Jess Collett: Modern Millinery

Cakes get icing, flowers have dew, even that all too necessary morning latte gets a chocolate sprinkle. It seems most things that are lovely become even lovelier once topped off… and women are no exception!

Hats, once a cardinal rule of elegant dressing, have become an area of uncertainty for many women. Where do you wear a hat? How to get the right size? Do hats even suit me? Though as expert milliner Jess Collett quips, “saying you don’t look good in a hat is like saying you don’t look good in shoes!” Like with anything, finding the hat for you is a question of style and soul-searching… and of course on such a journey, you need the right place and the right person!

Jess Collett’s charming atelier and workshop is alive with her extraordinary textile confections. There are feathers, sprayings of beads and constructions with flowers. Large hats, little hats, fascinators, show-pieces, casualwear trilbys and fedoras alongside PVC headbands… Heaven for the hat-hungry! Each piece is like an ornament, hand-stitched with care and made to measure, yet Jess assures me “you can’t be too precious about them. They’re tougher than they look. Hats are meant to be worn remember.”

As children, Jess Collett and her siblings were great fans of dressing up (who in their right mind wasn’t?!) and she shows me a photo of her in Andy Pandy costume. “I had asthma as a child and my mum didn’t know what to do with me,” she laughs, “she got me onto sewing.” Later Jess studied at Kensington and Chelsea College and trained under Edwina Ibbotson, learning traditional techniques of the craft, a skill that is lost in the conveyor belt of the machine-made hats we find in our usual chain stores.

“People want to buy things that cost 5p,” she muses, “there’s no love gone into that. It’s throw away, you wear it, you chuck it… It seems to defeat the point of making something altogether, I don’t get it.”

Still, there’s an obvious hat comeback brewing, headed by Kate Middleton. “She’s been brilliant for milliners, she wears lots of hats” Jess tells me, “Other women look at that and feel more confident.” Bravo, Kate! She’ll be amongst the many other legendary ladies who championed headgear; in the 18th century Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire wore ostrich feathers in her hair, in the 60s Jackie Kennedy brought the fashion world to storm with the pillbox hat, and of course Isabella Blow, patron and muse of the late Alexander McQueen, frequently sported Philip Treacy creations like a queen would a crown. But you don’t have to be any sort of royalty or style maven or have a ticket to Ascot. Hats can be worn to any athletic event, for Christmas parties, birthdays, weddings, fetes and generally throughout the winter season to stop chilly red ears. They, more than any handbag, will make your hosts, friends and passers-by sit up and see you.

I want to tell you more about Jess Collett, but why ruin it? She keeps champagne in the fridge and loves to welcome clients in her atelier, where you can still have the giddy pleasure of having something made bespoke for you… your very own cherry to top the cake.

Please visit for more information and bookings.

1 Comment

  • Harriet J Mc Farlane

    My Great Grandmother was a business owner of the Collett & Co Milinary shop in Red Lodge MT what must be 100 yrs ago. Do you suppose we have a connection? I’ve always been interested in making hats. I have made
    quiet a few in the last 20 years. In doing genealogy I looked Her up while traveling in Red Lodge, Mt. Couldn’t find much, but she had in fact had a shop there. Jean

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