PHILADELPHIA A hat with too many feathers, too many sequins, or too many ribbons is just too much drama.
But the right chapeau? The perfectly perched little pillbox? That’s the epitome of chic.
So you can imagine how excited socialites-turned-entrepreneurs Chelsea Irwin and Natalie Mackey were recently when they stumbled upon boxes and boxes of vintage brimmed beauties. Not only was the sheer number of the trendy head-toppers gasp-worthy, the designer names made those fashionistas’ hearts hum: Halston, Ralph Lauren, Chanel.
Irwin and Mackey coveted them. They were confident their friends would covet them, too. And how could the friends of their friends resist coveting? So they started a website named Hat Covet – www.hatcovet.com – to sell them.
Six weeks later the online shopping site had been featured three times on Vogue.com, more than tripling Hat Covet’s page views from 200 or 300 a day to 1,000. Hat Covet sells about two dozen hats a week, not bad for a fashion startup.
“I bought a beautiful, gray and brown hat with a rim, and it’s just gorgeous,” said Emily White, senior director of business operations at San Francisco-based Instagram.
White, 35, met Irwin, 28, a few months ago while visiting friends in Philadelphia. The meeting inspired a purchase.
“These hats had been tucked away and hidden from the world, and now these women are bringing them to a younger generation of women,” White said.
About three years ago, hats started gaining popularity with the most eccentric of today’s trendsetters, from Nicki Minaj to Lady Gaga.
In April 2011, Philip Treacy fascinators donned by both European royalty and Victoria Beckham at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton were just as big a deal as Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding frock.
With every Pinterest posting and Throwback Thursday update, hats in all of their Kentucky Derby-esque elegance are becoming cool again. After all, we’ve embraced everything vintage (and vintage-inspired) from 1930s A-line sheaths to 1950s fit-and-flare dresses to 1970s bohemian skirts. So a cloche – especially with a dash of netting – can pull together an old-school look in a very current way.
Real estate developer David Waxman, a friend of Mackey’s fiance, is redeveloping a building that housed the Hat Shoppe, a boutique that specialized in selling “church hats.” Waxman discovered about 3,000 hats left by the former owner, and offered them to Irwin and Mackey.
“When we saw the hats, we knew we had to have them,” Mackey said. “We wrote a check on the spot.”
They paid about $1 a hat.
Among the inspirational gems were brown, navy, and orange bowlers courtesy of iconic millinery salon Adolfo, dozens of pink-and-red broad-brims by Oscar de la Renta, and purple caps with feathered detailing labeled Halston.
Irwin and Mackey, 29, cleaned and categorized the haute headpieces using special cleaners and brushes, ending up with about a thousand salable hats. They augmented their collection by scouring private estate sales and trolling vintage shops, adding a couple thousand more to the mix. Generally the hats sell for $150 to $300, although a Chanel can fetch more than $400.
They also sell vintage jewelry, which fits into their philosophy: Only the rare is worth coveting.
“If you buy a hat from hatcovet.com,” Irwin said, “you’d be pressed to find someone else wearing your hat.”
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