For the love of hats…

Where to Find Millinery Inspiration

Hats are more than functional, they communicate the personality of the wearer, they are the finishing piece to an ensemble and can transform an outfit. As milliners, we are not only designing an accessory, we are capturing a mood, an emotion of an outfit or a client. The inspiration we utilize as milliners is communicated in our designs to excite the wearer. Thankfully, millinery inspiration can be found everywhere.

Vintage Hat Styles

It is good to understand the history of hat design – how materials and techniques were used and developed and how the variety of popular designs has evolved. Vintage fashion is a huge source of inspiration, and with apps like Pinterest and Instagram, it is easier than ever to look up and follow designers and to create boards of inspirational hats and techniques.

As an American milliner, some of my favorite vintage designers are Mr. John, Lily Dache, Bes-Ben and Jack McConnell. I also regularly browse the local auctions and estate sales for hats for sale. You can use vintage hats as patterns or deconstruct them to learn techniques or repurpose materials. They also make wonderful inspiration by being on display in your workspace.

hat brim edge with millinery wire

Pictured: Carmen Dell’Orefice modeling hats by Mr John – 1955

Millinery Books and Exhibitions

Another source is books – it is rewarding to build a library of fashion and millinery books to reference for both history and design. It is also more hands-on than searching the internet.

Some classic millinery books include:

Modern designers like Philip Treacy and Stephen Jones also have some wonderful books of their works available.

If you are able, visit fashion exhibits of all kinds. It is an immersive experience that is inspiring. If in London, the V&A and The Design Museum have outstanding opportunities to view a wide variety of fashion, but there are many other local and traveling opportunities to connect with fashion in person.

Experimentation and Observation

One of the best sources of inspiration is simply experimentation. It is rewarding to manipulate materials into unexpected shapes or come up with a new process for creating a trim. Practice with traditional and modern materials, as well as unconventional materials you find lying around. You never know where an idea may come from!

hat brim edge with millinery wire

Of course, the most available sources of inspiration are all around you – not only in nature but in technology, architecture, music, food, politics – anything can be a source of inspiration if you open your eyes and your mind.

Remember, there are no bad ideas. Milliners get the opportunity to design wearable art pieces that can be as elaborate and extravagant as they can think of. This, to me, is what makes millinery such an exciting and evolving industry to be a part of.

Hints and Tips

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About the Author

Amy Fowler

Amy Fowler is the creator of the bespoke, California-based ‘Millinery by Amy Fowler’ label. In 2014, her love of hat making and desire to expand her skills and studio inspired Amy to start her own millinery supplies business, Humboldt Haberdashery.

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