Caroline Blake and Kristen Corcoran come from different worlds but have found common ground in fascinators and fedoras.
Blake, who grew up in Belgium, had a great-grandmother who was a hat maker. Corcoran, who was raised in the Capital Region, did too. The two discovered the coincidence during a casual conversation, and they decided this spring to join forces to create their own custom hats in Saratoga Springs, where head-turning headgear is all the rage during the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.
Today is opening day at the track, and the city will celebrate the kick-off of the 144th meet with the annual Hats Off to Saratoga Festival. The celebration begins today and continues through Sunday.
The three-day event will include live music at sites along Broadway on Friday and Saturday night from 7 to 11 p.m. (see schedule below) and a hat contest at Saratoga Race Course Sunday (see photo caption below). Registration for the contest begins at noon Sunday under the grandstand, and the competition will take place after the second, third and fourth races.
Hats for both men and women are in high demand throughout the track season. Shoppers started their search about a month ago, said Jennifer Frame, office manager at Impressions of Saratoga, a gift shop that sells hats during the summer months.
Since the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, fascinators are the hottest thing in headwear, she noted.
“Some are just like a small headband with a feather and a flower and some are more extravagant, where it takes over like half of your head, and it’s hot pink, with black feathers,” she explained.
People gather around the large mirror near the hat display at Impressions to try on the different styles.
“You always see people giggling and snapping pictures, because some are just these very big, grand hats and some of them are bold colors,” she said.
The Royal Wedding did great things for hats, said Lisa Durand, owner of La Moda Lisa in Glenville, where new, vintage and handmade hats are for sale.
“It’s funny because before you would never see anybody walk in with them or feel comfortable wearing them, but it kind of put them back where you don’t feel so goofy wearing them,” she said.
At Saratoga Race Course, people are more apt to feel goofy if they’re not wearing a hat. Every day of the meet, racing fans parade onto the grounds wearing wide-brimmed straw hats, feathery fascinators and smart Panama Jacks.
“People flock really from all over to get their hats,” said Lynn Soave, owner of Soave Faire, a Saratoga Springs shop that stocks thousands of hats.
Hat styles are very much driven by what the royals are donning in England, she noted. “They’ll wear a certain style hat and then I’ll have to try and find it,” she said.
Many shoppers search for hats that won’t be seen on anyone else, so when it comes to designer lines, Soave makes sure she orders only one of each style and color.
Women are often hesitant to wear the same hat twice, so they tend to invest in several, she observed.
Even just one designer hat can be a serious investment. Prices at Soave Faire range from $5 up to several hundred for one with a designer name, which is bedecked with a bunch of handwork and perhaps beads, pearls and feathers.
Women will sometimes spend hours in the store’s upstairs hat gallery in search of the perfect look.
Durand noted that hats adorned with feathers and crystals are turning women’s heads this season. “The froofy ones, the more dramatic — not just the wide-brimmed hats anymore,” she explained. “They like to go for [ones that] cover the crown of the head, but they have the feathers and the big rhinestones, very unique and more glitzy.”
Unique looks are what hat makers Blake and Corcoran are all about. Their business, Little Red Millinery, is located in Red Confetti Art Studio in Saratoga Springs. The two encourage customers in search of custom hats to bring in their dresses and their desires.
“I always make a little sketch of their face and their style,” said Blake. “A lot of people think they’re not hat people but it’s really depending on what shape your head is and the style of hair you have. I don’t think everybody can wear one kind of hat.”
To make it more enticing to wear the same chapeau on different occasions, Blake and Corcoran create “360-degree hats,” which have a completely different look when the back of the hat is worn toward the front of the head.
The women fashion summery styles from sinamay, a natural fiber derived from the abaca tree. They also offer opportunities for customers to make their own hats. On Tuesdays, when there’s no racing going on at the track, the two plan to hold hat-making parties for groups.
Track season needn’t be the only excuse to wear a hat, Durand noted.
“I think they’re such a great accent piece and they show your personality,” she said. “You can pretty much tell, if someone has enough courage to wear the hat, what kind of a person they are. So be bold and be unique and be yourself.”