- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hat head is now stylish in some circles. Young trendsetters are largely the ones making cool the winter hats usually worn to keep you warm. In the weather-diverse cities of Seattle, New York and Atlanta, fedoras, cloches and even berets are among the favorites.

These aren’t necessarily the berets of French artist types or even Guardian Angels: Imagine chunky knit discs in creams and deep jewel tones with a bit of a hippie vibe.

“The new emergence of the beret look is the knit version, which is like the slouchier, bigger kind of cousin to the more structured, the more traditional beret,” says Atlanta stylist Tamara Connor, who recently put a military-inspired version on rapper Young Jeezy.

The beret isn’t exactly new — the silhouette can be traced back centuries to the French-Spanish border, where fishermen and sailors wore them — but they’ve become especially ubiquitous this season in both traditional and hippie styles after peppering runways at Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren and being worn by Rihanna and other celebrities.

Miss Connor envisions the hat worn with oversized sweaters, leggings and boots, while Ann Watson, fashion director at Manhattan’s Henri Bendel, lately has been attracted to a more refined look, perhaps with a long coat and high boots.

Indeed, the beret’s beauty lies in its ability to shift from day to night, Fifth Avenue to hip-hop.

“It’s definitely versatile,” says Kim Maxwell, head of Styles by Maxx fashion consulting in Atlanta.

“I could see someone wearing a nice blazer with a turtleneck with, like, a really cute pencil skirt and some heels,” says Miss Maxwell, who envisions the same hat with an eco-friendly T-shirt, distressed jeans and wedge boots.

Pull it down over your ears for one look; push it a little farther back and frame the face with bangs, and you’ve re-created Cameron Diaz’s recent beret silhouette. (That little peek of hair can be key: Miss Maxwell says the look is best worn on those with bob-length or longer locks.)

Designer Eric Javits also likes Miss Diaz in hats; he says she understands how hats can transform your look. If a beret is rakish, a fedora can be chic.

“Even though a fedora is menswear-inspired, it still has feminine touches,” such as a hatband of velvet or taffeta, says Gregg Andrews, a fashion director for Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc.

The hats also have been trimmed to fit women’s smaller frames. For example, the brims on fedoras and trilbies are shorter, which tends to make people less self-conscious about wearing them, Mr. Javits notes.

“With some of the small brims, you don’t even notice you’re wearing a hat. … It’s not in your way, and you feel comfortable,” he says. “People are looking for ease.”

He even calls the cloche “a non-hat hat.” It’s very easy to wear, Mr. Javits says, mostly because it’s a flattering oval shape - and you usually wear it over your ears, so it’s good in cold weather.

Mr. Javits also predicts we’ll see floppy hats again this spring when the overall fashion silhouette becomes more relaxed.

“A modern woman isn’t going to be wearing one of the big, crazy runway hats,” agrees Bendel’s Miss Watson. (The namesake of the store, the late Henri Bendel, was a milliner by trade.)

What that modern woman is going to do, Miss Watson says, is use a hat to introduce color into her wardrobe, use it to make a style statement and to protect herself from the elements. Felt hats sell well early in the season, but in the coldest months, shoppers move to hand knits because of their warmth, she explains.

“A hat is where function meets fashion,” she says.

Hats have become an increasingly popular accessory over the past few years; women are treating them not as staples but as style statements, says Nordstrom’s Mr. Andrews. To him, it follows a similar trend in winter coats.

Plus, hats aren’t limited to a certain age group or figure type like many other “it” items. Instead, it’s a matter of finding the right shape for your face - and there surely is one out there for everyone, Miss Watson says.

“Hats [are] about a psychographic not a demographic.”


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