The Wedding Hat: An Ultra-Chic Alternative to the Veil

By Amy-Jo Tatum

If Breakfast at Tiffanys had a sequel, we’d probably find Holly Golightly sporting a hat on her wedding day. And once a hat-wearing bride makes her entrance, the headgear offers an unexpected touch that makes a confident and style-savvy statement.

Did you know Rita Hayworth wore a cartwheel hat when she married Ali Kahn? And Bianca Jagger donned a picture hat when she married Mick? Celebs and second-time brides aren’t the only ones opting for a hat on their wedding day; a few first-time brides are bypassing the veil in favor of more structured headgear as well.

Ball Gowns, A-lines, evening gowns and sheaths all look fantastic paired up with the right hat. Today, topping off your gown has more to do with your personal style than the past — in other words, it’s all about whatever makes you look and feel your best.



Wedding Hat Styles


Once upon a time (about three generations back), well-dressed women knew the rule — whenever you went out the door, you covered your head. Better to have forgotten your purse than the hat — getting caught bare-headed in public? Disgraceful!

Of course, times have changed … but those decades have lent us a wealth of memorable head chic. Below are a few of the best and most timeless styles. We just wish we could cover them all.

See Also Here Comes the Bride… and Her Amazing Hat, Comb, Flowers or Tiara! and  14 Romantic Wedding Veils (We Found On Pinterest)


The Picture Hat

The most classic hat for daytime formals. Wide-brimmed and typically constructed out of straw or horsehair, picture hats are sometimes swathed in netting and organza. Either way, they conjure up images of croquet parties at Jay Gatsby’s and all those 1930s movies draped in garden party chic. Evoking an edgier image is the wool felt picture hat, synonymous with women in Irving Penn photos.

Whatever look you want to create with this style, here are some tips to consider. Go ahead and put on your picture hat for the ceremony. Just do yourself a favor at the reception and take it off when you’re receiving guests. Unless your hat’s constructed of that bendy sort of horsehair with lots of give, when you reach out to hug and kiss people, your hat will fall off or bump someone. Picture hats go great with most silhouettes, especially ball gowns. The wide brim balances the volume in the skirt.

The Pillbox Hat

Round and brimless, this hat’s worn either centered or back on the head. Though the style was first launched in the 1930s, Jackie Kennedy revived the look. And guess what? Martha Stewart wore a pillbox when she got married in the early sixties. Generally this hat looks best with suits and fitted sheath designs, but it’s super with most other silhouettes.


The Cocktail Hat

This broad category includes toques, pancakes and beanies, to name just a few. Small and brimless, they sit tilted or perched atop the head, usually accented with flowers or a spray of long feathers. A cover of net or nose veil typically wraps all or part of the face. To add a touch of fun to simple gown, cover a cocktail hat fully in marabou or ostrich feathers. All cocktail hats look great with upswept hair, and complement most silhouettes. They’re also ideal as a headpiece attached to any length veil.

The Turban

Adapted from Eastern headdress, the classic turban is a piece of fabric that wraps around the head. Trendy in the late 30s, the 40s ushered in some interesting variations, mixing functionality with chic. Their fame began with women workers who kept their hair safely out of the machinery with scarves tied up turban-style. Taking a cue from the street, designers hyped up the glamour, recasting turbans in satin and velvet so they also complemented suits and eveningwear. Tulle and netted turban head wraps topped off with bows or florals became the quickly-assembled head adornments of choice for wartime brides.

Unconvinced? Think ball gowns and turbans might make the ultimate odd couple? Check out Joan Crawford in The Women (1939). Unfortunately you won’t see or get to try on too many turbans these days, unless you check into a spa and have a facial — they aren’t terribly trendy right now. But if you love this look and want to set the stage yourself, simply pay a visit to a milliner and have one custom-made.


