest of fans may not know.
So, sit back and relax with a glass of wine in hand (and your favourite hat upon your head) and allow us to bring you a little escapism with a few hatty tales...
Who knows? You might just find a millinery titbit to share at your next soirée...
Tales Of The Top Hat
Top hats, much like all classic occasion wear, were made to make a statement – and a statement, they’ve made.
In recent history, John Heatherington has been hailed as the creative behind the top hat. He was a milliner by trade and one day stepped out of his house with it on, leaving everyone agog at this strange, high hat he was wearing. Later that same day, he was charged with ‘inciting a riot’ with the intention to ‘frighten timid people’. So, it’s safe to say top hats have always caused a little commotion!
In fact, even the silk plush traditionally used to give them their lustrous look has a controversial backstory. Created by two brothers in a factory in France, this was a material so perfect that the demand for it never ceased. However, it’s said those two brothers were once caught up in a heated argument, with one seeking revenge by burning down their entire factory – and with it, all the information on how to create that gossamer silk plush.
To this day, no milliner has even been able to recreate it (and certainly not for lack of trying). This is exactly why vintage top hats are so sought after, with some today fetching an astonishing fee of around £30,000.
Did you know that the saying “mad as a hatter” comes from milliners using mercury in their workshops. Milliners used to use Mercury to extract the fur from rabbits and to improve their stiffening solvents, but it was known to have sent the average milliner barking mad before long. A small price to pay for beautiful headwear ;)
The Business Of Berets
Few hats are as popular as the beret! The style dates back to medieval times where farmers from the sheep-filled Basque Country had such an abundance of wool available they used to make them into hats for warmth. This is some of the earliest recordings of beret style hats and, as you know, the rest was history.
Since then, it’s been adopted for a variety of uses in more modern times. Commissioned by the British and French Armies, military berets exist as their lack of brim allows for an unobstructed line of vision – perfect for when your eyes mean everything. It’s rumoured that seeing these soldiers in their berets is what first brought the hat to the Parisian bohemian-elite’s attention. From humble beginnings to today’s couture reimaginations, the beret fast became an iconic style statement.
Perfectly Practical Hats
Throughout history, and similar to the hands-on uses of the beret, there have been many hats handmade for their applications in the real world. Putting practicality over style, these are hats we wouldn’t normally be as invested in ourselves, but their backstories are brilliant nonetheless!
Bowler hats, for example, were made because gamekeepers needed to protect themselves from poachers present on reserves. They needed a hardy hat, strong enough to withstand a bashing over the head and keep them safe all the while. Since then, the style we know and love has been made in many more fashionable iterations – but this story stays our favourite.
In the case of the French Musketeers, you’ll probably have noticed they wear their wide brimmed cavalier hats tipped up on one side. This was so they could draw their swords freely, without the worry of accidentally customising their beautifully crafted headwear with an off-angled draw.
Royal Hats And Their Not-So-Secret Uses
It’s a well-known fact that the Queen loves her hats, but did you know there’s a deeper reasoning for her headwear choices than simply style? Within the milliner’s circle, it’s often discussed that she chooses her colourful custom pieces specifically so she can stand out amongst crowds and draw attention to her attendance. We love the Queens style and applaud HM for her commitment to dressing up and standing out, it truly does keep the millinery spirit alive here in the UK.
It’s long been traditional for leaders of various communities and cultures to wear hats, posing a great way of signifying their status and importance to their subjects.Think of a royal’s unique crown or a chief’s regal headdress. They work to draw attention towards both the individual and their face, and command the attentiveness of other around.
Perfectly Crafted Panama Hats
While all love the panama hat here (it might just be our favourite style), as it comes with such a beautiful history of craftsmanship too. Not many non-milliners know this, but these hats are actually woven from a plant straw – the straws of the toquilla palm plant, to be exact!
Named after their use in the digging of the Panama canal, these classic hats are actually made in Ecuador and it takes two to three days to weave a typical one. It then takes the milliner who transforms these straws several hours or even days to turn these straws into finished hats.
There’s even a secret style of panama – the Montecristi hat. Undoubtedly the most opulent of the panama hats, these truly make for pieces of livable luxury. This special type of panama can take up to five months to create, with nearly half a year of craftsmanship going into one hat. It’s made by a single weaver throughout the process, and uses straws almost as thin as threads to achieve its ultimate foldability factor.
Now, how’s that for luxury hats?
As if this wasn’t exciting enough, we might just have an exclusive from our new collection to share with you. So, those beautiful, authentic hand-woven straws from Ecuador we mentioned before? Well, we are using some of these fabulous straws this year to create some really exciting pieces for the new Summer collection. You heard it here first! We will be releasing a hand woven and hand dyed bucket hat this year. The block for these pieces were even carved by Jess in house, so every scrap of this hat is hand made and sustainable. We also have a beautiful hairband that is made from hand woven and hand dyed banana fibres in the Philippines and again is hand made into a hairband by Jess in the studio.
There you have it – some of the world’s best hat stories, all in one place.
We love a good hat story here at JCM and it’s our mission and ambition to share these fascinating little titbits with the world. Hats truly can transport you to different places and give you interesting insight into culture, both past and present. All hats and especially our fab pieces, are an easy passport to adventure.
If you want to hear more... you can listen to Jess on BBC radio 6 with Cerys Matthews talking all things Millinery and Mariachi
Author: © Scarlett Hatchwell