Derby 137: This could be a big year for hats

If the past few weeks have shown us anything, it's that we're in prime hat-wearing season.

With an unusually late Easter two weeks ago, the royal wedding last Friday, and this weekend's Kentucky Derby, millinery-minded people are having a field day.

The question floating around Weekender/ Central is: Will the explosion of fanciful chapeaus seen at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton influence what we see Saturday at the Derby?

Lexington milliner Polly Singer of Polly Singer Couture Hats and Veils says it definitely will.

Within hours of the royal nuptials, she said, her Derby clients were requesting styles such as those seen at Westminster Abbey.

"People were wanting the fascinators and smaller hats," she said. (She explained that whereas hats are fitted to the head, a fascinator is "perched" there and is smaller, usually has feathers and looks like the "old cocktail hats" of yore.)

Singer praised the wedding millinery because it caused people who might normally be apprehensive about wearing a bold hat to be more comfortable with the idea.

"People do get more daring at Derby," she said.

But what about being as daring as Princess Beatrice's eyebrow-raising wedding topper, the one that looked sort of like a beige raised toilet seat with a big bow?

"Ohhh, everybody that came in talked about that hat," said Singer, who has not had any requests for similar out-there custom styles.

She said Beatrice's hat, designed by Phillip Treacy, was more in the sculptural, over-the-top style of what's seen at the Royal Ascot horse race, the be-all and end-all of British hat-wearing occasions.

Singer's favorite hats at the wedding were those worn by the bride's mother, Carole Middleton (light blue, disc-shaped, tonal, simple), and William's cousin, equestrian Zara Phillips (black, disc-shaped, tonal, simple).

Saturday's forecast is calling for the possibility of rain, which could spell disaster for hats at Churchill Downs. What to do?

"We always tell our clients to take a plastic bag," Singer said. She advised that if the heavens open up, put your hat in the bag and carry it, but if you want to put the bag on your head, "go for it," she said.

And after the downpour? Before putting the hat back in its box, let it air-dry completely by laying it flat or putting it on a hat stand, she said.

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