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.
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. 2013; Lady Gabriella Windsor, June 1999; Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Oct. 2010 ;
The Duchess of Cambridge, July 1, 2011; Princess Beatrice, April 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 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 BilledBladet; Bauer Griffin and Pascal Le Segretain via Zimbio; Dutch Photo Press; The Royal Forums; Svenskdam; Bauer Griffin and Chris Jackson via Zimbio; Chris Jackson via Getty; Sean Gallup/Getty via Zimbio; Julian Parker via Getty; Dutch 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