Holiday Fascinator: a spoonful of fun

Mademoiselle Colette

Thrilling things often come in small packages – that has never been more true than this autumn at Polly Singer Couture Hats and Veils. Just in time for the holiday party season, we’re unveiling a collection of hats so petite and precious they should be measured in carats.

The seven bewitching new fascinators run the gamut from unabashedly romantic to sophisicated and mysterious. The common characteristic is that each little headpiece packs a head turning punch. In some of the designs, Moulin Rouge and Domino for instance, much of the dazzle is created by the exhuberant interplay of long feathers and lush silk flowers.

Moulin Rouge
With several of the designs, veiling sets the mood —and the moods do vary. In the case of Frappé an ivory bird cage veil whispers innocently of romance. Frappé is popular with brides as a less formal wedding veil, or as a reception headpiece. It also works fabulously well with winter white wool. On quite the opposite end of the spectrum is Kir Royal. A mysterious dark veil, shot with white velvet floats beneath rich black trims and violet velvet. Tutti Frutti owes it’s whimsical appeal to an amusing chin length veil across which candy colored dots play giving the illusion of a constant shower of confetti.

Kir Royale
Tutti Frutti

All of these designs play well with a little black dress. Moulin Rouge and Grenadine Fizz take advantage of crimson’s affinity for black and white. Moulin Rouge brings the glamor of a casino to basic black. More playful, yet every bit as eye catching is Grenadine Fizz with its wisp of a veil and sassy scarlet and white trim.

Grenadine Fizz

Crème de Menthe is a study in movement and vivid color. Among the dancing black feathers iridescent peacock spires glimmer, working their timeless magic.

Creme de Menthe

These charming little hats range in price from $190. to $250. and are brilliant at breathing new life into last year’s party dress. The right fascinator can transform an otherwise conservative ensemble into a stunning holiday look. This Thanksgiving, I refuse to go over the river and through the woods dressed like a pilgrim. This sweet whimsey in Cocoa guarantees that I won’t be upstaged by a turkey. Whether you want to be the girl in the limelight or the mysterious siren of the shadows I encourage you to consider a fascinator. In fact, you might as well take two —remember, they’re small.

photo by Elaine Shay
By Jan Masters Yon

Note: We enjoy hearing from readers and invite your comments. My email address is Polly may be reached at We both look forward to your input.

Schiap” on Line

‘Or give me a new Muse with stockings and suspenders

And a smile like a cat

With false eyelashes and finger-nails of carmine

And dressed by Schiaparelli, with a pill-box hat.’

from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice

Once upon a time, (In the 1920’s) a young Italian beauty was invited to a ball in London. Sadly, she didn’t have a suitable gown. Undaunted, the young woman subbed in as her own fairy godmother. She bought some dark blue fabric, draped it, pinned it and off to the ball she went in an original, more than likely the original Schiaperelli gown. Of course the young woman was Elsa Schiaparelli, who became one of the leading fashion designers of the twentieth century.

Schiaparelli, Schiap’ as she became known among her friends, dressed Anita Loos, The Duchess of Windsor, and socialite Daisy Fellows (the Singer sewing machine heiress). She dressed many movie stars both on and off the screen, including Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson and Tallulah Bankhead. She costumed May West in the movie Every Day’s a Holiday and and Zha Zha Gabor in Moulin Rouge.

Even more interesting than the people she dressed are those she collaborated with, among them, surrealist Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, and scultptor Alberto Giacometti. Her connections with the art world ran deep, she served as an influence and was influenced by a number of the important schools of her era, notably surrealism and cubism. . Her rival Coco Chanel refered to Elsa Schiaparelli as “that artist who makes clothes.” Salvador Dali designed the fabric for her Lobster Dress which was worn by Wallis Simpson and photographed by Cecil Beaton. Dali was influential in a number of Schiaparelli’s more avant garde designs such as the Tears Dress and the Skeleton Dress.

