Welcome to Now You Know, Eric Wilson’s column that will help you become a fashion know-it-all in one easy read. Each week, he’ll take a look at an endearing fashion influence and why it’s relevant right now. Enjoy!
Hats are a funny thing. As much as designers start promising their revival in 21st-century fashion every time the British royals make a spectacularly behatted appearance, they never really do catch on.
“People ask if hats are coming back, and I always say no,” says Patricia Underwood, who has been making them for more than 40 years. Just in time for Mother’s Day, Rizzoli has published a tome in her honor, called Patricia Underwood: The Way You Wear Your Hat ($33; amazon.com). “There are still some dedicated hat wearers out there, and their recent fashion moment has introduced younger people to wearing hats, so maybe some of them will continue to wear them.”
Underwood has long been a famous name in New York fashion in her own right, having started her business on a whim while taking a hat-making course at night at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After the stylist Polly Mellen featured one of her designs in a Richard Avedon shoot with Lauren Hutton, her business took off so quickly that many other designers started turning to her to create hats for their collections. Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Oscar de la Renta, Isaac Mizrahi, and many more, have all shown Underwood’s hats in their collections.
She’s also responsible for a few of the most famous hats in film. One of her most complicated, but enduring, designs is a wide-brimmed straw hat. In some versions, the brim is so wide that the hat is as big as an umbrella (in a favorite description from her book, one was compared to a “giant shade-loving mushroom”).
In Four Weddings and a Funeral, Kristin Scott Thomas appears in several memorable scenes wearing a square-crowned oversize straw hat that takes on a life of its own (pictured, below). By the third wedding her character attends, “the hat is very droopy,” Underwood says. “It had a bit of an acting life of its own, and that hat was bought from Harvey Nichols. I didn’t even know it was in the movie until it came out.”
Julia Ormond wears a medium-brimmed black leather hat on movie posters for Sabrina. And in Sex and the City 2, Kim Cattrall appears in a giant cartwheel brimmed hat by Underwood, in the scene where she peeps on her hunky neighbor during his shower.
It’s a good example of what Underwood describes as the underlying appeal of hats, even today. While they have historically telegraphed a sense of formality, they also demand attention.
“You can change your persona a bit with a hat,” Underwood says. “Men notice women who wear hats. Several of my friends met their partners or their boyfriends while wearing one.”