The lost art of millinery: 6 things you should know about wedding headpieces

Guest post by Sandra Nagel Whitworth

6 things you never knew about wedding headpiecesChoosing hair accessories with pops of color or bold textures for you and your wedding party is an easy way to add personal style to your wedding. I mean, if your wedding is not an appropriate time to allow yourself to “gild the lily,” when is?

Fashion trends over the past several decades, however, have distanced Americans from the millinery arts. So, as we return to the glory of headpiece options allow me to share with you my insider knowledge as a milliner, and bridal accessory designer…

How do skin and hair color influence your choices of wedding headpieces?

Clearly the Polly hat by Breeziway looks great on blondes.
Clearly the Polly hat by Breeziway looks great on blondes.

White bridal gowns are actually rather new in the history of weddings, and I welcome the growing use of color in wedding fashion. You can create beautiful and memorable statements by adding touches of these colors to gown accents, and headpieces.

Skin tone, hair color, and to some extent, eye color, play a role in which hat or hair accessory colors work best to enhance natural beauty. I have found the seasonal color groups to provide helpful guidance. For example, those with complexions of golden, creamy-white, peach or ruddy undertones and blonde, light golden brown or strawberry red hair will find that warm and clear colors associated with spring are very complementary. Bright and fresh colors such as peach, salmon, light pink and corals, yellows, spring, lime, and Kelly greens, turquoise and light blue work best for these ladies.

  • Natural blonde or brunettes with pale skin tones are complemented best by cool and muted colors associated with summer. Burgundy, colors with rose or blue undertones, and the pastels are excellent for augmenting these assets. Black and oranges should be avoided.
  • Brown-eyed red heads and brunettes with golden (light ivory to bronze) or mahogany complexions are best enhanced with earthy and spicy color tones associated with autumn, such as warm and muted camel, orange to terra cotta, beige, and olive green. Choose rich and muted colors, rather than bright and clear, to enhance the beauty of this group and avoid blue tones.
  • Brunettes of deep eye color, with blue or pink skin undertones look stunning in cool and clear colors such as black and white, navy blue, reds and jewel tones. Light, icy tones work better than pastels with this group, and beige or other washed-out shades should be avoided.

Should all bridesmaids wear matching hair accessories?

The most adorable bridesmaids you'll see today.

A popular, contemporary approach to bridesmaid fashion has the bride choosing a color and designer, allowing the maids to choose the design that best complements their individual style. This is an excellent way of allowing everyone to feel and look her best. Individual needs can be accomplished in various ways that maintain the cohesiveness of the bridal party…

Different tones within the same color family can be used to best enhance the maids' features. Different crystal accents can be used in the maids' headpieces, and these can be individually tied to each maid's jewelry. Customization allows for endless possibility, and allowing the maids to choose their designs increases the chance that they will be able to enjoy them for future events, making this an excellent gift.

What less traditional, alternative headpiece designs are available to choose from?

over the shoulder
Photo by Daria Bishop

Bold head wrap designs that are contemporary interpretations of designs worn by Cleopatra VII and American women of the 1920s and 1960s are exciting new options for brides. Head wraps can complement different hairstyles and be worn in a variety of ways with the same hairstyle during the course of the wedding day.

A crystal wrap can be worn with a traditional veil for the ceremony with any hairstyle ranging from natural flowing curls to an elegant chignon or up-do.

The veil can be removed for the reception and a fascinator clipped to the side of the wrap to create a sassy look for the dance floor.

The Doris by Breeziway.
The Doris by Breeziway.

Last, but not least, turbans and European-inspired fascinators provide almost limitless ideas for headpiece options.

Most headpieces can be worn with veiling for the ceremony and without for the reception. Many of the detachable feather and horsehair headpieces can be worn later in a range of settings from beach barbeque/luau and pool-side party to cocktail party.

In addition, the feather, silk flower, or small crystal headpieces can be made with multiple backings, so a headpiece can be easily worn later as a brooch or sash accent.

Does size matter when it comes to headpieces? Can one be too small or too large?

