Ascot hats do seem to bother women quite a lot: what kind of hat to wear forms a large part of my reader mailbox from about mid-May onwards. And, given that we British do like to sport a titfer on as many occasions as possible, from Great Aunt Mildred’s funeral to baby George’s christening, with umpteen weddings along the way, hats can become quite an expense. Even if you are investing at the lower range – say in one of Stephen Jones’ truly lovely creations for Designers at Debenhams this season.
So let me introduce you to the brilliance that is The Hat Club. Their raison d’etre is to hire excellent millinery at affordable prices. Usually I am a bit sceptical of hat hire places: they seem to have sprouted mainly in the Home Counties, and specialise in the kind of creations more usually seen on Hyacinth Bouquet-ish mothers of the brides, and most hat hire services do not showcase their collections online.
Fear not: the lovely girls at The Hat Club have a vast collection of hats by Emily London Millinery, Rachel Black, Gina Foster, Bundle MacLaren, Juliette Millinery, Philip Treacy and Rosie Olivia, nearly all of whose hats I have worn in the past, and every available hat is shown in glorious technicolour on their site.
You can pick up hats from the studio in London, send a bike or, at the Derby and at Ascot collect and return them at the racecourse. If you are hiring for a wedding/other occasion, you have the hat for the weekend. For the races, it is a 24hour hire: you can collect the night before or the morning of. (The Hat Club tell me that the drop-off is more helpful as it means people don’t have to rush home to get their hat back to the studio but the racecourse pick-up service is helpful for people hiring who are not London based.)
Average hat hire cost would be around £65 but they start as low as £35 and go up to £120 for a Philip Treacy. (And all their hats are Ascot Royal Enclosure approved.)
I asked if I could test out the service on Friday at the Investec Derby at Epsom. It was ease personified: I chose a few options that would work with my outfit, and emailed them over the night before.
On the day I called from the car on approach to the racecourse and met Harriet near the entrance. (She was easily identified by her large hat box.) I tried a few on, and that was it: Bob’s your uncle: I had the loan of that splendid hat at top by Juliette Millinery for the day.
If I hadn’t forgotten to remove it in my rush to find my driver to beat the traffic home, I could simply have returned the hat at the end of the day at the race course.