The pillbox hat is nearly 100 years old and as such, it has gone through corresponding highs and lows in fashion history.
Jackie Kennedy, one of the 20th century’s most beloved style icons championed the style in the 1960s, so much so that the accessory is now synonymous for the former US first lady.
Meghan Markle, an American elevated to a similarly global role, is clearly taking some inspiration from the late legend, who was a fan of the pillbox style because hats were required as part of the dress code of the day and it sat neatly on her perfectly coiffed hair.
The coverage of Britain’s Duchess of Sussex’s post-wedding makeover could fill a library, but she made her most interesting choice yet – accessorising a chain print Victoria Beckham dress with a white pillbox hat at Westminster Abbey on Monday for Commonwealth Day on Monday. On occasions where headwear is required, Meghan has tried it all – wide brim, delicate berets and oversized where appropriate – but it’s this classic option that is proving particularly exciting.
In 2014, Vogue advocated for its return when Kate was pictured kicking off her tour of New Zealand and Australia in a red Gina Foster piece, which, coincidentally, she coordinated with a Catherine Walker red coat she recycled for yesterday’s event.
Royals around the world have a well-documented appreciation for the pillbox hat: The Netherlands’ Queen Máxima has more than a few hanging in her wardrobe, Kate Middleton wore a brown version to Easter service in 2017 and Princess Eugenie wore a sky blue style to Meghan’s wedding to Prince Harry last year. But the pillbox is still somewhat elusive among the practical set of wedding guests and racing enthusiasts who replicate royal style in real life.
Milliner Carol Kennelly, who is based in Tralee, Co Kerry, says, “The pillbox has always been one of my big sellers because the majority of the styles I do are very classic and timeless. When it’s worn by a young woman, to me, it looks playful and edgy, which is what Meghan is, but it’s also very popular with mother of the bride customer.
“Both herself and Kate… so many of their fashion decisions are inspired by Princess Diana, but this was showing her American roots by showing influence by Jackie O. I think she got it so right on this one, but I really admire her style overall.”
In particular, the way she’s positioned the hat, is trend-setting enough to distinguish her from her royal colleagues. “It tends not to be the most common way to wear it because it’s a difficult position to hold it in place, but I think when worn right, it’s so beautiful,” Carol tells Independent.ie Style. “Like pearls, the pillbox is a classic and won’t date. It’s proven to have stood the test of time.”
Freya Oatway, the founder of Dublin-based FAO Millinery, says the pillbox is an exercise in modernising headwear after years of the fascinator – and its many feathers – dominating the market.
“It hasn’t been around but it’s very much a style on the way back. People are going towards more hats than fascinators,” she explains. “I quite like it with the hair up. It elevates you and gives you more height, it also allows you to hug and kiss with the way it’s placed. You have a fresh face with the pillbox.”
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