Oh My Hat! The Stylish Head


Hats are everywhere this season. They are a complicated accessory, part-costume, part cultural signifier. They have been worn as a functional necessity for a long time; woolen caps to keep us warm, straw hats to keep us cool. The trend really gained footing when Saint Laurent creative director featured wide-brimmed hats on his spring 2013 runway to massive applause – a pivotal movement that coincided with the beginning of the 70’s revival in fashion. From floppy, wide-brimmed hats all the way to fedoras, beanies and baseball caps, they are the accessory of the year! Hats have taken over from scarves as the necessary accessory.

Net-a-Porter has reported a doubling in hat sales, while Rag&Bone said the company can barely keep up with orders for its floppy- brimmed fedoras.

They instantly make an outfit more sophisticated, and the styles are infinite, allowing you to become whatever character you choose.

The obsession at the latest catwalk shows was for the wide brimmed hat, the fedora. But also very popular were a couple of other styles; the beanie, baseball caps, bucket hats and berets.

Simon and Mary

Simon and Mary

Locally “Simon and Mary,” a heritage brand, and well known as Africa’s most prominent wool felt millinery,  have been producing hats since 1935. It was built on the finest millinery traditions, family values and craftsmanship, exporting worldwide for the last 40 years. Simon passed away in 2005, at the age of 80, leaving behind generations of a family of hat makers. Dean, Simon’s grandson now runs the business with his father, Julian. Dean says about the factory “It’s the same as it was half a century ago and – with its antiquated looking machines that still work – it is the essential element that pumps steam through the brand.”

“The fact that we are making hats in 2015 on the same premises, with the same machinery and with the same classic flair that Simon did, is the biggest tribute to the original milliner,” says Dean.

Regarding the latest hat trend Dean has this to say “A hat in old times represented a person’s status but in today’s culture it signifies your style”

“Happiness is a shortcut to mediocrity” says Albertus Swanepoel, now living in New York. One look at his perfectly designed, handmade hats and you know he lives by this mantra. Albertus is well known in the fashion circles as a master milliner. He started his career as a fashion designer after studying fashion design in Johannesburg, moving to New York in the late 80’s, where he studied millinery at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  He trained as a milliner under Jamie Galimard, who worked for Balenciaga in Paris in the 50’s and 60’s. He became the hat maker for Marc Jacobs in 2004 and also subsequently collaborated with Proenza Schouler, Carolina Herrera, Peter Som and Thakoon amongst others. “The artisan is kind of dying in fashion – in all industries,” said Eddy Chai, co-founder of Odin. “Albertus is someone who has been training and really honing his craft for a decade. That’s something that should be commended.”

His favourite style of hats to design and create is the fedora, for which he is very well known. He also loves a really great turban, boater, and a western hat.



His advice on wearing hats “Hats are like perfume: They’re personal and should complement your style, not work against it. It should become part of you. I don’t like hats to be precious. They’re something you can put on every day if you wish, and they change your personality. A hat makes a statement but is also something you can hide behind. The best of both worlds!”

On the reason for the latest surge in the hat trend he says, “I think there is a revival in hat wearing as people are looking for something more personal and artisanal in these mass produced times.( I am talking about handmade hats – not mass produced ones).

A hat gives you instant character and attitude (whereas a handbag can’t quite do the same). It is also a smaller investment than an It bag or shoe.”

Chanelle Vlok interned with Albertus Swanepoel after completing her Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Design at LISOF and a millinery course in Cape Town. She designs under the name CLOCHE and says she wants to be part of re-establishing millinery and creating a new consciousness for fashion accessories in South Africa. Over the years she has collaborated with designers such as Vesselina Pentcheva, Roman Handt, Joel Janse van Vuuren, Naked Ape and Black Coffee. Her hats are unique and handcrafted with a twist of vintage.



Babatunde is a Yoruba (Nigerian) name meaning, “the father returns.” “I loved the name and meaning as I feel that we need more fathers in Africa,” founder Gareth Cowden explains. He travelled to Gabon in 2007 where he had the inspiration to start the label using traditional African wax prints. The East and West prints appealed to him because of their colour and geometric style. He says, “I loved the way
people there embraced and used prints in everyday attire.”

He launched Babatunde in 2010 with a range of hats and caps, but has since included ties, bow ties, cravats, umbrellas, handbags and iPad sleeves in his product range. The Babatunde range has caught the attention of international media like GQ and Wallpaper. Stars like Solange Knowles and Damon Albarn have also been seen wearing Babatunde caps.



Some people are finding it difficult to incorporate hats into their wardrobe, they feel they are just not “hat” people. The trick is to start off with smaller shapes and to stick to neutral colors, a hat that is manageable in both size and colour.

But even with the right hat, you can still feel ridiculous venturing into public. So above all else, the trick to wearing a hat is confidence, real swagger!

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