Surviving a Night at a Brit Hospital: Keeping Calm & Carrying On

6 Aug

Given the blog’s title, I try to keep the content relating to fashion, but I’m afraid this week the most fashiony thing it will be relating to are the fit of white lab coats and paper-thin, sky-blue scrubs. That’s right, I guess in order to complete my true England “cultural experience” a trip to the hospital was in order…ha.

After work Tuesday, Lora, my friend, roommate and co-intern, and I were on our way home when the pain I had been having in my neck for the last two days became unbearable. I cried in public on the tube (now my crying isn’t a pretty cry so it had to have been bad!). We went to a pharmacy to seek help first. The woman did not really speak English and said all that she could do was give me ibuprofen. That was not going to cut it this time lady! The pharmacist said if I wanted anything more I would have to see a doctor. “The hospital is just up the road and to the left,” she replied.

Lie! Lora and I (me with a fever that felt like I was having menopausal hot flashes) walked for what seemed like city block after city block. All I remember is this unusual sight: a wheelchair-bound woman, her loose pitbull and her caretaker pushing her. The woman seemed to be drunk — her hat on backwards she was yelling at her dog — along with obscenities — in public, creating quite a spectacle. She had to keep yelling for him to come back as he was not leashed. She kept squirting him with her water bottle at each crosswalk stop — to pedestrians’ dismay who got a second bath as the pitbull shook off the excess water — on them! They were taking the same route as us — the entire way. It was just par for the course.

Lora and I arrived at the emergency room around 6:30 p.m. We waited until nearly 9:30 p.m. before we were called back to a room. It seemed as though every other person had been called before us, even those who had arrived after we had. We tried not to speculate it as a cultural thing. I guess we will never know if we received delayed attention because we were foreigners.

The first nurse I came into contact with was not a pleasure. In an almost attacking manner she got fairly close to myself and asked, “So, you have neck pain. Have you had any parecetamol or ibuprofen today?” I was so disillusioned (I figure because of the fever and pain and just being overwhelmed and scared) that I did not understand her. I told her so. Then she asked me again condescendingly as if she would someone who is mentally incapacitated, “Have you had any PAR-E-CET-E-MOL or I-BU-PRO-FEN today?”. I nearly cried. I replied that I had no idea what “pareceta”-whatever was. That’s the thing, England’s medicines and ours go by differing names. Turns out parecetamol is just a fancy name for Tylenol. Who knew? She gave me a dose of both and we waited some more.

I was taken to an E.R. room, the curtain left open. Lora and I wished we had some privacy. Thankfully we were greeted by a cheery, 20-something nurse who had compassion. She would say things like “darling” and “sweetie,” and when I started to panic about the situation she tried her best to assuage my fears. The doctor came in. He was an Indian man, all-business but nice enough. He explained I had an infection and sadly he did not know where it was coming from. I would most likely have to stay the night to have further tests run. This is when I lost it. Lora was right by my side though. We laughed through our tears (she can’t see someone cry without doing so herself) about peeing in cups and played with the funny looking tourniquet the nurse used to put the IV port in. We made the best of it.

Then came the funny part. I went for a chest x-ray and the technician doing it turned out to be this incredibly good looking young man! What a sight for sore eyes. We had a few gaffs – my birthdate was all messed up (in England the date goes in the opposite order as ours does in the U.S.) and my hospital gown was open in the back! He helped me tie it. And, I had all sorts of metal still on me, including an unmentionable. It was embarrassing to take care of it right then and there, but, it made me laugh at least.

I ended up being admitted up to the Acute Medical Unit sometime later to be greeted by another nurse – and let’s just say she had more in common with the “PAR-E-CET-A-MOL” lady. She seemed to be from the Caribbean and her accent was thick as she spoke through her gold-capped teeth. I was in Bed#1 to myself, which kind of scared me that I was not with the other patients out in the open in the communal rooms. The shower could fit about three of the dorm bathroom’s inside of it. The nurse did not have to kind word to utter. She was about to not even let Lora stay with me. She said it was against policy, that I was an adult and I should be able to handle it on my own. She wondered why should I be scared? People like her go to America all the time. She said that life was hard and you get sick. I told her I had already had my fair share. She could take my word for it.

