There are some brides who wouldn't dream of walking down the aisle wearing a headpiece and veil. They want something that defines their personality with panache and just a hint of coquetry. For them, only a hat will do. "When a bride wears a hat, it's unconventional and a little more surprising than the typical headpiece and veil," says Kelly Christy of Kelly Christy millinery in New York City. "You can do all kinds of wonderful things with hats. They can be dramatic, romantic, whimsical, or traditional -- and not in a stuffy way." In fact, hats have been the preference of some of the world's most fashionable brides: The Duchess of Windsor wore a blue straw halo-style hat trimmed with pink and blue coq feathers, Rita Hayworth chose an enormous cartwheel, and Grace Kelly wore a Juliet cap that matched the lace of her gown.

To find the perfect one for you, consider the following: the shape of your face, the proportions of your body and of your dress, and the style of your event. It is vital that your hat be in proportion to your body and your outfit. A short bride wearing a tea dress will look lovely in a romantic picture hat, but the hat must not be oversize or she'll look like "an enormous mushroom," according to Ellen Christine, a milliner in New York City. A bride wearing a slip dress, on the other hand, should choose a hat with some width to balance her gown. A hat's color and fabric needn't match a dress perfectly, but they should complement it. For harmony, you can trim a hat with a detail from your hem or sleeve. No matter which type of hat you choose, it must fit your head comfortably. "It should sit above the ears, frame the face so the eyes are prominent, and not cast shadows that would ruin your pictures," says Christine. "It shouldn't pinch, either, or squash your hair." So forget a complicated hairdo. A short bob, a long, sleek style you can tuck behind your ears, or a simple updo that exposes your neck will work best.

Women's hats are measured in circumference. To determine your hat size, says Christy, wrap a tape measure around your head, positioning it about one inch above your ear; insert one finger for breathing room. Most millinery boutique hats are sized in inches, but department store hats are more often sized small, medium, and large. According to Christy, a small hat usually measures 21 1/2 inches in circumference, a medium hat is 22 1/2 inches, and a large is 23 inches or slightly more. You will probably find the widest selection of hats at a millinery boutique, but you can also find many styles at a department store with a millinery salon. In either case, be sure to consult an experienced salesperson.

Once you have settled on a few choices, arrange to try the hats on with your bridal attire. If, on the other hand, you don't find your dream creation -- or a hat that fits properly -- you can work with a milliner to design one of your own. Bring a fabric swatch and a picture of your dress, plus pictures of hats that are similar to the one you are imagining, so the milliner can see what you are after. "There's a hat for every face," Christine insists. "And the only way to find the one for yours is by trying on lots and lots of different styles." Don't be afraid to experiment. It may merely be a matter of turning up a brim or tilting a hat at a slight angle to find that special wedding-day crowning glory.


All a Flutter

For centuries, feathers have been a favorite trimming for hats. Huge Edwardian picture hats were covered in them, while chic little 1940s toques sported single ostrich plumes. A feathered hat is a dramatic choice. It will focus all eyes on your face. To avoid getting lost beneath one, choose makeup that's glamorous and glossy (no natural lips and pale eyes). Also, it is preferable to wear your hair pulled back in a chignon or tucked behind your ears; a fancy hairdo or full tousle of curls would compete with the trimming. A feathered hat usually works best with a straight, narrow clothing silhouette such as a tailored suit or long, columnar gown. But it is not an ideal choice for an outdoor wedding, where an unexpected breeze might send your plumes fluttering over your groom. A large feathered hat should be removed for pictures (it can cast shadows or hide your face). You may also want to set it aside during your reception. Above, clockwise from left: A mini cartwheel with ostrich feathers can be worn at an angle to flatter a round face. A pagoda hat with organza petals and ostrich feathers enhances a narrow face. A dramatic white-felt picture hat with feathers is stunning when paired with a portrait collar. A small pillbox covered with marabou lends a whimsical air to a tailored suit.



Some of the loveliest bridal hats are the least fussy. Simple shapes, whether they are large and broad-brimmed or small and head-hugging, are perhaps the most versatile. Left: An ivory felt cloche with a scallop edge and a narrow band can be worn with a 1920s or 1930s dress, a sheath, or even a suit. A bride with a round face should avoid such a close-fitting style. Below: A white horsehair breton is a classic summer hat, perfect for an outdoor wedding. It looks wonderful with a tailored suit (think Royal Ascot races) or a romantic, full-skirted gown (think Scarlett O'Hara). A breton with a large brim is flattering to a wide face; a short bride should choose a breton with a smaller brim.



There's nothing that evokes a particular era more immediately than a hat. Left, left to right: A small velour toque or cocktail hat with a spray of long feathers is as theatrical as those worn by 1930s Hollywood stars, such as Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford; it is a dramatic accent to a tailored pantsuit or a matching coat and dress. The pillbox was made famous in the 1960s by Jacqueline Kennedy; it works best with a fitted dress or classic suit. Below, clockwise from left: A picture hat with a floppy brim was a popular choice in the 1970s; this velour one is a lovely choice for a slim, long-sleeved dress or a fitted suit. A riding hat, shown here in winter-white wool felt, was a favorite of nineteenth-century fashion plates; it works beautifully with a high-neck Victorian gown. A small wool-felt cloche bordered in abstract felt flowers is a charming complement to a vintage dress from the 1920s or 1930s; it looks especially appealing with a short, gamine hairstyle.



Witty, eye-catching hats were a key component in fashionable wardrobes of the 1930s. Sophisticated Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich (who popularized top hats worn with tuxedos) were rarely seen without hats. Today's bride may be inspired to finish off a modern, streamlined suit or a vintage dress with an insouciant, one-of-a-kind hat. Left: An ivory sinamay-straw hat with a large bow is a playful, feminine topping for a tailored suit worn at an afternoon wedding. It is an excellent choice for a tall bride with strong features; its proportions would overwhelm a petite bride. Below, left: An asymmetrical parabuntal-straw creation that is a cross between a fedora and a top hat is a dashing complement to a pantsuit or a long slinky gown. Wear it at a tilt if you have a broad face. Below, right: A felt cloche embellished with a tulle veil, feather brush, and narrow rhinestone hatband will frame a bride's face. Echo the curves of the hat with a fluid, scoop-neck dress or a softly tailored suit with a draped collar.



Swooping hats of natural straw or horsehair summon up visions of outdoor weddings. They are romantic and flirtatious and look especially beautiful with a halter-neck gown, lace minidress, or sleek suit. Left, clockwise from left: A natural straw picture hat wrapped with a grosgrain crisscross adds width to a narrow face. A natural straw pagoda hat trimmed with a blue ribbon at the crown is a chic, Chinese-inspired design popularized in the 1950s by Dior and Balenciaga; it can be worn with a boxy suit or a long, slender dress, perhaps with a soft blue underskirt that would pick up the color of the ribbon. An asymmetrical cloche is overlaid with natural sisal anchored by three stalks of wheat; this unusual hat can be worn with a simple silk dress or a linen suit. Below: A white tagaline-braid breton with a large tagaline-braid bow flatters most faces and softens a tailored suit or dress.



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