Millinery in the Movies

On hearing that my latest venture included a foray into millinery, my lovely friend Galen Yeo (CEO of The Moving Visuals Company) sent me a link to one of my favourite scenes in any movie, Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle at the Ascot Races in My Fair Lady            ( In this clip she is of course wearing one of the most splendid hats ever seen on the silver screen. With all Miss Hepburns dazzling costumes and hats for the movie created by the inimicable Cecil Beaton, it is small wonder that this film continues to be mentioned at the top of any hataholics list as an all time favourite.

And of course Audrey herself was the perfect muse for all milliners, with her natural cool elegance and elfin features.  Sporting an array of spectacular tiles, she and Jackie Kennedy Onassis were a tour de force, keeping the designer hat business afloat throughout the sixties.

But clearly the romance between screen sirens and movie millinery did not begin and end with La Hepburn.  From the birth of the industry via silent movies in the twenties through to the introduction of the first ‘talkies’ in the thirties, movies stars like Norma Sheara, Alice Day and Mae West dazzled and smouldered in their picture hats, turbans and cloches.

As we moved into the forties the effects of wartime austerity on the fashion industry was reflected in the more modest millinery shown in the movies.  Film stars like Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney and Dorothy Lamour wore hats that were smaller and less flambouyant than their Hollywood predecessors, with the trilby and beret leading the fashion field on the runway.

As we’ve already seen, costume designers in the fifties and sixties were dying to break free from the shackles of austerity spawning a whole new era of outrageous millinery that only became slightly diluted by the dawn of the age of Aquarius in the form of the hippie movement. Among the starlets who lead the pack as milliner’s muses during the fifties and sixties were of course Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Lauren and Grace Kelly.

The seventies and eighties were not great eras for contemporary movie millinery but they did spawn a number of interesting television costume dramas like Upstairs Downstairs, Dallas and the Onedin Line where hats did occaisionally upstage the actors.

And finally we come to contemporary movies and their influence on hat designers like Philip Treacy and Pip Hackett.  With films like The Red Hat, Titanic, The Duchess and The Great Gatsby plus television series like Downton Abbey movie millinery continues to thrill and inspire.

My own nod to the sirens of the silver screen are a Passion for Peonies, Invitation to the Abbey and Silver Screen Siren all of which are available to purchase or hire from my Etsy shop

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