Pop on a party hat

Jazz up your wardrobe with perfect headwear


This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Did humans begin sporting hats 35,000 years ago? The Last Ice Age certainly provided the perfect storm: our brains expanded, we evolved social strategies such as bonding over fab threads, and it was seriously bloody cold.

Our hankering after headwear is undoubtedly ancient. The 30,000-year-ish Venus of Willendorf may be sporting a woven headpiece. Bronze Age “Ötzi,” who froze in the Alps around 3250BC, is clad in a bearskin cap; Tollund Man, offed circa 400BC, a pointy sheepskin number.

It was only in the 20th century that humanity discarded its millennia of lid love. One minute, titfers were donned not merely by anybody who was anybody, but one and all. Then, overnight, it appeared — to those who blamed a bare-headed JFK — hats went the way of the Ark.

Blame the shedding of formality, a shift away from class signifiers, death of religion, tanning, war trauma, antibiotics, youth quake, short hair for wimmin, long locks for chaps, car ownership, central heating and/or the demise of practical jobs, but headgear was deemed old hat.

Still, the ubiquity of the baseball cap suggests a hungering after the headpiece. Of late, there’s also been evidence of the so-called “personality hat” (as opposed to the practical variety).

Victoria Grant’s “Dark Horse” (£2,579)

Jacquemus’ gargantuan sun hat won Instagram in 2018. Next, came Prada’s crystal bucket (£1,335, mytheresa.com). More recently, cool cats The Row have given us a supple pillbox, beanie-cum-head turd (£920, net-a-porter), balaclava (£920) and cloche (£290).

The theory runs that, now we’re buying less, but better, with an emphasis on well-made yet somewhat dullsville clothes, interest lies in styling to jazz matters up.

There is no jazzier a styling piece than the personality hat, just as no hats boast quite as much personality as Victoria Grant’s (from £420, victoriagrant.com).

Grant’s wares sell at Harrods. However, 99 per cent of her work is bespoke, conjured after fizz-fuelled consultations at her ravishing Notting Hill atelier. Victoria is beguilingly modest, so much so that one has to extract her achievements like so many pulled teeth.

Suffice to say, fashion types such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Isabel Marant, Clements Ribeiro and Alice Temperley have showcased her artistry. Whilst coruscating starriness abounds. Beyoncé’s poster for her 2014 world tour saw Queen B sporting Grant’s “Dark Horse” (£2,579), a veiled topper.

Victoria Grant at Ascot

Madonna summoned Grant and her Blinkie (£1,569) on her 65th birthday. Kylie, Gaga, Rihanna, Lauryn Hill, Dita von Teese plus sundry starlets and supers swoon over VG’s confections, which featured in fash faves Ugly Betty and the Ab Fab flick.

Grant was responsible for the turquoise cowboy hat that stars in this year’s Ascot ad, and will be rocking it for Ladies’ Day with a spangled jumpsuit. However, hers aren’t your conformist summer stalwarts, but fabulous, feathered fetishes, bejewelled female toppers, and glittering berets bearing the legends: “Disco”, “Peep Show” and “Girls, Girls, Girls”.

Our heroine’s penchant is for party pieces, “excuses to trip off into fantasy”. Think Beaton’s Ascot on acid.

Grant started as a stylist with a side hustle, teaching herself to mould and machine sew, before finding her home at Sam Roddick’s Coco de Mer erotic emporium. It proved a match made in nipple-tasselled heaven, Grant’s work flourishing into gimp masks bedecked with chains, piercings, studs and lavish ornament.

Her father’s background as a pikeman means that she lives for military regalia, in addition to the top hat, tails and fishnets in which she posed for photographer Zoë Law for her Legends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Grant is less a milliner than a social sculptress, an installation artist whose hats morph their wearers into performance art. Jay Joplin, Sam Taylor-Wood and Yoko Ono are fans.

This is not to imply that Grant’s concoctions are anything less than a cinch to wear: “perchers”, they sit jauntily angled, feathers resplendent in a two-fingered salute. Place one aloft your head and you are immediately outfitted, best-dressed, introverts supplied with an ice-breaker, slatterns redeemed. Her “girls” are head jewels, the wearer’s signature, their thing.

Picking from the atelier’s hat wall is to discover one’s party persona, the colour of one’s carousal, who one is in festive form. Round faces benefit from height, sharp lines; long ones are set off by something less elevated and asymmetric in cut.

Witchily, it transpires that I am the Grant I have always craved: the Sir Duke (POA), an emerald, gold-trimmed shako, set off by a single pearl. This, readers, is who I am in hat guise — in every guise, now and forever more. Go, find yourself.

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