Rachel Trevor-Morgan hats
Thursday, 18 April 2013

How to make the Queen's hats

Rachel Trevor-Morgan crafts hats for the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge. No pressure, then, says Katy Pearson

Written by Katy Pearson
The Queen is synonymous with many spectacular things – and hats are among them. Her Majesty is rarely seen without one and she is never shy of making a statement with her headwear. Rachel Trevor-Morgan has been making the Queen’s hats for more than six years. The Queen first wore one of the London milliner’s creations to her 80th birthday celebrations at St Paul’s, but how did Rachel first come to the Palace’s attention?

‘I got a call from Angela Kelly, the Queen’s personal assistant, asking if I would be interested in making hats for the Queen,’ she recalls. ‘Naturally I said yes, and she said that she’d like to come and see the showroom. I asked “When?” and she said “Now.”

‘We’re just around the corner and in a way, I think it was a good thing it happened so fast, or I’d have panicked, trying to make sure things were perfect for the Queen.’

And the Queen isn’t Rachel’s only Royal customer. The Duchess of Cambridge has also worn her designs. ‘She’s worn a couple of pillbox hats, which is really exciting. It’s nice to have the next generation wearing my hats, too,’ she says.

Rachel did not take the natural route via fashion college, but embarked on an apprenticeship in millinery while trying to break into the world of theatre costuming. ‘I very much took the apprenticeship route,’ she says. ‘And I do believe that people can either design or they can’t. You may need a bit of guidance, but it’s something that’s in you.’ She worked for the milliner Graham Smith for three years. ‘In those days, there was a workroom of 13 girls and you really had to get on and get things done,’ she recalls. ‘If you had a boring run of hats to do, you tried to get quicker and quicker, and you progressed from sewing in the labels, to moving on to head ribbons.’

She then spent a year working with Philip Somerville before setting up her own business. ‘The great thing about millinery is that I didn’t suddenly set up in a shop with massive overheads,’ she explains. ‘I was in a small workroom, trying to find my own way, and getting clients and visiting buyers, so it didn’t seem overly scary.’

Each bespoke hat is handmade in Rachel's atelier, each one a labour of loveEach bespoke hat is handmade in Rachel's atelier, each one a labour of love

Today, hundreds of hats leave Rachel’s central London atelier. ‘All the hats are handmade here. We don’t buy anything in, so each hat takes quite a bit of time. Our orders are bespoke; we dye the straws into their colours and we dye the fabrics to make the  owers, which are handmade as well. It’s quite a labour of love.’

So, does the making of the Queen’s hats present any particular challenges?

‘There are certain practical things that you have to consider – for example, the size of the brim. It can’t be too big because the Queen has to get in and out of cars and, of course, she has to be seen. And obviously, if she’s going out on a normal engagement, then it needs to be something fairly straightforward and not too dressy.’

And are the Royals bringing about a resurgence in hat wearing? ‘Catherine is a great ambassador of hats. People are more unsure about hats these days, so to see her wear one with style, it encourages people to think that they can do it too, and look good.

‘There has been a move away from the smaller headpieces, which we’ve seen a lot of. I think people want to make more of a statement now. Hats often do well in a recession, certainly in the past. But I don’t envisage that hats will be worn as much as they were, certainly not like in the 1930s or 1940s. Now they are an occasion item.’

Rachel has had lots of great moments so far, such as her ’first orders from Fortnum & Mason and Harrods. ‘Those moments give you such a buzz,’ she says. But, when pushed on her proudest moment, she replies, ‘I think the Queen really has to top it all.’

Rachel Trevor-Morgan Millinery: 020-7839 8927, www.racheltrevormorgan.com

Rachel has designed a beautiful brooch, £10, in aid of Brain Tumour Research: www.braintumourresearch.org

Rachel Trevor-Morgan hat


Don’t let your hat be an afterthought. You often see people who have made such a tremendous effort with their outfi t, but the hat lets it down, which seems a pity. Instead, you should do it the other way round – a simple, but elegant, dress, topped with a fabulous hat can be unforgettable. Look at yourself in a full-length mirror so that you get a sense of scale, and if you are wearing a very busy outfi t, wear a simple hat. Obviously you can take that in reverse.

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