One of the most beautiful examples of artistic collaboration is with the French artist, poet and film maker Jean Cocteau. Cocteau produced two drawings for Schiaparelli which were translated into designs for a jacket and this evening coat for the Autumn 1937 collection.

That same year, Schiaparelli’s Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection featured a hat shaped like a woman’s high heeled shoe, with the heel standing straight up and the toe tilted over the wearer’s forehead.Her hats continued to be witty and fascinating; one with a hen in a nest was on the cover of VOGUE in 1938.

Schiaparelli loved color and used it in eccentric combinations. Often she slashed somber ensembles with a vibrant hue, for example, a simple black dress worn with crimson stockings or a lime green jacket. She is the recognized mother of “shocking pink”, the hot pink hue that became associated with the house of Schiaparelli. She was the first to use shoulder pads, animal print fabrics, and zippers dyed the same colors as the fabrics.

Polly Singer Couture Hats and Veils boasts two Schiaparelli hats in the archive. (Unfortunately, these hats are not offered for sale.) Arabesque is an example of a hat perfectly made to electrify a monochromatic ensemble. A vivid cerelean blue, this striking hat is more than capable of lighting up a little black dress or charcoal suit. Elsa is a beautifully sculpted hat in one of the classic Schiaparelli animal prints. Both pieces exemplify design gambits that are purely Schiap.

How much fun would it be to face the wintery winds in a Schiap’? I’m reminded of a character in Nancy Mitford’s novel Love in a Cold Climate (If you haven’t read this, you’re in for a treat!). The character, Fanny, wanted to wear the Schiaparelli label on the outside of a jacket “so that people would know where it came from”.

Elsa Schiaparelli died in 1973. She was buried wrapped in a chinese robe of shocking pink silk.

Jan Masters Yon

Hats Off to the Malakpour Sisters


As a child I wore corrective shoes. For how many years, I don’t remember. I do vividly remember the day I woke up to a pair of crimson cowboy boots via Uncle Dobby (maternal uncle, drinker, charmer and general blacksheep.) Uncle Dobby was on a toot and the rodeo was in town, I got lucky. Those little old boots were so delicious, so not the thing to wear with my wardrobe of pastel cottons, they changed me, or at least changed my taste in footwear forever.

Here’s the thing, they were beautiful objects. Far lovelier than the Mary Jane’s I thought I wanted. What’s more, those boots were made for walkin’. They walked into my heart leaving the door open for a parade of hip yet easy shoes.

The red ‘kickers were followed by Weejuns, flip flops, ballet technique shoes, Chuck Taylors, more cowboy boots, Stan Smiths, japanese construction boots (Jika tabi), wrestling hightops, moccasins, harachis, character shoes, ball room dancing shoes, 1940’s nun oxfords, driving mocs, topsiders, espadrilles, swedish clogs, paddock boots, and, most recently, black on black, monochrome Chucks. (I live in them!). There were also exquisite stilettos, strappy sandals, pointe shoes, high heeled business girl pumps, and numerous variations on the “you -know-what- me” shoe. I’ve got the bunions to prove it. Never-the-less, My heart remains with the first group, the styles which are both hip and walkable. Shoes with legs. Shoes that give your feet wings. Shoes that not only allow you to dance but make you want to dance.

That said, I’m happy to bring to your attention Newbark, a just minted line of low heeled, yet well heeled shoes. These hand made slippers are aesthetically high profile enough to wear with a ball gown, sufficiently low profile to slip into an evening bag. I see them as a stand-in for stilettos when the heels have become diva irksome.

Designed by stylists the Malakpour sisters, Maryam and Marjan, Newbarks are sleek foldable kid flats constructed in the tradition of Argentine shoe making. A cross between ballet technique slippers and gentlemen’s bedroom slippers, they combine the traditionally disparate attributes comfort and chic. Buttery Newbarks are available in a range of colors and finishes and are sized for both men and women. And (drum roll) they come with a matching carry bag.