The Cloche

This close fitting helmet-like hat worn low on the forehead, with or without a brim, was all the rage in the 1920s. Today’s versions are mostly felt, and complement vintage dresses and suits. The Cloche looks best over a bob or other short, spunky hairstyles.

The Pagoda

Triangular-shaped and based on China’s distinctive Cooley hat, this high-fashion version was popularized by Dior in the 1950s. Great with A-line and sheath styles.

Top Hat or Derby

Why not? If a man in a white-tie can wear one, so can a bride in a gown!

Picking the Perfect Hat

As far as accessorizing your gown with a hat, just add gloves, earrings and pearls for a truly vogue look. The length of glove you choose really depends on your preference … and the style of your gown. Generally, long gloves and wide brims lead to more of a high-fashion look — and short gloves and little hats, a more ladylike appearance. Experiment. Getting the right look is all about your preference and trying out proportions until you find the ones you like.You can borrow some of the guidelines that apply to veils when it comes to choosing the perfect bridal hat. For instance, the simpler and more minimalist the gown, the more ornate you can get with the hat — but an ornate gown calls for a simpler hat. Once you start trying them on, you’ll see it’s just a matter of getting the symmetry right. But you’ll need to log some time in front of the mirror, gown on and alterations completed, to fully evaluate how a given hat and gown work together.

And speaking of proportion … if you’re petite, you can certainly handle the width of a picture hat, as long as you scale down the brim some to match your size. Plus, any hat that adds height like a derby or pillbox will work well for you.

On the other hand, a taller bride with her heart set on one of these styles might have to experiment a bit — wearing a pillbox tilted to the side or back further on the head, for example. She might have to forego the derby altogether and settle on something lower in the crown. Generally, fuller silhouettes like ball gowns need wider brims to balance out the skirts, although evening gowns and sheaths also look great with wide brims. Smaller hats work best with more columnar looks; try adding poufs of veil or netting to work with fuller skirts.


You’ll find the best selection of hats in millinery boutiques. Here you’re likely to get lots of personal attention from plugged-in aficionados passionate about headwear. Show any clippings and pictures to your salesperson so she’ll have an idea what sort of style you have in mind. Ideally, you should take along your gown. If it hasn’t been delivered, take fabric swatches since you’ll want to match the shade as closely as possible. If you don’t see anything you like in the store, chances are they can custom-design a hat for you.

Another option is the department store with a millinery salon. Here you might find exactly the style you want — but sometimes you might find it in a decidedly un-bridal color, like orange. If that’s the case, they’ll usually check another one of their stores or with the manufacturer to see if it can be ordered or sent in white.


Vintage clothing shops are another good source. True, most of the hats in these places are at least thirty years old, but you might run across that rare and excellent find you never dreamed possible. Vintage shops also typically carry ‘retro-inspired’ hats. Simply put, these are new hats fresh out of the plant that have that fifty-sixty-seventy-year old style without the wear and tear.

One of the questions a milliner often hears is, “Can I wear a hat and veil all at once . . . together?” Of course. Wearing a hat by itself is one option. But choosing to wear a hat doesn’t necessarily mean having to do away with the veil. Realize any length of tulle veiling can be attached to the crown, back or inside of almost any hat. And hats acting as headpieces — even big ones — look stunning. So the answer is yes. Wear both!

The most important thing to remember is, there’s a bridal hat match for every body, face and gown style. In your search, you might find the perfect hat right off; you might have to try on more than a few. But once you find it, you’ll look back at your reflection and know . . . it’s the one.

Photo Credit: Picture Hat With Silk Cabbage Roses ©Copyright by Ron Greystar. All Rights Reserved.
Amy-Jo Tatum has been a custom designer of bridal gowns and accessories for twenty-two years. She opened Bridal Alternatives for women who wanted that one-of-a-kind extraordinary dress. Based on her esteem for Hollywood chic and love of fine fabrics, a design philosophy evolved having to do with seeing fabrics drape well and mold to the skin like sculpture. Visit her website at