It’s Hat Time of the Year
by Becky Rynor (Ottawa
An outfit without a hat is like a
decanter without a stopper.
That’s Ruth Mills’ belief, and
she won’t be swayed, even though the Ottawa milliner knows the
heyday of hats is definitely over.
Long gone is the time when hats were
de rigueur and many women even made their own. But, she says, there
is evidence of a comeback. "I notice hats more and more. I know
it’s my profession, so my eye is going to pick hats out, but I
also see more people are wearing hats. People are being
You may need a smattering of bravado
to don at least some of Ms. Mills’ hats. Her styles run the gamut
from elegant to coquettish, smart to outrageous.
Her banana hat, for example, is a
funky Breton made of beaver fur felt, trimmed with fur and just
looking for the right person to wear it with aplomb.
Her Valentine’s Day hat is a saucy
little number custom-designed and completely hand-made for a client
to wear to a cocktail party.
Or maybe you’ve got a garden party
pending, now that spring is here? "I love straw," Ms.
Mills enthuses. "I like to throw something on that’s light,
comfortable, airy. Something that protects, but is cool. Although my
desire, still, is to create a hat that doesn’t give you hat
The world may beat a path to her door
if she succeeds, but for now her clients are
"everyday people, people who are not afraid to wear neat hats,
who want something unique."
She also has a working relationship
with Pakenham designer Paddye Mann, designing hats to complement her
line. And Maureen McTeer came to her when she needed a hat to
complete a period costume.
Others come because they have a
special occasion - a wedding, perhaps, a new dress, or a not-so-new
outfit in need of a certain something. "It sounds cliché, but
a hat completes an outfit," Ms. Mills says. "It’s like a
decanter without a stopper."
The customer may not even be entirely
clear on what is wanted, so where does Ms. Mills begin? "Is it
for a wedding? Then I have to ask is it summer or winter" Day
or evening" Is it to go with a suit" Will you wear the
suit again with the hat?" I have to consider the colours, the
materials - felt or fabric, for example. Does it have to be
practical - warm or cool, washable? Obviously I look at the
person’s face and what kind of personality they have. I may have a
style in mind that doesn’t suit the person. If someone has a meek
personality, you don’t want a hat that will overpower them."
You do pay a price for these
creations. A new hat designed expressly for you can cost anywhere
from $200 to $450. And up "depending on the complexity of the
hat," Ms. Mills explains. "The materials, in general,
aren’t expensive. But the labour is very intricate."
are not "hats that you will find in department stores, the
milquetoast, run-of-the-mill designs that most people will buy. That
is not what I do," she says firmly.
At 46, Ms. Mills is a veteran hat
maker. For 22 years, she made historic hats for Parks
Canada. She decided to cut the bonnet strings when she was
offered an administrative position. "I was feeling
uncomfortable with that. I have to be able to create something with
She’d had a part-time hat-making
business in the late’80s, but packed it up in the ‘90s "for
at least five years," she recalls. When she made the decision
to leave Parks Canada, she went to have a look at what she’d put
aside. That’s when she knew she’d done the right thing. "I
could feel the energy growing! I was pulling hats out and saying
‘Oh, I remember this one! I could make another one of these!’ I
had to keep myself calm, I was so excited."
Ms. Mills still gets excited over the
prospect of a new design, a new challenge, although she admits,
"There are times when a hat will confound me. It just will not
work, and I will stay up all night trying to figure it out."
Somewhere along the fashion road,
spring came to be associated with hats, with the purchasing of a new
"Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it," as the song
Ms. Mills feels it might have
something to do with the rebirth people are feeling now.
"Everyone is shedding their heavy winter clothes, their old
clothes and looking forward to something bright and new."
She feels the same way. "I have
11 designs up here," she says, tapping her brow, "for
She also feels the renewed popularity
of hats may have to do with the thinning ozone layer.
"Ultraviolet rays may help the
rebirth of hats," she acknowledges. "People are much more
aware of putting something on their heads for protection. So it
might as well be something cool."
Ruth Mills’ hats are available
through Paddye Mann Designs in Pakenham and Woven Streams Couture in
Hull. Or call her directly at 261-1925.
Citizen, Fashion LIFE,
Thursday, April 20, 2002