These little shoes might have it all, the only possible drawback is that, at around $350, they are a little pricey. On the other hand, to someone spending an agonizing evening in unwise foot wear, $350. is a bargain. I’ve been in situations where I would have ripped off my engagement ring and swapped it for a pair of Bunny slippers. If you’ve read my Derby Tips, note that I recommended tucking a spare pair of walkable shoes in your handbag. Newbarks seem to be just the ticket, the winning ticket. Hats off to Uncle Dobby and the clever Malakapour sisters for recognizing ideas when their times have come.

The Guys in the White Hats

I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer.
~Violette Leduc, Mad in Pursuit

Labor Day officially brings the curtain down on my favorite season; fortunately, there are, in Kentucky at least, 3 more weeks of Indian summer, I plan to revel in every hot, humid, sticky moment.

However reluctant I am to let go of summer, I understand that it is time to put away the white accessories. White shoes, you can have them. I inherited my father’s extremely long feet. Daddy claims to be able to span a piano keyboard octave with his big toe and pinky toe. How does he know this? Why would he admit this? One would hope one’s father would show a little more dignity. I don’t know about you, but I smell bourbon. Anyway, whatever talents come with the ancestral feet, our boats are too long for white shoes any time of the year. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have gone on to do well at Wimbleton.

White hats, on the other hand…This was the year for white hats. The summer was hot and so were light colored straws. When we were there in July, New York was a sea of Panama hats. The story of the Panama hat is interesting in that it begins with a punch line. Where did the Panama hat originate? Pay attention, this could be a trick question — along the lines of who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb. The Panama Hat, actually originated in and continues to be produced in Ecuador. During the gold rush of the mid 1800’s, prospectors flocked to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. There they purchased hats imported from Ecuador. At that time, the hats came to be known by the name of their point of purchase rather than their place of origin. In any event, the Panama hat, which by rights should be known as “The Ecuador Hat”, became very popular.

One unwitting promoter of this style hat was President Theodore Roosevelt who appeared in the newspaper wearing a fino. The news photo catapulted the Panama into the spot of “must have accessory” of the day. In 1925 Turkey banned the fez and mandated the use of Panama hats. By 1944 the Panama had become Ecuador’s primary export.

A Panama hat is made from toquilla, a strong supple fiber harvested from a palm-like plant found in Ecuador’s coastal lowlands. The Ecuadorian artisans are considered to be among the world’s finest weavers. The weave of a high quality Panama is said to be so tight that the hat can be used to transport water. One top grade hat can take months to weave and when finished, is pressed at least 5 times to set it’s shape.

Like the top hat (see post “More on Top Hats” ) the Panama hat is traditionally worn by men –the coolest of men, I might add. Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Charlie Chan, Sean Connery and Mick Jagger to name a few. If Sam Sheppard and Liam Neeson don’t have them, I’d be surprised. Atticus Finch wore one in To Kill a Mockingbird, Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Before this summer’s unisex Panama hat boom, one would occasionally find a woman in the cool cool shade of a Panama. Madonna, Lauren Bacall, and Whitney Houston have been spotted in them. Sarah Jessica Parker wore a Panama style fedora by Hermes in last year’s Sex and the City Movie. (see post Sex and the City and the Hats).

Madonna can pull off a man’s hat because she’s Madonna. For those who seek the ex-pat look in a more traditionally feminine style I suggest, Symphony in White or, for an even more feminine style, Purely Elegant, Summer Wedding or our most popular Simply Elegant have the tropical feel as well as romantic lines. If you’re so lucky as to be escorted by a man sporting a Panama hat, any of these designs perfectly completes the picture.

I don’t deny summer is drawing to a close, however I refuse to let it go easily. I for one, plan to be dragged into autumn wearing a cool white hat; screaming for iced tea and kicking my great big long bare feet.

by Jan Masters Yon

Hats Off to Volunteers

The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers.  ~Everett Mámor

Labor Day. What a concept. Lucky for me, few of my jobs have felt much like work.(Creative Department motto: We play for a living.) One Labor Day, ever unable to resist the adorably clever, I did give birth to a child. Happy Birthday, Dear Boy.