Remember the big hat wedding? (Photo by Jessica Schilling Photography)
Remember the big hat wedding? (Photo by Jessica Schilling Photography)

Hair accessories and hats work best, generally, when in proportion to your head, and body size, and shape. I have found that the comfort level of individual clients is of paramount importance when deciding on size.

Designs that are low profile (close to the head) can be absolutely stunning and gorgeous. These are easier for those who are self-conscious about drawing extra attention. Nonetheless, a large and showy design worn confidently is a statement to behold. I have found that once a someone has experienced this type of epic moment, they're sure to want to go there again and again!

How difficult is it to get a one-of-a-kind hair accessory made? What are the steps involved?

Begin by providing the designer with photos of the gown or ensemble you want complemented.

Then describe the nature and theme of your wedding, your budget concerns, and any visions you have for your accessories.

The designer will then provide photo ideas to begin the brainstorming process that will ultimately lead to a decision about the overall design and its elements. Generally, you will be provided several options for creating the look you seek using different materials at different price points. The designer should send photos of your design during the creation process for feedback.

How far in advance should you begin the process of planning your wedding accessories?

It is best to begin working with your designer far in advance of your wedding day (once your apparel has been chosen), especially when customized services are needed. Many leave decisions regarding their hairstyle and headpiece and veiling designs until the last minute. Designers often understand this and do their best to accommodate “late-comers” efficiently and patiently. Ideally, however, you should begin to sort the details of how to accessorize shortly after you've chosen your outfit.

A well-prepared person is more likely to be relaxed enough to enjoy every delicious moment surrounding their wedding day.

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Comments on The lost art of millinery: 6 things you should know about wedding headpieces

  1. Interesting on the color front. For me, I’ve found that as a fair skinned brunette with reddish brown freckles, very dark brown eyes, and neutral skin undertones, just about any color that isn’t firmly pastel works very well for me. Bright white looks terrible on me as well, unless it’s summer and I’ve got a bit more color. My usual wardrobe is full of all sorts of colors and patterns, which I love. 🙂 No white dress for me at my wedding!

  2. Thank you for posting this! 🙂 I’m starting to make millinery/fascinators :-). These are good tips!

  3. Nice to see my maids and my work featured here ???? I wanted to make sure each of my maids had a fascinator she was comfortable with yet a bit different to the others as each is so unique!i started making fascinators for my wedding and have continued as I enjoy it so much!

  4. I made myself a small blusher veil with a fascinator because I just couldn’t stand the thought of wearing some big scary net over my head. Everyone loved it and it accented my style perfectly! I hope more brides do the same, a little hot glue, tulle, and feathers or flowers goes a long way!

  5. I studied millinery at Art School, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The skills I learnt have been applied to so many other elements of costuming. I’m very excited about making fascinators for myself and my bridesmaids, because it’ll be the first time in ages I’ll get to make something for myself, rather than following a lame client brief. Haha

  6. Interesting article.

    Just so you know, the formatting on the section about colouring is off for me-paragraphs not lined up, some bolded some not and dot points are of different styles

  7. What about the neutral skin tones, and the more out-there hair colors? I’ve always seemed to have a neutral tone that I can’t seem to figure out. When my wedding rolls around, I fully intend to have purple, jewel-tone hair again, but I haven’t decided what colors to go with it.

    • I have fairly neutral undertones to my skin, and I can wear just about any color I want. 🙂 I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true for others with neutral undertones as well.

      For colors that would work with jewel-toned purple hair, the main thing to consider is how you want the effect of the colors to feel. Do you prefer lots of crazy colors and a bright, eye-popping aesthetic? Then I’d say go for oranges and yellows with the purple, since they’ll stand out the most. If you want something more understated, going with blues and greens would be a better bet. If you like monochrome, using a wide variety of purples and lavenders would also look lovely. 🙂

    • Same here, it took me YEARS to figure out there’s even such a thing as a neutral skin tone! None of the warm/cool dichotomies ever made any sense. I can wear white or cream (or black), I can wear gold or silver, and as for whether my veins are blue or green the answer is… yes? Pretty much the only colours that are OUT are one really gross shade of puke green and one really gross shade of puke lilac: no loss there.

