So... What is Millinery?

Ashley GrahamComment

Yes, I know you’re reading a blog by a milliner but it’s not a silly question. The simple answer is "Millinery is hat making." but it's really not that simple and there’s lots of things people don’t know about millinery.  

We’re a mad bunch, us hatters but all the best ones are! *insert a million other Mad Hatter references.*


Whenever somebody asks what I do, I usually reply happily with “I’m a hat maker.” Most don’t know what a milliner is or does and many don’t even know that the profession exists. It’s great to enlighten people so they can learn about this great trade. Here are the main responses I get when revealing I make hats…

The first response would be along the lines of “Oh cool, I didn’t know that was a thing?” I then go onto explain I have a qualification in millinery, which means I can make hat and headpieces and I can make anything from a top hat to a tiara. Occasionally I get a follow up asking whether I make “those crazy hats that girls wear to the races” which, of course, I do! And I love it.

The second response to my career, and the most common, would be “Oh, a mill… Millie… mllleeen…. Um how do you say it??” Yep! A milliner. I know it’s a rarely used word as it is one of those dying arts like wood turning or blacksmithing but it’s great you’ve heard of it. It may help you win pub trivia one day! It’s even better when they remember you when Spring racing comes around and they need a hat for Royal Ascot. Now spelling it is a different issue…

And the third (and my favourite) response is “You’re a milliner? Amazing! I love hats!”

“But… is that it? Just hats?” Well, there’s a great variety of specialised fields within millinery which most may be unaware of. Making blocked hats is a skill in itself (Fun fact: Top hat making used to be a men only job!) but making headpieces for dancers such as ballerinas take a special expertise, as does theatrical millinery. In the theatre you must attach the piece to the head in a specific way as they are usually going onto very expensive wigs which can be damaged. You can also specialise in race-wear (those big, crazy “showstopper” headdresses) or even bridal headpieces and veils. Like other types of fashion careers, the possibilities are endless.

There are a huge range of construction techniques and skills to be learned to become a successful milliner but it really is more of an art than a science. There’s no specific way to do one thing. I know this is true as I’ve had many highly skilled teachers show me how to create something and they all had different techniques! I honestly think millinery is creating a wearable piece of art. Whether it’s a crown or a bowler, when it’s dreamed up and then handmade, it’s a fantastic thing.


If you’re more interested in bespoke creations- milliners are trained in helping you to find the hat or headpiece that suits you best. They should take into account your personality, your colour scheme, your face and body shape and the type of outfit you will be wearing it with. We help strike a balance and create a complete, overall look. I personally love when a client comes to me with an outfit and gives me free reign to create something I believe will work perfectly for them.

My style is different in that it’s the materials that call to me first. I tend to work with leather, lace and metallic accents. I see how the materials work and create from there while some draw up a design and go about finding the materials to make it.

Still confused? Feel free to send me a message and I'd love to clarify and chat hats!