This is the first in a series of Monday morning blogs on the theme of appreciation. I think we’ll call it Hat’s Off to… Today being Labor Day, I’d like to kick it off with a hats off to volunteers in general.

As a child, whenever I groused about having to collect for the March of Dimes or wondered why crates of Girl Scout Cookies lived in our hall, my mother the Sunday School Teacher would counter with a passage from the gospel of St. Luke, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much is required.” A sense of noblesse oblige took root. I was nearly grown before I realized that we were not the Carnegies, in fact, not all that much, at least in the form of liquid assets, had been given us. By the time I had my own children, I had had a reverse epiphany, realizing that, I have in fact been given a great deal; for one thing, a husband whose work ethic allowed me to stay home. Enter the early warning signs of V.D., (Volunteer’s Disorder), a spastic condition in which one’s arm shoots into the air following no apparent signal from the brain.

Since the early onset of VD, I’ve, knocked on doors, driven around town with a giant papier mache octopus on the roof of my car, taken night school Spanish, baked thousands of cookies, and addressed angry mobs of deadly soccer parents, and once, made an evening dress for a 15 foot Barbie Doll. In December, when most people are putting the finishing touches on the tree or deciding which Christmas sweater to wear, I work Nutcracker, quick changing sweaty, high strung ballerinas, wrangling rats and angels, even driving the dreaded Swan Boat. (note: The Swan Boat handles worse than a sedan with an octopus on the roof.)

Not that I’m patting myself on the back here. Truth be told, my giving has on more than one occasion been of the white elephant variety. For instance, once I accidentally embezzled a sports booster fund. For some reason, my cakes were never the first to go at the bake sale. As anyone in the snow scene will tell you, with Mrs. Yon at the helm, the swan boat crippled more dancers that shin splints. It doesn’t matter how much chaos I caused, I received much. Forget the people you might help by volunteering, that’s a cliche. Here are the real reasons to answer the call.

1) The people you meet.
Working bingo is like having served in the trenches, regardless of their backgrounds or political differences, comrads in arms form unique bonds. Were it not for volunteer projects, I’d never have found myself sharing a beer with a genuine rocket scientist and The Empress of the Short Row Heel, a back slid Mormon with an acid tongue. Entertaining Tip: If your address book contains both Drag Queens and Drag Racers, your dinner parties will become the stuff of legends.

2) The skills you acquire.
Do you know how to install herringbone bracing? I do. I learned on the job when I was 12. Teach yourself to drive a stick shift in a church van full of pre-teens jacked on Koolaid, no question about it, you’ll be able to handle anything life throws at you. Furthermore, volunteers quickly learn “to make do”. I’ll bet McGyver got his start chairing a poorly funded fund raising committee.

3) The other stuff you won’t have to do.
I admit it, I hate to Christmas shop and wouldn’t be caught dead in a Christmas sweater. There isn’t enough egg nog in the world to make me look forward to hosting an open house. For 12 years, the Nutcracker has given me something precious, that is, a water tight excuse to be a seasonal slacker, a Grinch among Tiny Tims. Volunteering allows me guilt free access to things I’d rather be doing. I’d rather get out the vote than clean out the refrigerator; stuffing envelopes is, to me, far more stimulating than stuffing a turkey.

Here’s the main reason to volunteer: In busy, demanding lives, giving of oneself is so extravagant. When your inbox is overflowing and your kitchen floor is sticky there’s nothing more luxurious than derailing on a volunteer project. Go “plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. Whatever the motivation, Hats off to the volunteers, cogs in calling trees, food chains, dunking booths, and car pools–those who recognize that they have been given much.

