Hats are divisive things – and not just because a large one can literally part the room, but because they make most of us look not like ourselves. Many of my friends and colleagues love the transformative magic of a big hat, and the theatre of wearing one: I, on the other hand, feel like a lemon.
Until this point, the alternative has been a fascinator, which is no alternative at all. Which is why I was so delighted to see unhats – padded headbands, veils, ginormous bows, headwear-that-is-not-a-hat – emerging on the catwalks. All the dressed-upness without the need to adjust your spatial awareness (though do check the dress code before wearing these to race days, as some are stricter than others).
Here are the best options:
Sophie wears headband, £22, Ruby Willow
The headband is something of a royal favourite – perhaps as it feels like wearing a tiara? – they were a staple of Princess Diana’s, though the inflated crescent bands that the Duchess of Cambridge prefers are more in Anne Boleyn’s line. Kate wore cream to Prince Louis’ christening last year and black velvet to Westminster Abbey on Remembrance Sunday, both by Jane Taylor, who can tailor-make a style that will satisfy even the Royal Enclosure’s strict dress code.
Bethan wears Silk Turban in Nude, £175, Marzi at Fenwick,
Yes I know, eek. But Turbans – as seen on Monday’s Dior catwalk (more on which below) are having A Moment. Fenwick, the official millinery sponsor of Royal Ascot, is backing the trend this season, and it fit the exacting dress code specifications – so if you prefer a sleeker silhouette, this may be the unhat for you. Just be careful what you pair yours with; a turban will look best with tailoring – think a jumpsuit or trouser suit – rather than a floaty floral dress, says the store’s millinery expert Mr Tony, who also says you need confidence to pull one off – or as he calls it, a ‘turban mentality’.
Simone Rocha started the pearl hair accessory trend with her gobstopper-sized faux-pearl hair slides a few seasons ago, and it’s only built up steam since then. If you’ve a less rigid dress code to contend with than the Royal Enclosure’s, a cluster of pearl clips, or a pearl studded band like the one worn by Anisha here, will bring last year’s dress bang up to date.
Annabel wears Maison Michel veiled headpiece, £420, Matches Fashion
As far as occasionwear goes, Erdem Moralioglu (worn by everyone from the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex to Alexa Chung to Joan Collins) is a master. On the catwalk, he pairs his brocade and lace dresses, ball skirts and party coats with veils, hanging from hats and headbands or sculpted into sheer headpieces. My observation? Said veils are beautiful, have a sense of occasion but won’t take anyone’s eye out, and are very flattering – like a soft-focus Instagram filter in real life.
Caroline wears homemade linen bow, material from John Lewis
Really large bows – the sort that are not just hairclips, which are a cop out, but proper headpieces, like the eagle-wingspan ones on Emilia Wickstead’s catwalk – aren’t easy to find on a budget. They are, however, relatively easy to make: Caroline crafted hers out of linen (bought for £6 in John Lewis’s haberdashery department), and you could iron bondaweb onto the back (making sure that’s hidden inside) to make yours perky, or even add a bit of chicken wire so that you can manipulate your bow into any position.