When Kate Middleton said ‘yes’ to Prince William on the 29th of April, in the year of our lord 2011, she uttered a word heard by millions the world over. While the media’s unsurprisingly lavish coverage heaped attention not only on the royal pair themselves but also on the urgent matter of Kate’s sister and her somewhat risqué sartorial inclinations, it was another guest whose presence caught our eye: the hat. Attendant in a multitude of guises from classic to fantastic, there was hardly a head present—regal or plebeian—that wasn’t covered, reflecting an upswing in the popularity of a long-neglected accessory that’s been slowly making a comeback in the fashion world for some years now.
I can still remember the way my grandfather wore his hat. With a filterless cigarette in his right hand, his hair carefully combed, parted and pomade-slicked under a fedora, he looked like the dapper Don Draper from Mad Men. But that was a long time ago. Some might know the hat better from the classic cinema of the ‘40s and ‘50s; others from Bohéme Sauvage, an event in Berlin that harks back to a world in which the hat had its proper place as an almost obligatory everyday object—for men as much as for women. That age came to an end with the advent of motor nation when the newfound and democratised freedom promised by the car quickly transformed the hat—which hardly had a place (figuratively or literally) in the interior—into a symbol of a rapidly receding, stuffier, and more rigid age. As the hat came to lose its meaning and relevance it was relegated to the sartorial margins, leading a diminished and neglected existence at the back of the wardrobe where it waited forlornly for its annual dusting-down for a special party or wedding. It wasn’t long before donning hats became largely the preserve of well-heeled women attending the few events (the storied Ascot, for example) where outlandish, hat-centred style still burst into extravagant bloom once a year and once a year only.
The Hat is dead, long live the hat!
An accessory denoting affluence or a nostalgic passion of the more wistful amongst us, the hat could have very easily remained a relic of the past had it not been for its sudden and unexpected renaissance. The revival came soon after commentator Timo Frasch wrote a piece for the German newspaper FAZ titled ‘The Hatless Society’ that lamented the demise of the chapeau (a premature obtiuary, as it turns out). And just as we were sitting there, nodding our heads in agreement with Frasch, something marvellous occurred: the hat reared its head once again. For special occasions, romantic rendezvouses, and at the opera, in cafés, parks, clubs and on the way to work—hats have reentered the public sphere. Everywhere you look, there’s a multitude of them: Borsalinos, panamas, fedoras; straw hats and cloches. Hats that strike elegant, stately, opulent notes: running the gamut from barely there minimalism to the jauntily outlandish.
This renaissance doesn’t mean that we’re about to witness a new great age for the hat. When what we wore became a choice dictated as much by pragmatism as anything else, it was clear that the glory days of high-street hatters and milliners were numbered. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see the hat stand reclaim its former ubiquity (try to imagine hat kiosks in buses and trams and you’ll see why). What the revival of the hat does spell is a flourishing of small, independent boutiques devoted to the age-old craft of artisanal hat making. The market might be small, but many hat makers see that as an opportunity for greater creative freedom and higher quality. South Korean designer Jeonga Choi is a shining beacon of this trend. Her recently opened store in Berlin-Friedrichshain is a case study in what lovingly made, elegant and affordable contemporary hats can (and should) be. All she asks of the wearer is a little derring-do and willingness to try something new. And given the comeback hats are currently making, that shouldn’t prove so hard. Welcome to the new hat revolution!
Text: May-Britt Frank-Grosse
Images: Joenga Choi, Carin Baer
Hats by Jeonga Choi will be available at MONOQI Shop from August 27th until September 3rd.