Hats Off to the Kentucky Derby

by Miranda Hilderbrand

Where can you combine a day at the races, sipping Mint Juleps and THE hat fashion event in the United States? The Kentucky Derby, of course! Alternatively referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, it is undoubtedly one of the most famous horse races in the world. Occurring this year on May 4, it is expected that 150,000 people will attend the races, which doesn’t even begin to factor in the many spectators at literally thousands of Derby screenings, events and parties. While the race is the main attraction for the event, it is without question the hats that truly steal the show.

The first Kentucky Derby race took place in 1875 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race always takes place on the first Saturday in May. Louisville residents, out-of-towners, celebrities, presidents and even members of the Royal Families flock to watch thoroughbred horses compete along a 1.25 mile racetrack.

Since it’s beginning, the Kentucky Derby has always been a high society fashion event as well as a race. Derby founding father, Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr., envisioned a racing environment that was both comfortable and extremely luxurious. Opulent dress has very much played a large role in the history of the event. For the social elite of the late 19th and early 20th century, the Kentucky Derby was an opportunity to see and be seen in the latest of fashions with hats as the crowning glory of the event. In fact, to find a lady without a hat during the event was almost considered a scandal, not just a mere fashion faux pas.

The term “Derby Hat Parade” is used to refer to the mass sea of stylish and elegant hats that are seen at Churchill Downs during the races. This is an event where you want to be noticed, so when choosing a Kentucky Derby hat, it is best to be as original as possible. In most cases, the hat is the main part of the woman’s attire. It is very difficult to be considered over-the-top in your hat choice, so the wider the brim and the brighter the colors, the better. Most hats you see are adorned with flamboyant embellishments including feathers, flowers, bows, ribbons, tulle or all of the above. Many women pair their hats with a simple, matching cocktail dress.

Of course, we cannot forget about the male attendants of the Kentucky Derby. Men’s hat fashion at the event is usually more understated and classic. You will more often than not see hats that are solid in color and take their inspiration from the 1920s. A man cannot go wrong with a classic Panama hat or even a traditional bowler, or derby, as it is known on this side of the pond. Men can also go a bit more unique with a classic Boater hat or even a straw top hat. And gentlemen, do not be afraid to embellish your hat as well, be it with a unique hat band or even a fun feather to match your suit.

Hatbox: A Modern Haberdashery looks forward to and prepares for the Kentucky Derby every year. We carry hats from many renowned milliners around the world, including Nigel Rayment and Louise Green as well as Austin’s own milliner, Milli Starr. We offer custom fittings and can assist you in selecting the perfect hat to accentuate your outfit, shoes and accessories. So prepare yourself with your very own unique hat and enjoy your day at the races.

A History of the Haberdashery

by Miranda Hilderbrand

It is no secret that a haberdashery is not something you come across every day. We get questions such as what exactly do you carry to what is the history of the term to, simply, what is a haberdashery?

A few weeks ago a gentleman came into our shop asking this very question. He told us that upon hearing of Hatbox, he did a google search on what a haberdashery actually is. Google gave these two definitions:
A Haberdasher’s shop
The goods and wares sold by a haberdasher.
And if you look up the term “haberdasher” it comes up as “one who works in a haberdashery”. This does not help at all! Upon hearing this, we knew it was time to give a proper to answer to this question.

While we can trace back several centuries of haberdasheries, the origin of the term is unknown. There is one belief that the word could have been derived from an Anglo-Norman word, hapertas, which means small ware. The word “haberdasher” did appear in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to describe peddlers who sold items such as needles, buttons and so on. This dates the word back at least to the late 14th century and definitely ties it to the Anglo-Norman roots it may have come from.

A haberdashery was originally an all-purpose specialty-clothing store for men that focused on accessory items such as hats, gloves and scarves as well as notions such as buttons, needles and thread. This would be the equivalent of a Medieval five-and-dime store. There has been one description of a 16th century English haberdashery that specialized not only in accessories but also drinking glasses, birdcages, mousetraps and shoe horns.

