- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

If there is one item of clothing that defines England’s Queen Elizabeth, it is the hat. From the simplest berets and plain straw bonnets to exotic turbans, toques and tricorns, hats are central to her look, a visible marker of her changing tastes.

The queen is rarely seen without her head covered — even on a casual walk with the corgis, she wears a head scarf — but for official engagements, a hat is de rigueur, and its design is as important as the outfit worn with it.

Many of the royal dressmakers work with one milliner. Hardy Amies always worked with Frederick Fox, who designed hats for the queen for more than 30 years. Another favorite designer, the late John Anderson, would use Philip Somerville. Mr. Somerville continues to design the hats that accompany outfits designed by both Karl Rehse and Stewart Parvin, two of the young designers who work for the queen.

The milliners are bound by a few regal rules. The queen’s hats should not hide her face — hence the popularity of the simple felt beret, band and pillbox styles of her youth as well as the upturned brim she adopted later. Also, just as the royal wardrobe focuses on eye-catching color, the queen’s hats need to make her visible in a crowd. Flying in the face of contemporary fashion rules, they always match her outfit.

“In the old days, one worried about brims that covered the face; nowadays, to a certain extent, I can use a brim,” Mr. Somerville says. “The main thing is the hat has to stay on in any calamity, wind or rain, without the queen having to hold it on. I have to make certain it sits on and stays on. I usually use two hatpins. The queen told me once she had never lost a hat.”

While the royal wardrobe has a definite style that has changed little over the years, the choice of hats often is daring and flamboyant — such as the black felt tricorn hat with scarlet plumes that the queen first wore for Trooping the Colour in 1951. Or Mr. Somerville’s purple chevalier-style hat for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in October 2004.

During the 1970s — her hat heyday — there were exuberant floral pillboxes and colorful silk turbans. The queen continues to move with the times, wearing dramatic shapes and bold colors. She chose a band of lilac feathers for the wedding of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999 and a stunning chartreuse broad-brimmed straw hat for a service in Westminster Abbey in November 2001.

The hat is so central to her style that it has prompted an unofficial Royal Hat Stakes on Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot. Last year, however, the color of the royal hat was leaked, and bookmakers lost thousands of pounds.

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