Hat Types: The Cocktail

The Royal Hats Blog

History: Daytime hats were de rigueur for women in the 1930s, except for more formal late afternoon events (art openings, cocktail parties, tea dances etc.) when a daytime hat just did not work with a cocktail dress. When Hollywood costume designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Mr. John paired a new, smaller hat with cocktail dresses in several movies, women of fashion around the world eagerly followed suit. Cocktail hats reached the height of their popularity during the 1950s.

These early cocktail hats were small hats worn perched on the top or the side of the head (often, with a veil). While cocktail hats were much smaller than a regular daytime hat, they were still a real hat, made on a real hat form; cocktail hats had a base and could sit on the head, held in place by nothing more than a traditional hatpin. Today, the form and size of cocktail hats have not changed but they are no longer restricted to wear only in the late afternoon.

Characteristics: A small, brimless hat with a visible, fully formed base (usually made of straw, fabric or felt). Cocktail hats are still usually worn perched on the top or side of the head and do not fully cover the wearer’s head. Most cocktail hats are embellished with dramatic trim (feathers, flowers, bows etc.). Fascinators, in comparison, do not have a visible base, as you will see at this post. 

Royals Associated with this Hat Style: Everyone! Empress Michiko of Japan’s entire current millinery wardrobe follows this hat style. We also see cocktail hats regularly on the Duchess of Cambridge, the Countess of Wessex, Zara Phillips Tindall and Princess Beatrice of York.

Princess Michicko, August 25, 2007 | The Royal Hats Blog Lady Serena Armstrong-Jones, June 19, 2012 The Royal Hats Blog Princess Marie, October 6, 2009 The Royal Hats Blog The Duchess of Cornwall, May 2, 2012 | The Royal Hats Blog Archduchess Adelaide, September 21, 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog

Empress Michiko, August 2007;  Viscountess Linley,June 2012, Princess Marie, Oct. 2009;
the Duchess of Cornwall, May 2012; Archduchess Adelaide, Sep. 2013

Queen Máxima, Nov. 19 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog Lady Gabriella Windsor, June 19, 999 | The Royal Hats Blog Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Oct. 14 2010 | The Royal Hats Blog The Duchess of Cambridge, July 1, 2011 in Silvia Fletcher for Lock & Co. | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Beatrice, April 15, 2012 in Gina Foster | The Royal Hats Blog

Queen Máxima, Nov. 2013; Lady Gabriella Windsor, June 1999; Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Oct. 2010 ;
The Duchess of Cambridge, July 1, 2011; Princess Beatrice, April 2012 

Autumn Philips, Dec 25, 2012 in Nerida Fraiman | Royal Hats Princess Marie-Chantal, Sep. 20, 2012 in Philip Treacy | The Royal Hats Blog Zara Phillips, March 15, 2012 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Máxima, Jan. 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog The Duchess of Kent, April 29, 2011 | The Royal Hats Blog

Autumn Phillips, Dec. 2012; Princess Marie-Chantal, Sep. 2012; Zara Phillips, March 2012;
Princess Máxima, Jan. 2013; The Duchess of Kent, April 2011  

Queen Silvia, Sep. 20, 2012 | The Royal Hats Blog Countess of Wessex, March 31, 2013 in Jane Taylor | Royal Hats Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie, Dec.29, 2012 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Laurentien, Nov. 20, 2010 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Clothilde, Sep. 20, 2012 | The Royal Hats Blog

Queen Silvia, Sep. 2012; The Countess of Wessex, March 2013; Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie, Dec. 2012;
Princess Laurentien, Nov. 2010; Princess Clothilde, Sep. 2012  

I am a fan of the cocktail hat, mainly because it’s a way we see a little bit of millinery craziness on our beloved royal heads. Cocktail hats pack a lot of style punch into a small hat and while some of them do look silly, I think most of them are marvelous. If you look closely at the base of this famous hat, you will see it is a cocktail hat and not a fascinator, as the mainstream media would have us believe.

Princess Beatrice, April 29, 2011 in Philip Treacy | The Royal Hats Blog

Princess Beatrice in THAT hat designed by Philip Treacy, April 29, 2011

We will look at fascinators next week and clarify the difference between the fascinator and the cocktail hat. For now- what do you think of cocktail hats?

Photos from Michael Steel via Getty; Wire Image via The Daily Mail; ; Hanne Juul/Image Magazine via BilledBladetBauer Griffin and Pascal Le Segretain via Zimbio; Dutch Photo PressThe Royal ForumsSvenskdamBauer Griffin and Chris Jackson via Zimbio; Chris Jackson via Getty; Sean Gallup/Getty via Zimbio; Julian Parker via GettyDutch Photo Press; Chris Jackson via Getty; Sean Gallup/Getty via Zimbio; Max Mumby/Indigo via Getty; Abaca via PurePeople; Patrick van Katwijk via Corbis; Sean Gallup/Getty via Zimbio and Ian Gavan via Getty

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34 thoughts on “Hat Types: The Cocktail

  1. This is fascinating (no pun intended)! I really love seeing all the individuality and learning about all the hat styles.