Today the term has several definitions depending on how the word is used. In the United Kingdom, a haberdashery is more of a craft and sewing shop that carries needed items such as buttons, thread or ribbons. Here in America, the term has become associated almost exclusively with hats and hat accessories. Today a modern haberdashery will cater to men and women with most hats being unisex in their design. Many, including Habox, also carry such items as gloves, suspenders and umbrellas.

The origin of the haberdashery may be shrouded in mystery but there are many notable haberdasheries of the 1600’s – 1900’s that we use to define ourselves today. It is with this spirit that Habox has created its own take on a modern haberdashery. We still honor the knowledge and history of our forefathers yet have added our own unique spin and strong passion for hats. From our custom styles to our expert fittings, we work with you to find that perfect hat and might surprise you with the perfect bow-tie, sunglasses, or scarf to complete the look!

Say “I Do” to the Hat!

by Miranda Hilderbrand

It’s that time of year when wedding bells are ringing – for many brides, June is the perfect month for a wedding.  Historically, mid-April to mid-October is wedding season for many American couples, with the height being in June.  With the popularity of last year’s Royal Wedding, more and more brides and wedding attendees are setting their sights on hats to accentuate their wedding day attire.

The traditions of wedding hats started with the veil.  In ancient times, warriors would steal their brides and carry them away from her family. In an attempt to hide the woman’s identity, her face would remain covered by heavily layered wool or muslin veils until the couple had their first child and hopefully the blessed arrival would wash away any bad feelings. Talk about sweeping a girl off her feet! Oddly, the veil did become a symbol of transferring a bride from her family home to her husband’s home as well as being a symbol of the bride’s purity.

By the 1500s, veils became more fashionable in design and were shorter with a lot less layering. These veils were more transparent and shimmery and actually allowed the groom to see his bride.  This step forward led to veils being replaced by elaborate hats in the 1700s and beyond. Feather-trimmed, beaded and jeweled bridal head coverings became a visual symbol of family wealth.

One question that tends to pop up during wedding season is in regards to wedding etiquette. What are proper manners, which styles of hats are appropriate and so on. One thing to keep in mind in terms of hat and wedding etiquette is that many are based on old traditions.  You know the bride and groom far better than we do and are a much better judge on which traditions you should uphold and which styles you should chose. The main rule of thumb that we strongly believe should always be upheld by all guests is to never upstage the bride and groom – it is their day, let them be the shining stars.

There are some basic tips you may want to consider in regards to hat wearing at a wedding.  For men the main thing to keep in mind is when to wear your hat. If the wedding or reception takes place indoors, it is proper to remove your hat while in a building. However if the groom and the bridal party are wearing their hats at all times, take the cue from them.

For the ladies we have a few more tips, but as mentioned, many of these are based on old tradition. For many years in the UK, it was custom that ladies are not to remove their hats unless the mother of the bride does so, doing so would be considered disrespectful. Luckily today’s etiquette is a bit more flexible.  For instance, if you are wearing a specifically “daytime hat”, you may want to remove it as the sun sets. Also, when picking your hat for the event, try to find a style that will not obstruct anyone’s view.

With wedding season approaching it is the perfect opportunity to don a hat that is a bit more formal, take a chance on something you would not normally wear and add an aire of sophistication to your wedding day attire. As a side note: in America we tend to be more conservative than the Brits on formal occasions regarding hat styles. They have a tradition that allows more flamboyance than is the norm on this side of the pond.

By today’s standards, a bride can go all out with elaborate headwear or keep it simple with a lovely, sheer veil.  At Hatbox, we can meet all of your wedding hat needs – we will be offering custom work for brides, wedding party, mother of the bride and anyone else who would like a special piece for the big day. We will build your headwear from the ground up with care taken to incorporate your personal wedding fabric, colors, embellishments or anything that will complete your vision. We do recommend that you give us at least 3 months advance to complete your custom pieces.  Also, Hatbox is very honored to offer the beautiful work of Vivien Sheriff – a favourite milliner to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge formerly Kate Middleton along with Austin’s own Laura Del Villaggio of Milli Starr.