Hats Off

May 6th 2023 marked the coronation of King Charles III in London, and across the pond, the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby. I didn’t watch either, but I did take Monday’s New York Times quiz on headwear to see if I could accurately pick which hats were worn at Westminster Abbey, and which at Churchill Downs. I did quite well on this short test, 14/15. The one I missed was a hat that looked a little too sparkly for the coronation and seemed more like a fit for the Derby. But overall, I found some dead giveaways that tipped me off that a fascinator or hat was worn at the horse race.

Many Americans seem uncomfortable wearing hats and fascinators, and it shows in the photos. And, while Kentucky Derby hats are often fabulously overstated and beautifully crafted, some of the simpler headwear looked “off” in the NYT quiz. I think it’s the slapdash quality I see in these pictures: the uncoiffed hair, the clashing color & texture in the topper and wardrobe, the preponderance of cheap, mass-market sinamay + feather fascinators. These qualities make some of the Derby hats seem like a sartorial afterthought.

In contrast, the photos from the coronation show some truly stupendous headware, most of which was nicely matched to attire. The orchid saucer hat worn by Katy Perry was outstanding in my opinion, the statement piece in a gorgeously coordinated Vivienne Westwood ensemble.  Queen Rania of Jordan wore the loveliest pale yellow pillbox that expertly matched the lines of her beautiful dress. I recognize I’m comparing apples to oranges; the Derby and the coronation couldn’t be more different. Or maybe these two event are more similar than I realize…

I love to wear things on my head, so it’s been fun to click through the pictures from both events to see how people adorned themselves with toppers. Most Americans don’t attire themselves with hats, not even for weddings or formal events. But, I learned a long time ago that hats and caps ameliorate some of my sensory processing issues; they make me feel contained and whole by giving me proprioceptive feedback on my scalp. I love the ways that hats can add interest to an outfit, and I appreciate the ways that a hat can serve as an icebreaker and conversation starter.

Hats off to….hats!