Speaking of volunteers, I could use some help with this blog. I’d like your input on people, companies, products, ideas to recognize in the Hat’s Off blog. If any of you worthy readers run across something worth mentioning, from a great shade of nail polish to a person or organization which should be commended, let me know. You may reach us by way of the comment box below or by emailing me directly at I thank you in advance, you may now put down your hands.

There really was a 15 foot Barbie.
There really was a 15 foot Barbie.

by Jan Masters Yon


I can always tell by the opening credits if a movie is any good. Title and credits in a well chosen font indicates a director or producer with the smarts to hire a good art director and the wisdom to let him do his job. OK, I admit to being a font snob, but really it works. Remember this, good opening credits=good film.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a movie is good even after you’ve seen it. Films are so slickly produced these days, it’s easy to be dazzled by brilliant technique into thinking the film is on the whole brilliant; then, 2 weeks or 2 months later find it completely unmemorable. I have a rule of thumb here as well. If I find myself thinking about the movie the next day, it’s a keeper. It’s a film I’ll be able to recall a year from now and will want to see again.

This morning I woke up thinking about Julie/Julia. I went to see the film for the acting. I even did my homework the day before, renting and watching Doubt, an excellent piece that also stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. When I saw Julie/Julia the following day, I hoped to be blown away by Meryl Streep’s handling of 2 very different characters; Sister Aloysius from Doubt, a grim nun who considers sugar in tea to be a shameless indulgence and Julia Child, light hearted gourmand for whom too much was never enough (at least in the case of butter). I love the whiplash that occurs when good theater craft is able to yank viewers from one reality to another. I was not disappointed.

Much about food and cooking, the movie itself was a feast, a visual one. Naturally, Paris was beautiful. It’s almost obscene how perpetually photogenic that city is. And then, there were the hats. The 1950’s was the last decade in which most women wore hats on a daily basis. Julia Child and her associates Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle wore a parade of wonderful hats in the movie. The fashion of the time called for small, close fitting head wear. These clever little hats were worn nestled in the short wavy or curly coiffures of the day. These designs took up very little space yet were fashioned in such rich, interesting materials and were so inventively designed as to approach sculpture. I was just charmed. I have a mind to chop off my hair, learn how to do pin curls and buy a whole wardrobe of cunning little vintage hats.

Some early scenes in the movie are concerned with Child’s pre- Cordon Blue days as she cast about for a hobby or vocation. In one scene she’s taking bridge lessons, in another, trying her hand at hat making. Neither pursuit was a success. Barbara Vacheri of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quipped,

“Thank goodness Julia Child found hat-making a bore. Otherwise, she might never have pursued her passion for food — she ate and cooked with gusto and joy — ”

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder, had the amazing Mrs. Child taken to millinery with her customary gusto and joy, can you imagine what delicious confections we might be wearing today?

by Jan Masters Yon
in memory of Bob McPheeters who would have loved the movie.

Derby Tip of the Week

Turnout matters.

To me, a visit to the paddock is worth fighting the crowds, for, in addition to supporting to my persistent (though erroneous) belief that I’m a good judge of horseflesh, I derive pleasure from admiring the grooms’ art. Beautifully conditioned, impeccably turned out thoroughbreds simply radiate breeding and care.

I’m conviced that, with a regime of customized nutrition, daily exercise and the tender ministrations of professional grooms, I too would dazzle . Well, it’s too late to do much about the nutrition and exercise but here are are few grooming tips that will help you sparkle on Derby Day.

Use moisturizer and/or foundation with sunblock. A bright red nose might be attributed to Mint Juleps. ( Juleps bear responsibility for enough shenanigans as it is.) Remember, any sunblock you carry into Churchill Downs must be in a plastic container.