Lora and I decided it would be best for her to go home, we would both just be sleeping anyway and there was no way she was going to be able to get any rest sitting in a wooden chair or on the floor. The hospital offered no cots or extra blankets or anything for her. They were not very accommodating. I was even afraid to ask the nurse for an extra blanket and pain medicine for myself! It seems in the U.S. people are friendlier. Yes, that is a huge, maybe brash generalization, but people here, especially in the female realm, tend to be harsher and not as compassionate as they are back home. I have been told numerous times since I have been here that my smile is a dead giveaway that I am an American – just the fact that I am smiling at all.

I made it through the night, half-sleeping, half staring at a blank, white wall, wondering why the nurse had not been in to check on me in five hours. I buzzed her when I had had enough and sat awaiting her in fear. The alarm was loud and it was five a.m., but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right?

I saw another doctor later on that morning, a cheery, friendly older man with a bright colored bow tie. Lora came back first thing in the morning to stay with me.

Still no answers.

Lora had brought necessities from home for me, plus loads of fashion magazines and snacks. We watched Iron Man (the first one), which the hospital called a “New Release” (haha). Anyway, she was a lifesaver. In the afternoon her and Anabel, another friend of mine here and flatmate, swapped places and she stayed with me. I could not be more thankful for the two of them. I don’t know what I would have done!

We spent the day in the hospital. I tried to eat hospital food, but it really is just as bad here as back home, no difference there. Lora ran out and got us Pret a Manger, a lovely chain fresh food restaurant in England. We waited.

Infectious Disease ended up coming in and doing their own assessment of the symptoms: stiff neck, fever, headache. The bloodwork showed a rise in certain levels which was an indication of infection, but the doctors were at a loss. They did not think it was meningitis, although it sure smelled like it. They concluded, rather inconclusively, that it was an upper respiratory tract infection that had settled into my neck. The doctor who had been in earlier (the one with the bow tie) came back and said he disagreed with his colleague. He believed it to be an infection. That left me between a rock and a hard place. And strangely after both of these discussions they decided to let me go home! (after asking me if I wanted to stay). What person in their right mind would want to?

Their decision has left me, my family and friends sort of waiting in the wings. I am happy to be home in my flat, yet unsettled in their decision to pretty much undecide. Because I am feeling better (aside from one symptom), unless things worsen I am going to wait it out until I get home to the States and see my own doctors for answers.

I wanted to thank everyone who sent kind thoughts, well wishes and prayers our way. I know that is what brought us through. I really am learning to live by the Brit’s motto: “Keep Calm & Carry On”.


Review of V&A Exhibit on Japanese Fashion Designer Yohji Yamamoto

12 Jul

The Yohji Yamamoto exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum from March 12 through July 10 chronicles the groundbreaking work of this Japanese designer. Along the right side of the exhibition room are catalogs and films of Yamamoto’s works through the years, while at the main center of the room are 60-plus of Yamamoto’s menswear and womenswear through the decades. It was amazing to see how he has evolved. Going into the exhibit I was optimistic, yet in the back of my mind having read texts on Yamamoto, I thought all of his pieces would be drab (a plethora of the color black), asymmetrical and deconstructed.

Four examples from the Yamamoto exhibit

          I was happily surprised. Most of all by a yellow strapless silk gown that stood out in the center of the white-floored room accompanied by an oversized coolie hat from his spring/summer 1997 collection. Then I was intrigued. I was further entertained by the tennis shoes he had designed for Adidas with their red blossoming rose pattern and the sleek brown and black leather laptop bags he had designed for Hermès. He is much more multifaceted than I initially imagined him to be.

          The exhibit started out with a little blurb about Yamamoto’s biography. He was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1943 to a mother who was a seamstress. He attained his law degree first, and then decided to go down the fashion path. He launched his first ready-to-wear line, Y’s, in 1972 and his first collection in 1977. Yamamoto eventually showed in Paris in 1981, the “it” place for designers, a place where they know if they can do well, then they have in fact made it in the business. In a 2006 article on postmodernism Mears writes:

The younger generation of Japanese designers follows the methodology of Kenzo and others, taking advantage of the French fashion system and ‘Paris’ as their symbolic capital which will eventually result in their economic capital … These designers share a lack of concern about satisfying the Japanese market, the critics or the public because acceptance in Paris will automatically bring acceptance elsewhere (Mears, 2006, p. 2).