    For me, Kate’s red Canadian hat is wonderful, as is Sophie’s peacock hat.

    Thanks for the opportunity to peep and gorgeous hats and learn the different styles and shapes, Ms. Hat Queen!

  2. MM. I can’t equate most of the royal hats shown here with cocktail. For me a cocktail hat is not a small hat worn in the daytime, it is far more glamorous than that! It is made from after-five fabric, silk, brocade, rich fabrics with pert netting to add mystery and sumptuous trimmings, beading, feathers and other jewelled lovelies. Only two of the pictured hats, apart of-course from Mr. John’s come close to being considered IMHO. Princess Clothilde’s – a little netting would have improved this immeasurably – and Princess Marie-Chantal’s, which I feel was totally out of place at a funeral. Cocktail hats can be elegant, whimsical or witty, but they must ooze glamour and possibly a little mystique.

      • With respect, perhaps then Cocktail is the wrong description for the hats in the images, though I don’t have another suggestion to replace the word. I am not hat-conversant enough. Cocktail hats can still be seen today on the odd occasion, particularly worn by the more dramatic and serious fashionista. Bring them back I say!

  3. I think my issue with cocktail hats is they are often worn when a real hat is called out for–a similar criticism levelled at fascinators (or their wearers). I don’t mind them for weddings, where their exuberance is appropriate for the happy event, and a bit of sartorial frivolity doesn’t take away from the occasion, but for things like attending church etc. they seem a bit too frou-frou, IMHO. But a the right time and place, I absolutely love them.

    • I totally agree. Sophie’s blue feathered hat above was worn for church on Easter Sunday. That is very inappropriate. I like this style of hat for a wedding or Ascot but other times they look pretty silly.

  4. That red cocktail hat on Kate is the best hat she has ever worn. She usually chooses pale colors but she looks amazing in red.

  5. I love cocktail hats and I loved seeing all the different ones here. My favorites are MM’s black one (so elegant) and Zara’s(so much fun!). I prefer the cocktail hats with large bows but they all make me smile.

  6. Cocktail hats are fun! Of those pictured my favorites are Empress Michiko (one of her more successful ones I think and we don’t often see her in colors other than grey/white/cream lately so another reason to like this one), Princess Beatrice’s navy & cream from the York visit, Sophie’s fabulous peacock feathers and GD Stephanie’s teal (I don’t think I’ve seen that one before!). The less successful ones, IMO, are Serena Linley’s (the proportions of the embellishments seem off), QMax’s beige one (it seems too flat), and Marie-Chantal’s grey (it seems too small or oddly placed). I agree with Joanne, Princess Beatrice’s Valentino coat at Will & Kate’s wedding was stunning but because of THAT hat, nobody even noticed it. And now it’s doubtful that she would ever wear it again as everyone would automatically reference the hat. Maybe she could have it dyed another color 😀 Love Miss Manners response MrFitzroyOBE!

    • Thanks for asking the question! I think that the terms “cocktail hat” and “fascinator” are used interchangeably these days (myself included) and it was interesting for me to drill down the differences between them.

  7. I am crazy for cocktail hats…………they are just fabulous and so smart. I really liked Princess Beatrice’s cream hat with the navy flowers and veil and also Princess Marie’s green hat, and Duchess Catherine’s red hat and the list could go on and one. Hat Queen, this was a lot of work and I want you to know that I really appreciate what your doing. This is the very best blog on royals,.. I just love hats because they make a woman look like a lady. So many styles and colors and shapes and so many different things to put on a hat, this could very well be my favorite style of hat.

  8. Most interesting! Thank you for the narrative and for all the pictures, especially for the ones from the 1930s and the 1950s. You’ve done a lot of work. It’s appreciated!

  9. I never noticed the beautiful stitching on the top of Princess Beatrice’s coat before. This photo is at an interesting angle and you can see the base of the hat. If she had cut off that horrible bow part and put a big flower there instead, it would have been a very pretty hat.

  10. Cocktail Hats! The topic always makes MrFitzroy think about Miss Manners and her reply to a reader:

    Dear Miss Manners:
    What would be appropriate attire for a gentleman accompanying a lady to an evening event, assuming she has chosen to wear something classic topped off by a small feather trimmed and veiled hat?

    Gentle Reader:
    A cocktail hat, perched precariously at a daring angle, is sufficient decoration for any two people. Therefore the gentleman should think of himself as background and dress accordingly, if he does not wish to match the wallpaper, a dark suit will do.

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