Hats Off to Stephen Jones at the V&A

Initially they were worn to provide protection against the elements. Protecting sensitive scalps from falling rocks or direct sunlight. As the years progressed they offered head defence against weapons, and then, in the footsteps of haute couture – they became symbols of social status. There’s more to a hat than meets the head.

Today the hat is most commonly used to cover up a bad hair day, which according to history, could have originated back in 1700 when travelling hat makers first began to traverse the British Isles selling their headgear. Then by the Edwardian Era, people began to mimic hair on their hats with feathers, or more technically ‘plumes’. Well that was until the hat caused some controversy when dead birds began being used as decoration and the RSPB was formed – scandal. Nevertheless, we Brits used to be mad about hats, in fact you could say that we were ‘Mad as Hatters’, because back in the day you would probably be wearing a hat right now. It was only beggars who went bareheaded, and if anyone went out of the house with a naked head, even if only to get a newspaper and a Curly-Wurly, they would be severely reprimanded.

Stephen Jones is a guy that knows a thing or two about hats. As a world famous milliner, he’s created some of the most experimental hats you could ever dream of seeing – I’m guessing that there would be some of that Edwardian plumage involved here somewhere along the line, though hopefully animal-friendly this time. Over the years Jones has collaborated with the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Christian Dior. He’s made hats out of doll faces, lollipop sticks and bottle tops: very Blue Peter.

If this man was a hat, you can bet he’d be a top hat. That white swimming cap Keira Knightly wears in the film Atonement? Yes, it’s by Mr. Jones, and his latest hat creation? Well, actually it’s not a hat, it’s an exhibition at the V&A entitled ‘Hats: An Anthology’ which takes fashion lovers behind the scenes of millinery, tracing the art of hat making from inspiration to creation, before finally arriving on the client’s head. According to Jones: ‘This exhibition is truly an eclectic and exciting anthology of hats from BC to the present day’. There are some oldies in there, including an Egyptian mask that dates back to 600BC, and then there are some royal head toppers like Queen Victoria’s bonnet and an original design from a Tudor knitted crown.  But it’s the leading man’s own designs that make up a third of the exhibition, where you can probably expect to see hats like this:

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And this….

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And maybe even this?

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The exhibition is showing at the V&A in London until May, but perhaps one of the most exciting features of this hat anthology is that you can get your very own hat, designed by none other than Stephen Jones, for free. Seriously. All you need to do is get some paper, follow this pattern and start folding. Voila.

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