Yamamoto’s silk yellow dress with coolie hat – spring/summer 1997

          Yamamoto enjoys karate and has worked in film and dance choreography as well. Moving to his designs, Yamamoto, in the 1980s when his designs went global, offered something entirely unique. While other designers were favoring masculine power dressing with its boxy, fitted silhouettes and enormous shoulder pads, Yamamoto went for oversized, loose clothing in a sort of androgynous look. He explored with new textiles such as felt, which the V&A exhibit shared a plenteous amount of. Looking through the exhibit it seems safe to say that Yamamoto favors the natural fabrics: wool (gabardine, boiled, felt), cotton, silk and satin, although he does dabble in neoprene, velvet, metal and plastic, too. He uses many unusual dying techniques like shibori-dyed silk. This is basically a form of Japanese dying technique that involves twisting, tying, compressing and stitching the fabric, much like tie dying in the United States. He also employs yuzen dying, the paste-resist dying method. Now, before seeing an entire collection of Yamamoto’s works with my own eyes and not just selected drab pieces, I could have easily agreed with critics harsh opinions of his work like Long’s (1982) quote:

Japanese fashion star Yohji Yamamoto is correct in his assessment of his own work. His designs are definitely ‘for the woman who stands alone.’ Who would want to be seen wit her? Yamamoto’s clothes would be most appropriate for someone perched on a broom (Mears, 2006, p. 3).

But, when I see a luxe green pleated peacoat from his autumn/winter 1986 collection or a playful, red asymmetric dress with a crinoline beneath it from his 1990 collection, I must disagree with her. Yamamoto might have been called “antifemale” but how is a crinoline or Madame Grès-inspired pleated gowns not traditionally feminine? The Yamamoto enlightened me as to what this designer is really all about. No, I personally would not like to wear each of the garments in my taste, yet his talent and innovation blew me away. He made a believer out of me.

Appreciating H&M’s value for the frugal fashionista

12 Jul

Rating 7/10 for the shop, 0/10 for service

Good for wardrobe staples and trendy, eventually outmoded fast fashions; corporate responsibility

Bad for long-lasting investment pieces; being paid attention to

  • Visited Regent Street flagship storeSaturday, 5:00 p.m.
  • Number of Stores 2,200
  • What they sell fashions for women, men, teens and children; homewear
  • Website
  • Who’s in charge Stefan Persson
H&M is one of the most viral international fast-fashion companies with 2,200-plus shops in over 40 countries with over 87,000 employees, but for some is just that — a virus. For others who are financially strapped, the retailer is a fashion-forward, frugal stepping stone onward to bigger and better things. H&M, which stands for Hennes & Mauritz, was established in 1947 by Erling Persson in Västerás, Sweden. It’s all in the family too, Persson family members still have positions on the board. Today about 100 in-house designers, buyers and pattern makers design for the entire fashionable family on a budget: women’s, men’s, teen’s and children’s. Dabbling in cosmetics, accessories and footwear too, the company boasts two things only: fashion and quality. Compared with other fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21 and Papaya in the U.S., and Primark in the U.K., this holds true, especially with their strategic designer lines by the likes of Midas-touch Karl Largerfeld, Jimmy Choo and Lanvin. For autumn 2011, Donatella Versace will be designing a collection packed full of leather, busy prints and vibrant color at H&M prices. The store has a rapid turn-around on clothing with the latest fashions being shipped in daily (not sure how sustainable this is for the earth’s landfills and our already bulging wardrobes). H&M does not own any of its own factories and instead buys from 700 outside suppliers throughout Asia and Europe. And despite the economic downturn, H&M survives having made 126,966 million in Swedish krona in 2010 with sales increasing 12 percent from May 2010 to May of this year. And to top it off, H&M has got it right in the corporate responsibility department with plans in place for their economic, social and environmental footprints. Their plan is to make the retailer 100 percent sustainable eventually. They have a good start; noticeable with the hanging green tags, many garments have been made with organic and recycled materials or cellulosic Tencel.

                                                                                                                             The windows They leave something to be desired with the goldilocks wig-wearing mannequins and cheap carpet, but at least shoppers will know what they are getting as prices of what are worn in the windows are listed on tacky tags and price lists.

