Getting dressed up and wearing a hat to the races…how exciting!

These days, there aren’t many opportunities to wear one, so you should definitely make the most of it when you attend a race day. For most people, wearing a hat may only be a once-a-year occasion and it can be a bit daunting choosing a hat.

millinery hat guide

This ultimate millinery guide will explain the fundamentals of hat shapes and fabrications, provide advice for choosing the right hat, share tips for getting a hat made and finish up with some general information about millinery events, competitions and courses.

Here’s an overview of what I’ll be covering. Feel free to click on the headings below to jump to a specific section.

Part 1 – The Fundamentals – History, Hat Shapes & Fabrications

Before we talk about how to choose the right hat for your outfit, it’s good to have an understanding of common hat shapes and fabrications. A common mishap for new players is wearing hat materials that aren’t appropriate for the season, something that should be avoided.

The History of Millinery and the Races

Wearing a hat to the races is a tradition highly upheld, even today. The tradition dates back to the 1800s when men and women would dress in their finest, to represent their class and wealth status, which often included a hat. Not only were hats worn to protect against the elements, but also to display personal style.

In the past, horse racing was a sport enjoyed by the elite and provided the ideal platform for showcasing wealth. If you are attending the races today, you should definitely wear a hat to pay respect to a century long tradition, and hey, when else do you get the chance to dress up to the nines and wear a fabulous hat?

Wearing a hat is also a requirement if you wish to enter the Fashions on the Field competition, held at most race day events and in some member’s areas at race courses.

race course hat fascinator history olden days

The Difference between Handmade and Factory Made

If you are familiar with the racing fashion scene, you might know that the word ‘fascinator’ is taboo. Fascinators are cheap and factory-produced in mass, overseas. They are sold at chain stores and there are thousands of copies of each design.

They are often glued or stitched together poorly. And even though they are mass produced, fascinators can still cost anywhere from $20 to $200+.

factory made fascinator cheap

Millinery, on the other hand, is an art form. A milliner is someone who hand crafts a hat from scratch and has had intensive training to master their skills.

Milliners block the hat base using a range of techniques and then adorn hats with anything from feathers, beads, fabric flowers, quills, lace etc. The different words to use for millinery can be; millinery, hat or headpiece. Never a fascinator.

The Most Common Hat Shapes

There are many different styles of millinery available. Not all of them have a specific style name as each piece is individually crafted by hand and can be made into almost any shape one can dream up. However, some of the most common hat shapes seen today are:

The Boater

The boater is a very popular hat. It has a stiff crown and brim and was traditionally made from straw. Nowadays, the boater shape can be seen in both Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter, made from straw, leather, felt etc.

boater hat shape

Image credit: @melissagayedesigns, @giulia.mio.millinery, @laurellouisemillinery

The Percher

Percher hats, do just that. They perch on the top of your head, usually centred on the forehead and give great height. They are blocked from a base, round and tear drop are most popular, and have embellishments added.

percher hat shape

Image cred: @mooremillinerydesigns, @hatricksbymichelle, @rebeccashare

The Wide Brim

Probably one of my favourite style of hats, a wide brim hat features a crown with a brim that is enlarged. This style of hat makes a strong statement and looks amazing with a full skirt.

wide brim hat shape

Image credit: @peacockmillinery, @nataliejanemillinery, @allportmillinery

The Crown

The crown is quite versatile in its form, as it can be made from any fabrications and out of numerous blocks or without any blocks at all. This refers to any hat that sits across the top of the head like a crown would.

crown hat shape

Image credit: @peacockmillinery, @lovelotus, @evetildawn

The Halo

The Halo is a hat that sits towards the back of the head and frames the head like a halo.

halo hat shape

Image credit: @allportmillinery

The Breton

A Breton hat features a round crown (or no crown) with a brim that is turned upwards all the way around, a standout hat!

breton hat shape

Image credit: @_themooretwins_, Caren Lee Millinery

The Free Form or Structured Hat

Hats are sculpted works of art and don’t need to be blocked off a base. They can be created freely, as the milliner works, being moulded and shaped in different ways. The possibilities of creation are endless.

free form creative hat shape

Image credit: @melissabarnes_1, @felicitynortheastmillinery, @clairehahnnz

The Fedora

A fedora is traditionally a soft felt or velvet hat with a curled brim and a crease down the middle. Fedora’s can be made from other materials too, to suit different seasons.

fedora hat shape

Image credit: @awongolding, @felicitynortheastmillinery

The Turban

The Turban shape has been quite popular in millinery lately. It gives milliners a wide scope to experiment with different materials and styles when creating a turban look.

turban hat shape for races

Image credit: @nataliejanemillinery, @peacockmillinery, @millinerybymel

The Beret

Berets, mostly seen in Autumn/Winter, are gaining popularity once again in the racing world. They can be made out of soft leathers, felt and wools.

beret hat shape

Image credit: @allportmillinery, @awongolding, @felicitynortheastmillinery

The Disc

The disc shape is a favourite of mine. It is basically a disc shape, that can be slightly moulded to sit at a 45 degree (or higher) angle off the side of the head.

disc hat shape

Image credit: @allportmillinery, @makermillinery, @felicitynortheastmillinery

The Dior Brim / Mushroom

A favourite shape of mine is, what has been dubbed, the ‘Dior Brim’. This hat has a brim which angles downwards, in a sort of mushroom shape. I find this hat so feminine and classic.

dior brim / mushroom hat shape

Image credit:@marilynvandenberg, @marilynvandenberg, @masario.es

The Donut

A very popular hat shape to come about recently is the ‘donut’ shape. This hat is exactly how it sounds, a round ring shape that often sits to the back of the head. It can be made out of all sorts of materials and adorned with trims such as flowers, feathers, veiling, beads etc.