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Crowned Head

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Forget Fergie’s foibles or the scandal of Di’s divorce. What still stands as one of the darkest hours in the much-plagued house of Windsor was the 1991 royal visit to the U.S. when—egad!—Queen Elizabeth II’s broad-brimmed bonnet very nearly eclipsed her. “President Bush used the microphone before her, and when she went up there, you only saw the top of her hat,” recalls Philip Somerville, 66, who, along with Frederick Fox, 65, serves as Her Majesty’s official milliner. Mercifully, such faux pas are rare, since the Queen regards her hats as a key part of every royal appearance. “She’s very conscious of her hats,” says Somerville. “She wants them to fit the outfit perfectly.” A master at recycling her chapeaux by adding new scarves or ribbons, the Queen prefers brightly colored designs that stand out in a crowd—and won’t blow off in the wind. But her favorite look is actually “something quite small,” says Somerville, “so it won’t get bumped as she’s getting out of a car.”

In making the Queen’s hats for events such as the Royal Ascot races in June (1), a state visit to Poland in March (2), an arrival at Heathrow (3) and an appearance in New Zealand (4) in November, and her 70th birthday in April (5), royal milliners, Fox explains, use “papier-mâché covered with fabric in the shape of her head,” which, at 21½ inches in circumference, is “smaller than average.” The hats, he adds, “are definitely one-offs” (Brit-speak for one-of-a-kind). Some outfits require more than one. “In photos you always see the hat but not necessarily the dress, so the hats age faster,” Fox says. Fox and Somerville work in tandem with the Queen’s couturiers Sir Hardy Amies and John Anderson. The Queen liked her Royal Ascot hat (6) “so much that she had a coat designed to go with it,” says Somerville. Both milliners deny responsibility for the hairnet (7) worn to the Chelsea Flower Show in May, which London’s Daily Express called “the kind of headgear Andy Capp’s long-suffering wife Flo wears to do the hoovering.” For a May visit to Hereford Cathedral (8) and a review of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in June (9), the Queen chose classics. Hats not retrimmed, reworn or handed down to Princess Margaret may end up in storage at Buckingham Palace. “She wears them many, many times,” says a spokesman, “so she doesn’t have as many as you might imagine for one of her stature.”