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Vintage Hats and Cat Eyes - a perfect match!

For people wanting to get that authentic glamorous, vintage look, a hat is essential. But how easy is it to pair your hat with some vintage glasses? Here we look at the history of the hat and also interview 50s vintage style icon, Melanie Calland, also known as RetroPoodles, who regularly sports a vintage hat with some of her amazing vintage spectacles. So pull up a pew, take off your hat and enjoy…

The history of the hat is a long one; headwear became increasingly worn during the middle ages, when the church dictated that women’s hair must be covered as a sign of respect. Within the 18th century, the millinery profession was established, and elaborate designs began to be created.

In the early 1900s, hats were enormous and heavily decorated with flowers, feathers, ribbons and tulle. The fashionable look for a lady was for their silhouette to resemble an S shape with a fuller bosom and bottom. Women wore bodices that were pouched over the waist with a train skirt to achieve the desired shape. Hats were an essential part of an outfit, and were placed on top of piled up hair and positioned over the face. Hats with small brims such as the toque gave way to brims of increasing size.

Hats were at their largest in 1911, with the brim often extending over the shoulders. Hat pins were a daily essential for women to keep their extravagant headgear in place, sometimes reaching 18 inches!

In the First World War, hairstyles were less frivolous, and hats decreased in size. They began to sit lower on the head and became a lot plainer. Excessive decorations such as large plumes of feathers were frowned upon and considered unpatriotic. As the war came to an end, hats had a more youthful look and were worn lower down the head. They had to adjust to the new sartorial challenge of travelling in a motorcar. A deeper crown meant that hats were easier to keep in place.

The twenties saw hats change in accordance with the flapper fashion for shockingly short bobbed hair. The Cloche was a bell-shaped hat that hugged the head. It had a very small brim and women had a range of colours to choose from with many women visiting milliners to create the perfect hat. Post WW1, the crown of hats, in particular the Cloche style being typical, continued to deepen, eventually covering the whole head. Brims were attached to summer hats and acted as protection from the sun’s rays.

In the 1930s, hats had higher crowns and higher brims. Fuller and circular hair was in fashion, so subsequently, hat crowns became shallower. Wide brimmed hats became popular and replaced parasols that had gone out of fashion, as a form of sun protection. With the rise of Chanel’s masculine look, Fedoras were great to wear with tailored suits.

During WW2, turbans became a popular item with women “making do,” creating them from pre-war materials. Knitting and sewing patterns were produced, so women could still have some glamour within their outfits, and they could also be worn when working.

Trims on hats were changed and as these were the only items not rationed, there was a huge surge in individuality, with hats designed suitable for any face shape, hair style and preference.

Hats and turbans brightened dreary utility outfits with elaborate creations being designed. Unlike WW1, hats had a lot of decoration with lots of feathers, veiling and artificial flowers. Another hat popular during war time was the Doll hat that was revived from Victorian times. The hat was very small and perched right on the front of the forehead. There was also a brief resurgence of the bonnet. and halo hats that sat on the back of the head and framed the face with hair created into a pompadour hairstyle. No just out of bed look for these ladies!

Throughout the 1930s to the 50s, New York became the world’s leading millinery city, with department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman leading the way. Although television recreations of the 50s show hats as fashion necessities, the number of women wearing them and how often they were wearing them decreased.

To try and preserve its market, the millinery industry began creating hats with a lot of variety and extravagance. Hats known as Pancake or Cartwheel that sat flat on the head became popular, with the turban becoming an accessory again in the late 50s.

As the Beehive came into fashion in the late 60s, as seen on Dusty Springfield, hats had to adapt to hairstyles growing in size. Tiny veils on pillbox hats that were perched on the back of the head became popular, with Jackie Kennedy regularly seen wearing them and impeccably colour coordinating them with her outfits; she really was the First Lady of style.

By the 1960s, people had begun to dress a lot less formally and hats being seen as a vital accessory to an outfit became a thing of the past. In 1967, even the Catholic Church relaxed its dress code, abandoning the rule that women required head covering.

The 70s saw some stunning examples such as wide brimmed floppy hats and groovy crocheted caps, although day to day wearing of hats lessened. In the 80s and 90s there was a revival of women’s millinery for formal occasions. perhaps attributable to Diana the Princess of Wales regularly being seen wearing them.

Whilst the hat may no longer be an accessory to an outfit there is something to be said for the glamour of matching your ensemble to your head gear in ultra-chic style, and certainly there’s no better way to complete a top to toe vintage look. Let’s relish any opportunity to wear one, not least because those extra long hat pins could be pretty useful!

Vintage goddess Melanie Calland, also known as Retropoodles looks like a walking advertisement for the 1950s. Not only does wear 1940s and 50s fashion every day, but her home is period perfect and is decorated in amazing mid-century style. Mel is famous on the vintage scene for her stunning ensembles that are styled to perfection due to her fabulous eye for colour. She always manages to top off her look with an incredible hat, paired with a pair of spectacles. When you spot her at an event, with her pack of amazing black poodles and husband Frankie, the whole family are a sight for sore eyes. We caught up with Melanie to find out how she pairs her hats with her collection of glasses so seamlessly. 

What is your favourite style of hat? Any particular era you prefer?


My favourite styles are large platter/cartwheel hats, I have a small head and large hips, so these styles balance my proportions much better. My favourite era is late 40s to mid-50s.

What’s your favourite piece?
My favourite is a large red straw one, because it goes with lots of my outfits, but I have an amazing brown felt and another straw one which is purple and so unusual.

Do you have a hat unicorn? A piece you would love to find and own?

I love bright colours, and I'd love a lime green, emerald green or mint green hat, they are the colours I seem to long for.

Have you found that there are some styles of hat that don’t work as well with glasses?

I don't like too much fuss around my face because of wearing glasses, it gets too over fussy, I never wear earrings, and rarely wear necklaces. I try to keep hats plain rather than lots of flowers, but they can work, I've no set rules really.

Any tips for styling hats with glasses?

It can be tricky getting skull cap styles or more fitted styles to fit, if they come onto your face, as the glasses legs get in the way. So, avoid them!

Recreate Melanie’s look! For a creamy cat eye as either a reader, optical or sunglasses frame, Betty is our best seller! At just £16 why not have a pair in every colour? Gloria is a very pretty cat eye frame with a slight sparkle and costs £59. At a £115.00 price tag, our Anglo American Optical Fontana Cateye Glasses in Snow Leopard will give you that authentic look while following Mel’s advice about keeping your glasses plain, so your hats do the talking. For a classic cat eye sunglasses frame, Diana comes in white, blue, red, black or tortoise and is £25, while for the perfect, dainty, 40s style, round sunglasses shape, Miller is a real gem in grey marble with grey lenses. Other colours available too.


Photo credits: Burgundy and leopard image by Frances Ockford, the rest by Frankie Calland.

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