 Shopability Most advantageously, womenswear is on the ground floor with accessories and cosmetics; men, denim and more ladies are on the first floor, while the -1 floor contains ladies sized 18-30, maternity, lingerie and childrenswear sized 0-14. The clothing is further broken down by color palette, “summer must-haves,” sale racks, basics and by collection, providing a clearly- labeled roadmap for the shopper (since they will not be receiving any employee guidance). The fitting rooms are quite large and minimal with drawn curtains.

Service? While the positive is that the staff is a diverse representation, the H&M shopping experience is entirely self-guided. Do not expect to be asked if you need anything or to be greeted with a friendly smile at the till. No, they do their thing, you do yours, and you’ll get along fine.

Online Its native Sweden, and Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and the U.K. are the only countries to have access to H&M on the web. The site is surprisingly fresh and offers more customer service than the actual store.

Do not expect to be asked if you need anything or to be greeted with a friendly smile at the till. No, they do their thing, you do yours, and you’ll get along fine.

Verdict Fast fashion gets a bad rap, but H&M is improving that image with its eco-friendly textiles, Fair Labor Association membership and earthy lines like the “Conscious Collection.” Now if only it could pay attention to its customers and treat them not as its bargain prices suggest.

Credit: The writing style of this article was adapted from Mary Portas’ “Shop!” columns in London’s Telegraph newspaper

Eccentric Brit Fashion At Its Best

3 Jul

So, it’s time once again to remark on the fashion I have been seeing lately — most times the best street fashion photo finds have been none other than on the tube. After having my interview with Prudence from Prudence Millinery, she really enlightened me. She made me see the polarity in British fashion — uber traditional (as with the hats and two-piece suits at Trooping of the Color a couple of weeks ago) and over-the-top eccentric.

The past few weeks there have been fashions that have literally stopped me in my tracks, whether they were shocking, interesting or sometimes outright appalling. Overall trends I have been witnessing:

  • Top hats, and not for a black-tie occasion. Men pair the dapper Abe Lincoln-esque look with jeans, suspenders and tennis shoes.
  • T-shirts with profanity written on them in large visible letters. One the other day said, “What the f*** is your problem?” on the backside — and no, it was not censored
  • Rainbow highlighted hair:

    Rainbow highlight trend

  • Leggings as pants — this trend has gone beyond U.S. college campuses into a fashiony realm

    Louis Vuitton Hot Pink Graffiti Leggings paired with strappy stilettos and quilted Chanel handbag (as seen in front of Harrod's Department Store)

    More relaxed leggings-as-pants look as seen at the tube station

  • “The golden boy look” for men: blonde medium-length hair parted on the side, Ralph Lauren button-up Oxford or Lacoste polo with, yes, a sweater tied over the shoulders and colored trousers

    The Brit Golden Boy Look - it really does exist here on the street. Photo credit: Esquire Magazine

  • British men seem to love spider-killer, pointy leather dress shoes here:

    Pointy derby men's shoe by Kurt Geiger, a popular London-based shoe designer ($145)

  • Miu Miu glitter oxfords with crystal backs (should be diamonds for the price!)

    Miu Miu Glitter Brogues with Jeweled Heels ($595 from Harrod's)

    Besides these aforementioned trends I have been seeing on a daily basis, there have also been costume sightings — outfits that in the U.S. that are reserved for nothing but the Halloween holiday…but not here, any day is prime…

    London's Southbank - Man wearing hot pink boa, Queen Elizabeth mask, black top hat and tutu

    Raising money for charity on Marylebone High Street. The alligator costume had nothing to do with the cause

    You could say, just by these examples that London fashion is a bit more outrageous than what you would see in the States. Prudence, the milliner, explained British eccentricity stems from the uniformed school days of English youth. All through school English children are mandated to wear uniforms, as they reach adulthood they are craving to express themselves and do so in lavish ways.


Review of the Exhibition “Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life”

29 Jun

“There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder,” declared anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas in her 1966 book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, cited in this exhibition of 200-plus artifacts at the Wellcome Collection that explores the core of Douglas’ analysis: society’s undying obsession with cleanliness.

Dirt connotes more than the mud your child tracks in, it embodies tangible forms like rubbish, bacteria and, yes, soil, but also symbolizes social, ethnic and cultural “cleansing,” and the frailty of the human condition. A threat to you and your family’s health, yet essential for survival, dirt is a muddied concept.

