“My only hesitation in purchasing a hat long distance from you is that I have no idea
what basic style would look good on me. This is a bit of a leap of faith. “
A Canadian Customer
She’s so right, choosing a hat without trying it on is a bit of a leap of faith, however, over the years we’ve learned some key questions to ask that make the leap less scary and a successful landing more certain.
The first and most crucial step in designing a hat is choosing the basic shape, for the base of a hat is it’s armature and the most memorable element of the finished piece. Polly Singer Couture Hats and Veils bases its blocked hats (those in straw and felt) on 4 or 5 shapes. How we choose the shape is what I’d like to address here.
As in most things, the answer may be found in the questions. There are 3 main things to consider in choosing the type of hat to recommend; What is the client’s physical type? What will she be wearing? How does she see herself?
The Physical Factors
First, I like to know the shape of a clients face, her height and general body type. With this information a few rules of thumb can be applied:
A Round Face generally looks best in hats with a high crown, for example, a shape we call “The Royal” because of it’s similar to the styles favored by Queen Elizabeth II, adds height and lengthens the face.
A Square or Sharp Face is best served by curved lines and assymetry. The style I would recommend for this type face is the one we call Elegant, it’s wide brimmed and has fluid lines that soften a square jaw or sharp chin.
Oval and Heart Shaped Faces are in luck. Almost any style is becoming as long as it works with the height and body type. Generally speaking, large hats should be avoided by very petite women, likewise tall woman who can carry off a much larger, more elaborate hat, say, Anastasia; whereas she might not look as well in a narrow brimmed hat or small fascinator. As a rule the brim of the hat should be no wider than the wearer’s shoulders.
One of the fascinating aspects of fashion is that, at one time or another, anything goes. The old rules of hats matching bags, matching shoes, matching, tooth fillings, have gone the way the way of a bustle. There are, however, a few guidelines that we use to narrow down the shape choices. I list them here simply as tips because, for every rule I tic off, I recall a brilliant exception.
Flowing Dresses and Sun Dresses look great when accessorized by romantic hats like the one we call Elegant having wide and curved brims. Bare shoulders are particularly appealing when shaded by a deep brimmed hat. I like the deep, slightly down turned brim of the Holly style with strapless and halter dresses.
Tailored Dresses and Suits work best with a more tailored hat design. The Royal, Eliza and Holly designs may carry heaps of flowers and feathers yet, because of crisp geometric lines, are able to bridge the gap between lavish ornament and a more severe outfit. Those choosing a pants suit might be wise to avoid large hats or very ornate designs, selecting instead, a smaller neater head piece in keeping with the narrow silhouette of trousers. One of the Kates, inspired by Kate Middleton, works well with tailored clothes and wrap dresses. They are worn at an angle, can be cleverly trimmed and shine with above a simple outfit.
Finally, one consideration trumps the rest; that is,
The final point, and I think the most important variable in what flatters a woman is this: What does she feel best wearing? It’s a hard question to frame. I can generally intuit by speaking to a client which styles fall within her comfort zone. Some people, regardless of their perfect oval face or statuesque build will not feel at home in a large hat. On the other hand, I’ve seen tiny ladies pull off hats which are positively vast — over the top in both size and ornament.
I’m reminded of Dorthea’s comment regarding jewelry in George Elliot’s Middlemarch,
“Souls have complexions too : what will suit one will not suit another.”
(bonus advice: If you haven’t already, read Middlemarch. It’s Jane Austen with backbone.)
We are happy to help our customers explore the various hat options, I for one, always learn something, plus; I get a kick out of taking that leap of faith with a stranger, aware that a few time honored guidelines will help stick the dismount.
By Jan Masters Yon