Tis the saratoga season August 2011

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Hats the way to do it…

Big brims, no brims, feathers, flowers, ribbons, pearls—you will see all styles atop the heads of many women this month with racing season in full swing in Saratoga Springs.

Hats have played an important role in the history of horse racing, dating back as far as the world famous Royal Ascot in the UK, where all guests had to follow a strict dress code: males in full morning dress and top hat, while females weren’t allowed to show bare midriffs or shoulders and hats were required. The royal dress code caught on quickly at major racetracks in the US; patrons taking in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs have been enjoying this tradition since 1875.

The recent Royal Wedding has brought hats to the forefront again, more specifically the “fascinator”, which is becoming a wardrobe must-have, especially in social circles. Known as the cocktail hat, it’s giving retailers throughout the Capital Region a welcome boost. Fascinators are not quite hats, but they have the features of one; they’re like little centerpieces on a headband. If you watched the royal nuptials in April there’s no doubt you saw them. Some were small, some were tall and some were downright ugly. But regardless, the fascination is alive and well.

“It’s definitely continued since the Royal Wedding,” said Natalie Sillery, owner of Saratoga Trunk in Saratoga Springs. Sillery opened her Broadway store in 1995, and aside from elegant women’s clothing, she has always sold eye-catching hats.

“My mother always wore hats. I grew up wearing hats. I thought about a hat almost as much as I thought about my outfit.”

That’s evident when you walk into the shop, especially this month when hats are a must-have accessory for many track-goers. “On Opening Day, if you’re not in a box, you want the biggest and showiest [hat].”

The styles of hats she carries range from three-dimensional, diminutive in size, or vertical. Those hats are popular by day, but come night, the fascinator is what people are looking to don.
 
“They’re lighter and easier to wear and if you’re wearing it into the night, women don’t have to worry about their hair,” explained Sillery.

Whether it’s a small, feathered fascinator or a big brimmed work of art, hats have certainly evolved. Headwear for women began in the Middle Ages when the church decreed that their hair should be covered. The word ‘milliner’, a maker of women’s hats, was first recorded in the late 17th century when the term referred to the products for which Milan and the northern regions of Italy were known, such as ribbons, gloves and straws.

During the first half of the 19th century, the bonnet dominated women’s fashion. From the 1930s to the 1950s the tendency was for hats to have higher crowns with smaller brims. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, quite the trendsetter, made the pillbox hat all the rage in the 1960s. The 70s offered the big floppy hat, and whatever the late Princess Diana wore in the 1980s and 90s is what all women worldwide wore.

Wearing a hat is more than a fashion statement; it’s an attitude.

“In a hat, a woman exudes confidence, mystery, allure, self-respect and protection from the sun,” said Sillery.

That sun protection comes with some help from the bigger brimmed hats. Susanne Dura, owner of Fancy Schmancy on Western Avenue in Albany, specializes in the bigger hats; in fact she makes the ones she sells in her store.

“I’ll buy the pieces that go on the hat and decorate the dishes,” she said. “They’re not too crazy and wild. We try to keep them more conservative for people who aren’t too sure.”

Dura sells around 25 hats per racing season. They start at $149 and can go as high as $600. Like Sillery, she has received a lot of inquiries for the fascinator.

“A lot of people are trying fascinators because they’re easy. It doesn’t mess up your hair and they’re not hot.”

It’s too soon to tell if the fascination with fascinators is just a craze or if we’ve got a new trend on our hands. Whether choosing a traditional wide brim hat for day or a fancy fascinator for a night on the town, you can’t go wrong.

“You put a hat on, your shoulders go up, your chin goes up. You’re finished,” said Sillery.

We can’t forget about the men!
By Amber Pusatere

The Flat Cap

The flat cap adds interest to a casual outfit by giving your tired jeans and t-shirt a unique style. This originated in the UK as being associated with working class men.
The Fedora

A man in a fedora, appropriate only for dressier outfits, is now seen as a trendsetter. Fedoras will make you look manly and a bit mysterious. They were first worn by Prohibition-era gangsters, and almost all of the movie stars of the 1940s.
The Homburg

This hat carries a distinctly gangster flavor. It is accented with a hatband into which a feather may be stuck. The Homburg was the hat for politicians and diplomats in the 20th century, but has more recently been favored by rappers Snoop Dogg and Tupac.

The Bowler/Derby

While considered a British icon, the bowler was also part of the urban culture of America in the 19th century. One of the gangs that roamed the mean streets of New York City around this time was the Plug Uglies who were never without their bowler hats, which they wore both as their signature piece and to protect their heads during fights with their rivals.

 

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