Before Derby Day, apply the cosmetics you plan to use, put on your hat, and step outside with a mirror. Hat color will definitely effect the tone of your complexion. Large areas of color near the face reflect onto and tint the face. Color interaction is also a factor. Do you remember the color wheels we made in middle school art class? When predicting how one hue will affect another, think complements. The complement to purple is yellow, thus a lavender hat will make your face look more sallow. A green hat will bring out warm tones in the skin. Sunlight filtering through the brim of a hat is another factor in how we preceive color. Rose tones is a perfect example. Pink hats do wonderful, age defying things to a woman’s complexion. I still don’t know which color dress I’ll wear to Derby, but I can tell you this, my hat will be pink. Check out your make up with the hat, you may find that some adjustments, a warmer or cooler foundation, more or less blush, may be in order.

As mentioned above, step out in the sunlight with your mirror. Yes, I know this can be painful for a woman of a certain age, I recommended it all the same. We’re all hoping Derby Day will be sunny and clear. However the kind of day that brings us a fast track also has unforgiving lighting. Strong natural light calls for the sheerest foundation possible. If you need more coverage, make sure the finish is well blended, flawless. I’m younger than Dracula yet still at an age where I’d rather avoid mirrors and sunlight altogether, however, I do want to see the make-up, flaws and all, before anyone else does. Be brave, move toward the light.

By the same token, work with your hair and your hat before the morning of the Derby. Experiment with pinning bangs out of the way, straightening or curling the hair that shows beneath your hat. This is a good place to mention that, while the label sewn inside your hat band indicates what the milliner considers to be the back of the hat, don’t be a slave to labels, experiment, often the hat will look better rotated. Anyway, what do milliners know? By the time Derby rolls around,they’re all mad as hatters anyway.

In the realms of thoroughbred racing and ballet, two of my favorite worlds, turnout matters.

by Jan Masters Yon

Happy New Year, Hogmanay, whatever…

Homanay in Edinburgh
Hogmanay in Edinburgh

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.
Oprah Winfrey

Let me be the first to wish you a happy Hogmanay. “Hogmanay”, aside from being a cool name for a band, is the Scots word for the last day of the year. Hogmanay begins a celebration that lasts through the night until the morning of “Ne’erday” or New Years Day.

In America, our New Year traditions include, champagne toasts, kisses at midnight and eating black eyed peas for luck. Since these are three undeniably pleasant activities, ones that I just may resolve to incorporate into my daily routine, one might wonder if the new year celebration could possibly be improved upon. Here are a few traditions from other cultures we might consider borrowing.

In Equador “ano viejo” is celebrated by constructing a dummy which is stuffed with old newspapers and firecrackers. The old is forgotten and the new is welcomed as the scarecrow is set afire at midnight. Considering the newspaper headlines of late, I’m inclined to adopt this practice; however, postponing it to January 20 seems even more appropriate.

In Iran people go visiting bringing gifts of fruit, flowers and colored eggs. When they kiss they charmingly say, “May you live for 100 years.”

In India, it’s a New Years tradition to decorate automobiles with flowers and palm leaves, blessing the vehicles to run well in the new year. Click and Clack, are you listening? Since my family’s vintage fleet needs all the help it can get, I dare not echew this custom.

In China celebration of the new year begins with a spotless house. We will not be adopting this custom. I do however, like the practice of dressing as a lion and dancing in the street. Perhaps I’ll amend it to wearing animal print (Zuri or Kona Gold or Caroline’s Cheetah) and coercing my reluctant, rhythmically challenged, husband into a discreet foxtrot. By the way, 2009 is the year of the Ox, one may encounter a greater than usual degree of stubborness.


Here’s a good one. In Denmark old crockery is stockpiled all year long to throw at the homes of friends on New Year’s Eve. The next morning, many broken dishes on the porch indicates that a household has many friends, not as one might suppose, that there has occurred a family dust-up. (possibly because one spouse likes to dance and the other doesn’t…)

And one of my favorites. In Romania, there is a tradition of listening to hear if farm animals talk on New Years Day. If the animals speak it is considered bad luck. I’ll say, our dog Tag knows all the family secrets and our cats are just spiteful enough to make stuff up. My dear old horse Top Hat is a good listener and has been my confessor for years. If our animals begin to talk it will be very bad fortune indeed.