Within the sanitized walls and russet text, visitors will find the beauty of dirt with 17th century porcelain chamber pots, Igor Eskinja’s 2011 Dust Carpet art piece, and Susan Collins’ propped broom that if not eyeballed for the hidden jewels within its bristles would be missed as if property of the Wellcome’s maintenance man.

Visitors will also be repulsed by its dangers with a glass bottle of intestinal excretion from an 1853 cholera patient, an 1850s tosher’s hook used for fishing out sewage treasures, and the anti-Semitic propaganda from Nazi Germany.

More poignant than nauseating, the exhibition stirs feelings of pity for the people who inadvertently live in filth, like the Hindu caste the Dalits, and disgust for the “haves” who have mutated “Fresh Waters” into “Fresh Kills,” as they have in Staten Island with its landfill that towers over the Statue of Liberty.

This exhibition authenticates that motherly expression: maybe a little dirt — of a certain kind — will indeed hurt.

The exhibition runs at the Wellcome Collection until 31 August, 2011. Click here to watch a trailer about the show. 

Uttar Pradesh, India - 30-year-old woman holds basket of human excrement to scavenge through. 80 percent of scavengers are women. Photo Credit: Friedrich Stark, 2010


Sewer scavengers in India in 2007. Photo Credit: Senthil Kumaran/Trikaya Photos


Fresh Kills landfill at Staten Island in 1992. Photo Credit: Diane Cook and Len Jenshel/Getty Images


Igor Eskinja's Dirt Carpet, 2011. Photo Credit: The artist and The Independent


An Italian woman before and after contracting deadly cholera in 1831 depicting the dangers of "dirt". Photo Credit: Wellcome Library, London


"Waltzer 2007" by Susan Collins - Bejeweled broom, easy to overlook. It had pearls, rubies and other precious gems to show how labour intensive cleaning can be. Photo Credit: The artist and The Independent

Cyberdog – The Future of Fashion?

28 Jun

The goa trance music inside Cyberdog, a futuristic retail chain, can be heard pulsating from outside its doors, guarded by colossal Bicentennial Man-esque robots. Curiosity for the future entices present-day Stables Market shoppers inside.

Upon crossing the threshold, visitors are transported to a land far from this world. They are greeted by dazed employees wearing cybernetic headgear as they walk into UV-lit blackness.

As if straight out of the Disney Channel film Zenon, set in 2049 A.D., the fashions, which span from clothing for infants up to senior citizens, are stunningly neon, sadly simple and far too democratic; the only personalization options are programmed digital messages that scroll across plain, black T-shirts.

Unlike 1960s mod designers like André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin, Cyberdog has fallen short in superimposing spage-age innovation with street wear.

Women’s fashions include indecently short and body hugging dresses with revealing cutouts, external zippers and plush-boned hoop skirts. Men’s fashions are not much more wearable with what look like straight jackets, latex workout shirts with the Transformers-looking logo plastered on the front, and sports hero-inspired motorcycle pants.

Cyberdog’s clothing is unsolicited for all but a few who fall into its narrow customer base. Its fashions belong at a rave, on an episode of The Jetsons, or on Mars, although the shop is still a must-see tourist attraction.

Cyberdog’s mission is to stay one step ahead of the evolution of fashion, but the chain is more than one step away, it is light years past contemporary design.

For more information on Cyberdog visit

Photo I took in front of Cyberdog, a retail chain at Camden Stables Market that claims to be the future of fashion

"XXX Beehive Dress" Cyberdog Women's

G2 Armour Head System - Cyberdog Cybernetic Accessories

XXX Blastdoor Waistcoat - Cyberdog Men's

Kids Extreme Orbit Moon Dress - Cyberdog Girls



Flower-Mad: British Couture Hatter Remarks on the Phenomenon of Millinery in English Fashion

27 Jun

Peering intently through her claret-rimmed readers, thimble in place, an instructor sits at eye-level across from one of her American fashion accessories students as she threads microscopic beads one by one onto fishing line. Silence permeates the studio, but not the uncomfortable kind. It is in an air of respect, and absorption with the task.

