In Gainesville, hats are making a comeback

Polly Singer's hats have made it to the Winner's Circle and Millionaire's Row at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. This hat, dubbed Go for the Green, was worn by Star Jones at last year's Derby.

Courtesy of Polly Singer
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:25 p.m.

The Kentucky Derby may be the most exciting two minutes in sports, but for plenty of fashion-forward women, it's merely an excuse to wear a hat.

Just ask Polly Singer, owner and designer of All You Need is Love, Hats and Veils in Lexington, Ky., whose busiest time of year is Derby season. Her hats have made it to the Winner's Circle and Millionaire's Row at Churchill Downs, where "The View's" Star Jones wore one of her creations last year. She's been working 18-hour days in preparation for this year's Derby and parties, where she says women are more comfortable wearing outrageous hats since everyone else is wearing one, too.

"They're fun," Singer says. "They get attention."

But hats need not be a once-a-year indulgence. In fact, since Singer launched her Web site ( three years ago, she's experienced a surge in business, with clients often ordering hats for weddings, vacations or special luncheons. Now, 95 percent of her business is online.

Convinced you're not a "hat person"? Perhaps you're just not wearing the right one.

"Some I think are scared of wearing them. They're afraid that they're going to look goofy," Singer says. "I think a lot of them haven't found the right shape."

To find the right hat, you've got to try on a variety, she says. In Gainesville, one of the few places to do so is Persona, a vintage clothing and accessories store at 201 SE 2nd Ave. The store stocks about 300 hats for rent and purchase, ranging from derbys and fedoras to pill box and cowboy hats, says owner Nava Ottenberg.

"Hats are selling really well," Ottenberg says. "You've kind of seen the comeback of the hat."

Ottenberg finds many of her customers are drawn to the hat rack in her store, often trying them on for the mirror and taking photographs with them.

"I think people have a fascination with hats," she says. "It's something added to your outfit that adds personality."

Singer suggests choosing the right size hat for your frame: Smaller people should wear smaller hats, and vice versa.

"If you have a lot of confidence, you can wear a bigger hat," Singer says. "I think a lot of it depends on the personality."

She also emphasizes the importance of color. Try a hat with trim that accentuates your eye color, and match your eye makeup and lipstick to the tones of the hat. Avoid dressing all in black with a black hat, or pairing a floral outfit with a floral hat. Neutrals such as ivory and black and white tend to be her most popular, since they match with a variety of outfits; but if you do go for a color, don't obsess about it perfectly coordinating with the colors of your outfit.

"It doesn't have to be an exact match," Singer says.

Pink is Singer's most popular color.

"It really looks nice against pretty much any skin tone," she says.

She also advises customers not to buy a hat they aren't comfortable in, since they are such an individual statement.

At Persona, Ottenberg stands ready to help shoppers decide which of her store's vintage hats - which range from the 1800s to 1980s - is right for them.

"Hats are interesting," she says. "They have a sort of history."

Sarah Stewart can be reached at 352-338-3103 or

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