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Ascot is all about hats with a big H

I&rsquo;M sitting on a gold baroque-style seat in a small boutique on Great Queen Street, surrounded by hats that look more like sculptural cakes than headwear. There is an otherworldly hush in the shop, and each hat is a sophisticated creation. Celebrity milliner Stephen Jones&rsquo;s hatworld is daunting. After all, it is about what he calls &ldquo;hats with a capital H&rdquo;. <br /><br />I&rsquo;m waiting for Jones to emerge from his studio so that I can quiz him about the secrets of making and wearing exquisite hats at Ascot. He&rsquo;s busy just now, because the biggest time in the hat-wearer&rsquo;s year &ndash; Ladies&rsquo; Day &ndash; is just around the corner, and he has orders galore to deal with.<br /><br />When he arrives, the lip gloss-wearing, softly-spoken Jones &ndash; whose current clients include the pop-stars Kylie Minogue and Beyonce &ndash; is anything but scary. The world of hats has changed since he started out in the Seventies, and largely because of him. &ldquo;British hats were at a low ebb in 1979,&rdquo; he tells me of his early days as we sip coffee in his spacious hat- and pin-strewn office. &ldquo;Nobody young wore them &ndash; they were for middle-aged women going to the shops on a Saturday, not redolent of glamour at all.&rdquo; But that all changed in the early Eighties. &ldquo;Vivenne Westwood, the Princess of Wales and myself changed the perception,&rdquo; he says. <br /><br />Now, anything seems to go, and especially at Ascot &ndash; although not always to good effect. So what are the rules for choosing a hat that will get you noticed in a good way? &ldquo;Ascot is about having a good time,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;There are all sorts of people there: the aristocracy and the working class, all joined by their love of horses and a good day out. But it&rsquo;s a mistake to think you have to go wild. People think that since they&rsquo;re perfectly tasteful 364 days of the year, why not let loose here? It&rsquo;s a shame. But that people feel the need to dress so flamboyantly shows how constrained they feel by fashion most of the time.&rdquo;<br /><br />A hat is very much like a costume, he says. You can dip into being like someone else, and they can be a way to accentuate your real character. &ldquo;Hats are about the fantasy of the person you&rsquo;re going to become,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That said, there are ways to do it so that you look fabulous rather than the reverse.&rdquo; <br /><br />A daily fashion show in which Stephen Jones will be presenting a retrospective of his work is taking place at the Bessborough Restaurant over Royal Ascot (16-20 June). For tickets see www.ascot.co.uk or call 0870 727 4321.<br /><br /><strong>ASCOT HATS </strong> RULES OF THE ROAD<br />&9679; Choose your hat in accordance with your clothes. &ldquo;Remember you're going to a race meeting, not a cocktail party,&rdquo; says Jones. &ldquo;It's always extraordinary to see someone wearing a hat with a cocktail dress.&rdquo;<br /><br />&9679; If you aren't ready for hats like his, go to a good department store where experienced staff will save you from howlers and you can experiment with a big range. Bring a hand mirror so you can see your hat from all angles. <br /><br />&9679; Remember that bright coloured hats work very differently from bright colours on the body. Brims filter light through them and can turn your face the same colour as your hat. Perhaps avoid a lime green one.<br /><br />&9679; If your outfit is bright, choose a small, off-the-face hat in a neutral colour. If your outfit is restrained, go for a cloche, giant feather or "fabulously architectural brim."<br /><br /><strong>HAT-TIPS </strong> IN GENERAL<br />&9679; If you're short, don't wear a big hat.<br /><br />&9679; If you wear glasses, it's good to wear a hat off the face.<br /><br />&9679; Asymmetrical hats are more flattering as nobody's face is symmetrical. <br /><br />&9679; This summer, it's all about more substantial hats &ndash; leave the fascinators alone.<br /><br />&9679; Always coordinate with your face first and foremost, regardless of fashion.