“Lovely,” she praises in her soft British accent as she watches the student try. Dressed in a floral dress, black leggings and flip-flops, she flits about the room doing personal tutorials.

It is 8:30 a.m. on a surprisingly sunny morning off Marylebone High Street. Tucked away behind the commercialized corners of Starbuck’s and Pret-A-Manger, in the basement of American InterContinental University, teaches one of the United Kingdom’s most celebrated milliners. She is so renowned she needs only but a first name – Prudence.

Vintage Garden Hat from Prudence Millinery spring/summer 2011 Collection

A London-based hat couturier, Prudence has designed hats for the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, “giving direction” to designer collections for over 20 years. Prudence created her own label of overtly feminine pieces, Prudence Millinery, sold at Bergdorf Goodman’s beginning in 1991, and opened a couture millinery school in 2002.

Straw Hat by Prudence for Vivienne Westwood's spring/summer 2011 Anglomania collection

But Prudence was not always a milliner mastermind. After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she worked as a buyer and then as a stylist. With growing antipathy toward her career and NYC, she became dissatisfied. Then, one day she had an epiphany.

In 1985, at a knitwear shoot Prudence was styling for i-D, a UK lifestyle magazine, she met milliner Alan White. His trade intrigued her. White worked alone and employed traditional methods. Prudence set her mind to it.

Rose Cory took Prudence under her wing and privately trained her for seven years. Cory acted as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s milliner for 21 years having studied herself under Royal milliner Rudolf.

Despite the glamour of the catwalk and the ties to the British Royal Family, it is here in this intimate classroom littered with cut up patterns, sewing machines, mounds of pins and student sketch pads, that Prudence, a down-to-earth, eloquent, self-professed “flower mad” woman, elaborates on the phenomenon of millinery in English fashion and why the U.S. is not also steeped in its longstanding tradition.

“The really big reason, culturally, is the English really like to get dressed up,” Prudence said matter-of-factly. “The Americans like to be really nice, very simple. In America there’s not this history of dressing up.”

It was around the 16th century when the Catholic Church mandated women’s hair be covered that hats became a compulsory accessory. The term milliner, as we know it today, came centuries later. It derives from the word Milaner, as in Milan. In the 18th century the finest of hats would have been made here of straw. As hats evolved, they served the purpose of marking social status, protecting from the elements, keeping towering dos in place and eventually, simply for fashion’s sake.

In 1967, the church reneged on its rule to the dismay of milliners everywhere. Headscarves would suffice.

“That put a death to millinery — that cost a lot of people to go out of business,” Prudence said.

To compound the effect, in 1968, Vidal Sassoon’s pageboy bob for Mia Farrow in the film Rosemary’s Baby had 20-somethings tossing their hats aside in exchange for the trendy haircut that redefined what constituted femininity.

Hats all but disappeared throughout the 1970s. It was not until Diana, Princess of Wales, was ordered by the British monarchy to cover her head that hats took off again.

“They treated her like a Royal, but not a modern Royal,” Prudence recollected. “They looked to the past and said, ‘She’s the Princess of Wales. Everyone in the past in a public engagement has had their head covered.’”

Although, Prudence said, the John Boyd numbers Princess Diana wore were factory-made and “frumpy,” they ignited a hat resurgence.

Princess Diana wearing a John Boyd hat in Sicily

Some may say a similar phenomenon is occurring with Catherine Middleton. Prudence could not disagree more.

“No, no, no,” Prudence said vehemently before the question could even be finished. Narrowing her eyes at the mere mention of her name, Prudence said, “Not at all. I don’t think she’s doing anything for anything.”

Her reasoning? Middleton often wears mass-produced hats from The Whiteley Hat Company Limited. Beautiful to the untrained eye, these hats are finished by hand — different than bespoke pieces, which are handmade from beginning to end for individual clients.

Kate Middleton wears a Whiteley Hat Company hat to the Epsom Derby

When asked what she envisioned Middleton wearing, Prudence did not hesitate.

“She needs something a little bit more Halston-looking in this 1970s cool, CBGB’s kind of way … a Bianca Jagger sort of way, something really clean and something not fussy and medium size is nice, a nice brim and a really tall crown … framing her face, but, it depends on what she’s wearing,” Prudence mentally sketched.