My favorite symbol of the American new year is the adorable New Year’s Baby. As if the delicious image of a smiling infant could possibly be improved upon, the baby icon is traditionally decked out in a top hat, one of our favorite silhouettes in head wear.

Lady Salisbury
Lady Salisbury
This year Polly introduced several new designs based on the top hat. Miss Skittles, Lady Salisbury, and Celia for day. All of them versatile and perfectly suitable for throwing dishes at your neighbor’s porch. Also in her collection are a number of witty little top hats for party wear,
White Mischief
White Mischief
Cabaret, Blanche Nuit, Mademoiselle Magnifique, and White Mischief. Any of these hats is preferable to the lamp shade traditionally favored by revelers.

However you choose to ring in the New Year, let the celebrate begin with most sincere wishes from us for a happy and prosperous 2009. Kiss, kiss–May you live for 100 years.

by Jan Masters Yon

More on Top Hats

Nothing now could take the wind out of my sails.
Because I’m invited to step out this evening
With top hat and white tie and tails.
Irving Berlin

Royal Ascot, Fred Astaire, riding to hounds, Cabaret, impressarios, John Singer Sargent’s incomparable portrait of Lord Ribbesdale, Willy Wonka, opening night at the opera, Alice’s mad teaparty – countless things whimsical and romantic have a common icon. One happy day I was given the task of choosing a name for my first field hunter, a compact, glossy black gentleman of a horse; it was after very little hesitation that I knew. Such a once in a lifetime animal must be called Top Hat.

For one thing, the top hat is associated with gentlemen. In 1890, the St. James Gazette writes “When we are told, ‘He’s a fellow who wears a top hat and a frock coat,’ we know sufficiently well what sort of fellow he is”.

Originally, the top hat was modeled after the tall hats made of beaver in the early 1800’s. During the early part of the twentieth century which, by the way, is known as The Century of the Top Hat, animal fur was replaced by “hatter’s plush” or silk fabric. This made the hat more accessible to the rising middle class and must have been greeted with enthusiasm by the North American Beaver population.

The popularity of the top hat, or “high hats” as they were called in the 1920’s fell off when men began to wear bowlers and fedoras for day wear. One of the factors in the decline of the top hat is that they were not suitable for mass production. A top hat must be hand made by a skilled hatter. Sadly, few young people were willing to take up the trade.

Those of us who are reluctant to consign the top hat to extinction are in luck. Polly Singer Hats Couture Hats and Veils has added several new top hat designs to the line. For a distinguished, distinctly equestrian look Polly has taken the classic equestrian style top hat and experimented with various trims.

Lady Salisbury, named for the first woman to ever hold the position of Master of Foxhounds, has the flattering proportions of the style hat that is still required attire in upper level dressage competition. Lady Salisbury, available in black or navy sports a feminine swath of black veiling.

Miss Skittles, inspired by Catherine Walters, a nineteenth century beauty who made a name for herself as a horsewoman and lady cavalier is distinguished by a lush hand band fashioned from pheasant feathers in autumn colors which is a perfect complement with earth-toned fashions.

Celia, is the most whimsical of this line, again, well bred equestrian lines ornamented with black satin ribbon, several iridescent feathers secured by tiny seed pearls. Appropriately named, this most unorthodox tophat in the collection honors Celia Fiennes whose diary entitled Through England on a Side Saddle records Celia’s extraordinary horseback journey through 17th Century England.The design Celia is as lively and bold as it’s namesake.

All three of the aforementioned top hats are perfect with suits, and pants suits and complement all styles of outerwear from dressiest coats to your beloved knock-about-jacket. For the evening however, Polly has taken the top hat down a more fanciful path. Minaturized and unrestainedly decorative her mini top hats are a spoonfuls of fun!

In the spirit of Madmoiselle Magnifique, the new design, Cabaret is a delightfully droll headpiece with a lot going on– a flume of airy crinoline, irridescent peacock feathers and stripped coque in black and fuchsia make this hat a stunner. Nothing more than a simple black dress is needed to create a sensation.

