Kate's clout in the fashion realm isn't lost on Diana Cavagnaro, longtime La Jolla Village News “Fashion Files” columnist and nationally noted hat designer and milliner. Walk around on Thursday, June 17, among the 45,000 expected at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club's opening race day – while you may see some pretty ornate headware at the 20th anniversary of the track's fabled Hats Contest, Cavagnaro says the real world's taste in hats reflects the preference of a certain Duchess of Cambridge.
“The hat shape that everybody used to wear to opening day used to be the bigger the better,” Cavagnaro explained. “Since Kate Middleton became famous, she has made it very popular to wear the little small hats. I guess you could say the little small ones are very in. Half the people are wearing larger hats, but half prefer the smaller [fare] that doesn't go out but maybe goes up, up on the head. That's what's changed over the years at the races. What hasn't changed is that a lot of people buy their dress second because it's meant to go with the hat.”
Fedoras, beehives, bonnets, tams, beanies, Gainsboroughs, berets, stovepipes, Kokoshniks, cartwheels: Hats have been a major item on man's agenda since ancient Greece, an indicator of everything from social and military status to race to religion to artistic preference. It's expected that the millinery market will command a value of $7.1 billion by the end of 2018 and that worldwide sales should top 300 million this year. The United States fuels the largest share of the global market, with men and Baby Boomers commanding greater percentages every year.
Cavagnaro, who's run her Ahead Productions millinery shop from San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter for more than 30 years, says that trends like the one Middleton set have come and gone in San Diego accordingly, especially as Opening Day nears – but arguably, she added, the hat's design lives and dies by the characteristics of the wearer.
“When I meet with somebody to design their hat,” Cavagnaro said, “I have to find out what their personality is. If they come to me and say they want a real pizzazzy hat, if I know that they have a really conservative personality, I know that they'll buy the hat but they won't wear it. That's why I find it really, really important to talk with [the client], see what the personality is and then try to work with them to make sure that the hat will fit the personality.”
That sense for taste has come with a certain formal preparation. Cavagnaro, a Paso Robles native, has associate degrees in fashion and music and a bachelor's in history, all acquired at the California Polytechnic State University's San Luis Obispo campus; two seasons as an assistant milliner at The Old Globe Theatre in the early 1980s rounded off her formal education. Originally hoping to become a musician (she originally played flute for six seasons with the San Luis Obispo Symphony), she eventually found all that book-learning a vital fall-back.
“DJs came in and started taking away all the business from musicians,” she explained, “so I really had to switch gears and go in another direction.”
She also taught music at one point; her instructional skill eventually propelled her into formal education. She's been on the fashion faculty at San Diego Mesa College for more than 20 years.
On July 17, Cal Poly will be the farthest thing from everybody's mind. The surf will meet the turf in Del Mar then, same as it's done since 1937. Opening day's hugely popular Hats Contest would follow in time, with Cavagnaro one of its leading designer figures. Kate will attend in spirit this time – those thousands of little hats are a dead giveaway.