Although millinery historically is not synonymous with American fashion as it is in England, within the last year, American women have had their curiosity piqued about possible head fashions — the “punctuation” to a look, as Prudence calls them.

The media has been full of striking images of Lady Gaga rocking eccentric headgear. She has flaunted deconstructed telephones by Fred Butler, diamond-encrusted lobsters and lighting bolt hats by legend Philip Treacy, among others.

Lady Gaga wears a Philip Treacy lightning bolt at the 2010 Grammy Awards

Hats also made a comeback appearance in American films like Sex and the City and Sex and the City 2, of which Prudence’s designs were featured. Click here for a link to clips featuring Prudence’s designs in the first film.

And, who could forget the recent hatfest this Spring at “Wills” and Kate’s wedding? The world saw just how deeply entrenched hat wearing is among the British Royals. Between the uproar over the British Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron going bareheaded (some even called it treasonous!) and Princess Beatrice of York’s public ridicule for a Valentino haute couture and tea rose silk Philip Treacy ensemble, the question arises whether the mandate has lifted.

Prudence denied it had. “Whenever you’re in the presence of a queen you should have your head covered.”

Princess Beatrice’s hat could be summed up as eccentric, among other names.

Princess Beatrice at the Royal Wedding 2011 in a Philip Treacy hat

Prudence explained her theory behind idiosyncratic English fashion: “Either in England you’re either really eccentric … or you’re very traditional. Eccentricity comes from the fact that in school you always have to wear a uniform. So, when you get the chance to express yourself people really go all out. That doesn’t exist in America.”

Among other reasons why hats have not embedded themselves in U.S. fashion codes, Prudence said, is the popularization of sportswear in the mid-1900s. For example, Claire McCardell, an American fashion designer, rejected couture and instead designed functional clothing for women, coining the “American Look.” This craze for comfort did not occur concurrently in England; propriety prevailed.

“Everything was always for an occasion,” Prudence said, whether it was a royal function, a quaint garden party, the Henley boat races or Wimbledon.

While hats have resurfaced in American media, they have been reluctant to trickle down to street fashion, besides a handful of passé manifestations.

American representations range from the pastel church-goer hats of the Southern Baptists, to the Shriners’ tasseled fez hats, to the age 50-plus diva “Red Hatters” of the Red Hat Society who dawn kitschy ruby toppers with feather boas, to the yearly Kentucky Derby with its southern belle headwear.

Paris Hilton at the 2011 Kentucky Derby

But, very few, if any of these, use the bespoke method. American hats create a stark contrast to Prudence’s favorites from her archived collection: a pheasant feathered cage twist, and a natural fox and black silk velvet tiara.

“Mine have a definite look to them,” Prudence described. “They’re very outfit specific. I always get the best fabrics and things I can find. They’re very directional. They’re very fashiony, but at the same time, they’re quite a bit understated.”

A hat, Prudence said, should provide the wow factor to an outfit, yet should not be noticed in the context of an ensemble.

“It has to be something really personal, so when they’re wearing what they want to wear with it … it all goes together like it was all designed together,” Prudence enlightened.

Unfortunately, she added, hats will soon be dead, maybe even by mid-century as those trained fizzle out and designer’s attention spans shrink to seconds.

Looking up, she said, “Millinery is really popular at the moment. It’s more popular than it has been in a long, long time … all over.” Millinery increases couture’s impact, a designer’s direction, enhances runway collections and is excellent material for editorial, Prudence said.

For American fashionistas who want to jump on the bandwagon for the first time, you better be quick.

And this season’s options are endless. On spring/summer 2011 runways everywhere the hat was back. Prudence and Westwood showed off angled, fraying straw sun hats, glam turbans, oversized cowboy hats and polished berets. Moschino, Carolina Herrera, Jason Wu and Pucci sent timeless cool headpieces down the runway this season, as well.

Henriette Couet’s article in this season’s H&M Magazine, sums up America’s variable obsession, albeit non-tradition with hats, “Whenever hats are on trend, we turn our gaze to England … In a country where hats are de rigueur for royalty, headwear never really goes out of style.”

Bucket Cowboy Hat from Moschino spring/summer 2011 collection

From Jason Wu's spring/summer 2011 collection

One of Carolina Herrera's spring 2011 ready-to-wear looks inspired by the straw hats men traditionally wear in Korea