      I did find the more I messed with my hair colour the more I tended towards makeup in bronze and old gold shades. Neutrals look AWESOME in bronze, which just so happen to also look awesome with purple so you have at least one potential (and very different) direction!

      Really you can’t go too wrong as long as you keep the purple as the dominant colour and keep the non-neutral accents small. Unless you’re specifically going for the rainbow thing, in which case crazygonuts!

      • Yes! It is a thing! I thought I was just colorblind or something. Except I totally know that I’m not, because I do visual art, and I know for a fact I have a decent sense of color, but that stupid gold/silver/vein test was always completely inconclusive to me. I’m pale but tannable, but not a warm tone, because earth tones make me look colorless and ill, orange, rusty-reds, yellow and light olive greens are the worst offenders. And I’m not cool, because pure black and white don’t quite work, and pastels, especially the cooler blue/purples (like that lilac!) make me look like a green and yellow zombie.

        On the other hand, bronze/aged gold looks amazing, and so do jewel tones, especially royal blue, tealy colors, and rich berry purples, and also navy blues or cool-ish cherry reds, if they’re saturated enough. And there’s a certain shade of corally-raspberry blush that always works, even though all of the other pastels are hideous.

        To go with the purple, if it’s a bright jeweltone violet color, maybe a shimmery aquatic teal or cerulean? And since this is offbeat brides, purple and black are always an amazing combo, if you don’t mind black at your wedding. If it’s on the lighter warm-ish, lavender-y side, you could do some coral, goldenrod, aqua, or other bright floral colors too, that could be a fun option.

  8. This is why my friend Sharon, The Milliner will be making my head fashions. She is at and is amazing, local in the Texas area and ships. She will take left over bits of your fabric and make a matching or contrasting piece that fits your head, style and budget and it wont be something that every bride in America saw on Finding a Gown or Which Dress gets a yes TV show. Her stuff is/was also available at Dallas Pin Up for those who need something fast! I don’t sew, let alone know how to make a hat or fascinator or veil, aside from throwing a napkin over my hair and sticking it there with bobby pins. Hats are making a comeback and you might as well have one that suits you.

  9. I got married last Wednesday and freaked myself out with how awesome my outfit turned out. I had a red and black dress with a black fuzzy bolero (Aussie Winter wedding!) and my black and red stripey socks with my Demonia Emily shoes. I bought a black top hat and decorated it with black tulle (falling to an elbow-length veil at the back) and wrapped with red birdcage netting that fell to a small veil at the front. I had not tried the outfit on together until the day (yup, courting disaster there) and once I put that hat on, I felt Ah-maz-ing! I had never decorated an Easter bonnet before, let alone hand sew veils and decorate an English Top Hat, but I pulled it off. What made it more amazing was my milky complexion and my black hair (dyed, of course) that made the red truly pop. I have deep brown eyes, and naturally mousy brown hair. My skin is considered “milky” as opposed to pale, with blue undertones. I have always been able to wear blacks and jewel tones, but I cannot wear white, beige, pastel or even ivory… thank goodness!
    My maids were in aubergine, which worked really well with the red. I’m a big fan of purple and red together, as well as peacock colours…

  10. Thankyou for this article …its given me lots of ideas on what advice I can give my customers. I have recently been diversing from making the standard ivory and white headpieces to items with more decoration and colour and using vintage jewellery.
    The creations are gaining a lot more interest although here in the UK brides are not too keen on branching out and having anything other than the traditional wedding attire. I have regularly recommended your website for brilliant wedding theme ideas, and I am an avid follower.

  11. Indeed, those with neutral skin tones are fortunate to have a background/template that is complementary to and enhanced by pretty much any color scheme! It is those of us with more skewed tones that may find some color combinations better than others. Thank you to those who filled in this gap (article size limitations are. . . well, limiting!). The page below provides excellent and relevant, visuals: Regardless of such artistic issues, however, I believe the most important factor in determining attractiveness is how we feel and how we have chosen to express this. When we meet/greet the world centered genuinely in ourselves and equally respectful of others. . . now this is when the magic really happens!

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