Mirror, Mirror: A fascinating head trend

Posted: May 25, 2011

Rakia Reynolds is too cute on this muggy afternoon in her vintage black linen jumpsuit and 3-inch-high nude wedges.

But it's the canary yellow crown with the every-which-way-but-loose feathers perched atop her fuzzy French twist that draws the most attention. Before we enter the Old City Starbucks, one man trips trying to get a second look at the sunshiny confection.

Another woman points and praises. She wants one.

"The royal wedding messed me up," Reynolds lamented as we chatted over coffee. (Espresso for her, decaf nonfat latte for me.) "I mean, I love that hats are all the rage now, but honestly, this is my look."

And I must say, she's right.

At Kate and William's wedding ceremony, Philip Treacy's presto-strangeo icy mauve and baby blue sculptures made headlines on the heads of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. And even Victoria "Posh" Beckham surprised us modern gals when she wore a cute navy pillbox - albeit one that looked like it was growing seaweed.

None of this surprised Reynolds.

"I've been wearing headpieces since I was in college," Reynolds said matter-of-factly. "People at Temple thought I was weird. I mean, someone asked me if I was a witch once."

Fascinators once referred only to fine, lacy head coverings. There was even a time - and thank God I missed it - that a woman wasn't considered dressed without her hats.

Both my grandmothers were big hat fans. And I have one aunt who wouldn't dream of setting foot in a Sunday service without one. Although a good friend talked me into participating in a hat fashion show at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church - Lord knows I love the church ladies - I'm not a hat lover, no matter how many times Reynolds tries to make me one.

Nonetheless, by the 1970s, fascinators were over and hats were relegated to Easter Sunday, Mother's Day, and horse events: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, and locally, the Devon Horse Show. But one can never rely on fashion trends' staying at bay, even if it's been 20 or 30 years.

The hat's return first reared its head when Treacy began designing posh head toppers for all the cool kids in Hollywood, including Sarah Jessica Parker. There were some takers, but many people ignored that late-'90s attempt.

Then at President Obama's inauguration in 2009, Aretha Franklin boldly wore a crystal-studded bow, courtesy of Mr. Song Millinery in Detroit. Everyone talked about it. But hats still didn't catch on.

Next Lady Gaga hit the scene with all kinds of headgear - from the ones that resemble bugs, to a sun hat made entirely from her own hair, to her latest on Saturday Night Live (it had eyes).

And with Kate Middleton always being photographed wearing tiny little hats, we are finally now seeing the birth of a trend.

"The fascinator is an easy style for someone who doesn't normally wear hats to experiment with," said Jill Hammer, a spokeswoman for L.A.-based The Headwear Association who pointed to the handmade marketplace etsy.com as evidence of more independent designers making hats. Hat companies are increasing their supply, too.

"Established hat brands have expanded their fascinator offerings. ... Americans are starting to embrace hats more than they used to."

This is true in Philadelphia, too. Owners at Hats in the Belfry on South Street say their recently expanded fascinator selection has led to more sales.

"We have a lot of women shoppers coming in our store looking specifically for fascinators," said Shaun Walker, assistant manager at Hats in the Belfry. "The most popular style is the pillbox that often comes with a small veil. The headband-style fascinators are also quite popular."

Last month Carmelita Couture held a cocktail party it called Hattitude, where owner Carmelita Greco offered dozens of hats from well-known designers Arturo Rios and Dawn Wilson. She sold six, including a polka-dot bow headband to 100.3 The Beat personality Kendra G.

Even though it means the rest of us are stealing her signature style, the fact that the look is catching on bolsters Reynolds. The owner of public relations firm Skai Blue Media also once served as Philadelphia fashion ambassador for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.

In fact, you've probably seen her if you attend the local fashion parties. She always stands out in vintage colorful tights or a bold dress with a corset. There are times when her spongy hair bursts into an Afro, but lately, she's been pretty consistent: French twist and hat, sometimes with a veil, sometimes without.

Denise Fike, a local fashion illustrator who created a full-color drawing of Reynolds, describes her best:

"Rakia is a modern flashback," Fike said. "She knows how to complete an entire look, and her hat does it."


Mirror, Mirror:

Got a Great Fascinator?

Wear it June 1 at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair's Cartier Devon Hat Contest, starting at 10 a.m. Celebrity guest judges include Carmelita Greco of Carmelita Couture, NBC10's Lilliana Vazquez, John Wind of Maximal Art, and Carson Kressley, host of Carson Nation. Admission to the grounds is $8; contest

entry is free. For more information, go to www.devonhorseshow.org.


Contact fashion columnist Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704, ewellington@phillynews.com, or ewellingtonphl on Twitter. Read her blog, Mirror Image, at www.philly.com/mirrorimage.

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