Keeping Royal Hats in Place

Royal Hats Blog Reader Arianna submitted a question I suspect many readers are wondering about: And now you must allow me a silly question, but I’m always wondering about it: how do these hats stay on? Especially the ones placed at an angle… Is there a comb inside? I think I’m not the only one among your followers who asks herself this question!  

This is a great question (and for the record, not all royal hats stay on royal heads!). For an answer, I turned to talented American millinery designer, Jill Courtemanche. Her perspective, from the ‘inside out’, is most insightful. Here is what she had to say:

“With the younger generation of royals taking center stage in the last few years, the classic cocktail hat has been reinvented and rebranded as the fascinator. These often whimsical fancies come in all shapes and sizes and give the impression that they are defying gravity; suspended in mid-air atop a well coiffed lady.

In my shop in southern California I have a wall of these little perchers and it is always the first stop for clients looking to play dress up, and they always ask the same question, “I love fascinators but how do I keep them on my head?”. There are as many answers to this question as there are heads, as everyone has a different sense of how a hat feels comfortable and every milliner has their own special trick on how to make it fit just right. Here are a few of the more commonly used options:

My personal favorite, as I find it to be the most comfortable for all day wear, is an elastic. Preferably the elastic should be the same color as the wearer’s hair and is worn under the hair at the back, resting below the bump on the back of the head. You can see an example of this here on Princess Marie of Denmark.”


Princess Marie attending the opening of Danish Parliament, Oct. 6, 2009

“Probably the most common way to attach a fascinator is with a headband. One of the advantages for the designer of using a headband is one can be sure the hat is perched just so. A headband can only be worn one way ensuring perfect positioning every time. The milliner can choose to make the headband very narrow so that it blends in with the wearers hair as seen here on Zara Phillips or incorporate the headband into the design itself for a more seamless look, as seen here on the Countess of Wessex.”

 Embed from Getty Images Apr 29, 2011 in Jane Taylor | Royal Hats

Zara Phillips, Dec. 25, 2012 in a Karen Henriksen design
The Countess of Wessex in a Jane Taylor percher for the royal wedding, April 29, 2011

“One of the more classic ways of keeping on a hat which is traditionally worn further back on the head, such as a pillbox style, is with combs. Seen here on Princess Diana and Princess Beatrice, there is usually a wider comb at the front of the hat, acting as a true anchor and then floater combs or loops for hair pins on each side of the hat for added security.”

Embed from Getty Images  April 10, 1983 in John Boyd | Royal Hats

Princess Beatrice in Stephen Jones for the Diamond Jubilee, June 5, 2012;
Princess Diana in John Boyd while on tour of Australia in April 1983

“Of course, we can’t talk about any of this without touching on the most classic method of all for keeping ones hat in perfect position, the ever traditional hat pin. This method has been used for centuries and it is fool-proof although less than gentle on the hat! Hat pins are generally 8″ to 10″ in length and go first through the hat, then through the ladies hair and back out through the hat and can be elaborate with jewels or feathers, tone on tone like the ones seen here on Queen Elizabeth or simple with a pearl tip as seen here on Queen Máxima.”

Embed from Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth in Rachel Trevor Morgan for Easter, March 31, 2013 with pink felt ‘chicklet’ hatpins

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

Queen Máxima in Fabienne Delvigne April 12, 2011; Queen Elizabeth in Philip Somerville May 2, 2002

Embed from Getty Images

 Embed from Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth in a Philip Somerville design worn at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, May 14, 2002

“Of course there are many other methods used but these are the most popular and in my opinion the most comfortable. Feeling secure in your hat is the most important thing, it should look and feel effortless!”

Thank you so much, Jill, for sharing your hat knowledge with us. I now find myself looking at hats analyzing if there is a comb, elastic, a hidden headband or a hat pin! For those of you unfamiliar with Jill’s marvelous hat design work, do check out her website here. 

Photos from Getty as indicated; Hanne Juul; Tim Graham and Chris Jackson via Getty

22 thoughts on “Keeping Royal Hats in Place

  1. I just so happen to be going to an affair where a garden hat is required. So I did buy a yellow fascinator which came with a headband but I didn’t really want the headband to show. It look like I am 12 years odd. So I think the comb might be a good idea or if I could use a very dark headband the same color as my hair. The headband is detachable.
    Thanks for the information.

  2. I have used two methods. One is elastic cord. It can be blended into the skin by rubbing with the same foundation used on the face. I also used to make very close-fitting cocktail hats, and sewed bits of ribbon on the inside. Then, a clip would secure it to the hair.

  3. Thanks Jill Courtemanche for an interesting article. One of my pet hates is when you can clearly see what is anchoring the hat.

  4. Hat Queen,
    Thank you for all the information as I also wonder how they do that. I have a question for you that I have wondered about for a long time now, what do these royals ladies do with all these hats? My goodness, Queen Elizabeth must have thousands of hats and where would she keep them all and how would they be stored from dust and dirt? Every queen out there has hundreds of hats, and there are princesses, countess, duchesses, and every royal lady out there must have hundreds, if not thousands of hats…………………I love hats, my grandmother had me in hats going to church when I was a small child. And what would they do with all the hats once they pass this earth……….it boggles my mind thinking about what to do with all those hats, and some of them only seem to be worn once or twice.

    • Maybe she does what I do with my hat’s from the 1960’s put them in a dressup box for my granddaughters and now my great granddaughters. They parade in them every tiem they come to visit! LOL!

    • This question is going to require some deep digging! I have a hunch that different royals do different things. We know that Princess Anne keeps all of her hats and brings them out 30 years after their initial wearing!

      When I was at Windsor Castle several years ago, I lucked out and found an exceptionally knowledgeable guide who appeared to have been working there as long as the Queen has! I asked this question to this guide and she said that 3 things happen to hats: 1. They stay in the closet if there is any hope they will be worn again. 2. They are scooped up by the royal archives (especially if they were worn to anything significant). 3. They are gently modified (feathers and flowers switched around, for example) and sent with their outfits (which have also been gently modified) to a charity shop in Windsor where they are sold. The guide laughed and said there are a lot of old ladies who have no idea they are wearing clothes and hats that used to belong to The Queen! I’m not sure how much of that story is true but the guide seemed very sincere and knowledgeable.

    • When I was a child, the shelf of every woman’s closet I knew was filled with boxes, filled with hats!

  5. This was such an interesting post. I feel like I have learned so much about hats from this blog. Thanks for getting all of these amazing people to come and share their knowledge and love for hats!

  6. This was so interesting. I have never seen elastic used on a hat before. It would be so much more comfortable than a pinching headband.

  7. I am still laughing at the photo you have of Princess Di here…ah the 80’s hair and hats…and we thought she looked really great to boot!

    • It’s not the best photo of Diana. Her hair always looked much nicer than it does here. And I’ve never ever seen a picture of a royal with the comb from their hat showing.

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