© 2024 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With coronation day and the Kentucky Derby, it's a good weekend for hats


Today is the coronation of King Charles III. It is also 149th running of the Kentucky Derby and another day in which BJ Leiderman does our theme music. The confluence of these events means that the total number of outrageous hats worn today may be historic.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The coronation has gone to hat designers' heads already.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Everybody should be wearing a hat all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Fantastic. These are entrance makers. These are hats that - it's not for a wallflower.

SIMON: Feathers, fascinators, wide, wide brims - these hats may look a little ridiculous to some people, but high fashion to others. And there's also centuries of millinery tradition on parade today.

SARAH SPELLINGS: In events like this at the Kentucky Derby or at the coronation, our eye is kind of drawn to the most extreme example of it. But one of the reasons why people have been wearing hats to very formal events for a long time is because there's a way to do it that looks really elegant, really pretty and feels kind of befitting of the occasion.

SIMON: That's Sarah Spellings, a fashion editor at Vogue. For Louisville hat makers, the Derby means big and serious business every year. Jenny Pfanenstiel is owner of Forme Millinery.

JENNY PFANENSTIEL: There's a lot that goes into the making of a hat. It's not just mechanical.

SIMON: Her process involves fitting the hat material, like felt or straw, over rounded wooden molds that have been passed down through generations of hatters.

PFANENSTIEL: For me, it's also about working with these old forms and thinking about who made a hat on this many years ago, and what did they make it for, and who did they make it for? - and almost having their energy come through in the making of each hat.

SIMON: Anything goes at the Derby - giant bows, sprawling, curling feathers as big as your face or as long as your arm, also Barbie dolls, plastic horses, all with the help of glue guns and Michael's. There may be more formality at the coronation, but both occasions call for a degree of playfulness, says Sarah Spellings of Vogue.

SPELLINGS: I think most people who engage with this kind of level of fabulous fashion in part do it for fun because it's whimsical and enjoyable and taps into that feeling of playing dress-up, which I think for many lovers of fashion - you don't get tired of playing dress-up.

EMILY BAXENDALE: We do silently cringe when they're worn at the wrong angle, which - or something like that.

SIMON: That's Emily Baxendale, creative director of the luxury headwear brand, Emily-London. Her clients include members of the royal family, but she's not going to talk about them or their hats. She will say about what counts as a chapeau faux pas.

BAXENDALE: The smaller-style hat will often be secured with, like, a discreet elastic or a hidden wire headband. It's one of my personal kind of aah when somebody doesn't put their hair over that. You know, the perfect hat should really look like it sits effortlessly. You shouldn't see any fixings or anything like that.

SIMON: I, myself, have covered up my elastic with this set of headphones. Back in Kentucky, milliner Jenny Pfanenstiel says that craft is vital, but so is giving her clients an experience they will treasure.

PFANENSTIEL: My main goal is to make people feel beautiful. I want them to walk out that door with the hat and the dress on and the whole nine yards and go on that track and have the best memorable experience.

SIMON: And whether you pull on an enormous sun hat at Churchill Downs or a feathered tiara at Westminster Abbey or that jewel-encrusted crown, today will be one to remember.


MERLE HAGGARD: (Singing) Dirt roads and white lines and all kinds of stop signs, but I stand right here where I'm at because I wear my own kind of hat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
KOSU is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.