During the holiday season one sure fire way to stand out among the ubiquitous black is by wearing winter white. Polly has designed a tiny white top hat for this contrarian’s choice. White Mischief is a crisp little sinamay top hat banked in white veiling and tufts of white feathers. The look is both ethereal and witty. The hat can be customized by touches of color or done in all white as a sophisticated bridal look with today’s sleek strapless gowns.

My dear horse Top Hat is living out his retirement in a vast field of Kentucky bluegrass having during his career carried me on breathless chases and my child over even more nerve-wracking 4-H jump courses. He has on occasion submitted with great humor to wearing a Dracula cape or butterfly wings in costume classes. Everything ever asked of him, he’s performed with impeccable manners, courage and great wit– a gentleman to the tips of his ears, ever mindful of living up to the name “Top Hat”.

by Jan Masters Yon

Royal Ascot: Win by a Head


Everyone has a head, so everyone has a possibility to wear a hat. People feel better for wearing them.
Philip Treacy

The Royal Ascot Race Meet, Ladies Day in particular, is one of the high holy days of millinery design. Beautiful, luscious, sometimes daring hats repose on every head. In accordance with the Dress and Etiquette Code requirement for entrance into the royal enclosure, strapless dresses, halter tops, bare midriffs, spray-on tans and any display of underwear is strictly frowned upon, however hats for ladies and top hats for gentlemen are compulsory. Yet another reason to be an anglophile.

In my opinion, Ascot 2008 saw the British Royal Family better turned out than ever before. According to United Press International, bookmakers in England reported a high number of bets were placed predicting that Queen Elizabeth II would break with tradition and attend opening day sporting a fascinator, that is, a small lavishly trimmed hat worn at a jaunty angle.


However, the Queen arrived wearing a pastel blue Phillip Somerville squarely set, medium brimmed hat to accessorize her Steward Previn dress and coat. On Thursday, Ladies Day, Her Royal Highness was both elegant and chic in a black and ivory print dress/coat ensemble topped with an asymmetric brimmed hat in ivory with a spray of black silk leaves. All three pieces were designed by Rachel Trevor-Morgan.


The entrance of Queen Elizabeth may have left a raft of disappointed bettors in its wake but the younger members of the royal family overwhelmingly chose the fascinator as a race day favorite.

Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne appeared in a gravity defying monochromatic saucer hat in cream colored straw trimmed with a brace of large cream colored roses.


HRH Princess Beatrice wore a smart, small white fascinator trimmed in black, her sister HRH Princess Eugenie sported a small blue cap heaped with blue silk roses and periwinkle blue cut coque feathers. Both hats were worn low on the forehead and off-center. Thursday, Ladies Day, both granddaughters of the Queen followed the trend of neutral colors and asymmetry with small cream colored hats worn at dramatic angles.


I’m pleased to tell you that All You Need is Love Hats and Veils was represented at Ascot – in the Royal Enclosure, no less. Recently, Polly had the enviable task of creating a hat for a young woman’s first visit to Ascot. The resulting design was, as you might guess, neutral in color, designed to be worn off kilter, trimmed with a cascade of stripped coque feathers tucked under a smartly angled brim. A prototype of the hat and Nicole Miller dress, courtesy of Lexington’s Bella Rose which inspired it is shown here modeled by Isabel Abbott Yon, Junior Member of the Lexington Ballet Company.


One needn’t attend The Royal Ascot Race Meet to learn from it. More pictures of racegoers can be seen by visiting the following links.

To recap, so to speak, millinery trend spotters, be alert to fascinators, monochromatic, neutral palettes and shallow crowned saucer hats trim both over and under the brim – all worn on the diagonal. Inspired by Ascot, Polly will be posting some new designs along these lines. I encourage you to watch for them on the website and, as always, will be interested to hear your opinions.

By Jan Masters Yon