Fancy hat! Fashion student shows off headwear

When she is not at university or planning a future business venture, Claudia Aliffe can be found doing her part to keep a small part of fashion history alive.

Claudia, a mature student, has been dressing hats for years, as her background in costume design called for them regularly. She enjoys the fantasy of extravagant hats, in a society where they do not have much of a standing.

“Hats are just for weddings and things now, aren’t they? It is a shame, but it’s like anything really…we don’t dress up like we used to,” she says.

Now in her first year of a fashion degree at the University of Lincoln, Claudia says that her costume-making roots are still clear. She’s careful to stick to the fashion rules of each historical period: “Everything has very strict rules of what you can and can’t use and what was fashionable at the time, so I try to keep everything very historically based.”

Claudia has just completed a millinery course for her degree, but says she enjoys the dressing more than the making of the hats. “I tend to buy antique feathers and ribbons and things like that and dress hats that already exist…I love the idea of decorating things.”

The style of each hat slowly develops as she begins working on it: “I start rummaging through boxes and find that things that work quite well…and it just kind of all comes together on its own. You get used to seeing the balance and how it works and what looks best, but also again keeping within what was fashionable at the time.”

The straw feathered hat was made to go with a brown velvet dress from the 1890s which Claudia made. She says: “The feathers are real…which is quite weird for a vegetarian. Pheasant wings [such as on the hat] are really good and you can dye them different colours…I like working with feathers, but I wouldn’t ever go out and shoot a bird to get them.”

The floral hat is one which Claudia made for personal use: “This one went with a white Edwardian dress with puff sleeves and an A-line skirt that I made for an event I went to in Oxford three years ago. I didn’t actually wear this hat in the end because it’s so massive and it’s really heavy.”

The black hat is one of her favourites. It is an 1880s bonnet which Claudia has adorned with antique ribbon and feathers. She says she loves the drama it presents, and describes how it should be paired with a dress with a bustle and corset to enhance the look.

— All photos by Anneka James

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