I’ve received several requests for some guidance about finding hats that work for specific face shapes. I’ve tried my hand at this topic before, but for real insight into the matter, I turned to my favorite milliner, Audi from Fashion for Nerds. How could someone who designs and hand-makes gorgeous hats steer us wrong, I ask you?
And, just as I expected, she’s outdone herself. So without further ado, I give you a comprehensive look at hat flattery by the incomparable Audi.
From the 18th century until the mid 1960’s, hats were an essential part of any fashionable woman’s wardrobe. Milliners came out with new styles every season, and hats were purchased right alongside all the latest dresses, shoes, and jackets. As dress codes loosened in the ’60s and fashion began to cater more towards the young, hats gradually fell out of favor until the art of millinery was all but extinct. These days, hats still don’t enjoy the prominent place in our collective wardrobe that they once did, but they have begun to trickle back into fashion, and as they do, many women find themselves at a loss to figure out which styles suit them best.
TERMINOLOGY AND MEASUREMENTS
Now before I get into to choosing your best style, let’s talk about some of the basics of hats so that we’re speaking the same language. The two main parts of a hat are the crown and the brim, which are illustrated on the cloche style shown here.
Cloches are noted for their deep, rounded crowns, but there are numerous other crown styles out there: high and tall, shallow, domed, flat, creased (as in a cowboy hat or fedora), slanting and asymmetrical, flared, the list goes on and on.
Likewise for brims, the characteristics can very tremendously. Some are perfectly symmetrical and flat, some roll up, others angle down, some sweep up dramatically on one side and down on the other, and some hats don’t have brims at all. In determining which style of hat will suit you, you need to pay attention to the hat’s basic characteristics: the shape, height, and depth of the crown, and the width and shape of the brim. Below are a few examples of different hats and their basic characteristics.
Remember that there is a big difference between hat height and depth. One way to think about hat depth is to consider the distance between the top of the crown and the top of your head: if your head is “immersed” all the way in the hat, then the hat is deep; if your scalp barely breaks the surface of the brim, then the hat is shallow.
Below are two hats that are roughly equivalent in terms of the overall measurement from the top of the crown to the base of the brim; however, they are suited for very different faces. The hat on the left is deep and sits low on the forehead; the hat on the right is shallow and sits above the ears and high on the forehead.
By the way, many of these descriptors aren’t really standardized terms in the industry as far as I know, but I’m defining them here so that you’ll know what I’m talking about through the rest of the post. However, if you talk to any milliner and say you want a deep or shallow hat, for instance, I’m pretty sure they’ll know what you’re talking about.
HOW FACE SHAPE FIGURES IN
Now to apply some of these basic hat characteristics to your head. Choosing the right hat follows the same basic principles as choosing the right hemline, shoe style, sleeve length, or anything else: accentuate your best features and downplay the rest. A great place to start is to figure out what your basic characteristics are, so that you can determine which characteristics you’re looking for in a hat.
It’s helpful to know what the shape of your face is in order to get started; Imogen Lamport has a great tutorial here. Don’t get too hung up on trying to pinpoint exactly which shape you are; the important things here are the relationship between the length and width of your face, what the widest part of your face is, and whether your features are angular or rounded. Once you’ve examined these traits then the guidelines for choosing a hat should become fairly obvious:
- Round faces: The idea is to elongate your face but also to balance it. Choose tall, shallow crowns to give it length, or try peaked, slanted, or creased crowns. Brims that are wider than your face help to help bring balance and make your face look narrower by comparison.
- Square faces: Elongate your face by choosing a hat that sits high on your forehead. Soft berets worn all the way up at the hairline and tilted off to one side look great on you, as do rounded bowler hats with rolled narrow brims.
- Long faces: Go with a flared, wider brim and deep crown to widen and shorten the face. Cloches are a good choice for you, especially if they have a wider brim.
- Hearts and Diamonds: Since your chin is the narrowest point on your face, avoid wide brims that will make it look narrower. Otherwise pretty much any style will work well on you.
- Angular features: If you’ve got angular facial features, such as a square jaw or triangular nose, then look for hats to soften and complement those lines; think sweeping or floppy brims, drapey berets, and sculpted, folded, or asymmetrical shapes. Also look for hats that have prominent, asymmetrical trimming, such as an elegant, curving arc of feathers.
Take a look at the photos below. Which characteristic of Paris Hilton’s hat works particularly well with her square jawline? Why is the shallow, wide-brimmed, peaked hat well suited for Ingrid Bergman? What makes the deep, wide-brimmed hat a good choice for Gwyneth Paltrow?
And how about oval faces? Well, there’s really no need to dwell too much on this one, because ovals can wear pretty much any damn thing they want. Don’t believe me? Well, using Imogen’s example of Kate Moss for an oval face, I pulled together this collage of her wearing some vastly different hat styles and shapes:
OTHER FACTORS IN HAT CHOICE
Hats aren’t only about face shape though. You’ll also need to take into consideration your overall size, and for this you have a pretty simple guideline: the larger the woman, the larger the hat she can wear. If you’re plus-sized or tall, then a large, wide-brimmed hat will help to balance your proportions and won’t overwhelm you the way it would a petite gal.
And then there’s yet another characteristic that comes into play: your hair. The right haircut can allow you to wear hat styles that you otherwise might not be able to carry off; in this way, hats are a little more forgiving than other types of clothing. Long faces can be shortened with bangs (A.K.A. fringe), round faces can be slimmed with layers, and angular faces can be softened with waves and curls. If your haircut has done a lot of the work for you, then you can branch out a little and try some different hat styles.
And then, how you wear the hat is also a factor; when you’re trying on a hat for the first time, angle it this way and that, turn it sideways, tilt it far back or far forward and see which orientation works best on you, keeping in mind that as you style your hair differently, you may also need to style your hat differently. Remember, there is really no one “right” way to wear a hat.
Lastly, find a hat that fits you. This may seem like a no-brainer, but hear me out. Many hats have some amount of stretch to them, even the molded felt kind. A hat should generally fit snugly on the head but not be taut around the inner band, or else the shape will become distorted. If you’re buying a hat directly from a milliner, great; many milliners can adjust the size of their hats slightly or create a custom one just for you. If you’re searching for a vintage hat though, prepare to be patient and determined, because many vintage hats do not fit modern heads. What, you think that your head is unnaturally large because no vintage hats will fit you? Think again; vintage hats do not fit most people for several reasons: head sizes have increased (the average now is about 23” circumference), hats these days tend to be worn lower on the head where the circumference is larger, and then felt hats especially can shrink over time. An experienced milliner can reshape and even stretch a vintage hat, so before you just jam it on your head and destroy the shape, find someone you trust and make it fit correctly. Your head, and your hat, will thank you.
One last note from Sally: Since many folks asked specifically about winter hats, bear in mind that this advice applies across the board. If you’re wondering if knit stocking caps look good on you, consider if a hat with a similar shape – like a cloche – would work.