We love talking to women doing really funky things. Here we interview Judy Bentinck, British couture milliner, who’s been making delectable hats of every description since 2002. She shares her journey and what life is like making hats to adorn some very well known heads – such as Clare Balding, Jenny Agutter and Eve Pollard. At the end you can read her Top Tips for Choosing a Wedding Hat!
An interview with Judy Bentinck, couture milliner
When and why did you start making hats?
I was at a cross roads in my life in 2000 and saw an ad for millinery tuition. I’d always loved hats so I booked for a 2 day course. I was so hooked on the first day that I studied for 2 days and then for 2 years!
What are the skills you need to be a good milliner?
You need to have been taught well to have a good understanding of all the techniques involved in all the processes required to make a variety of hats and headpieces. Patience, neat sewing and a good eye are important but a flair for design will make your work unique.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love creating a 3D thing of beauty. My kind of hats are essentially sculptured textiles that fit on a head in a stylish and flattering way. I love all aspects of their creation.
What is most difficult about what you do?
The most difficult thing about running a hat business is that you have to do all the other work as well as the creating. So you do all the marketing, social media, bookkeeping, invoicing etc.
What’s the most difficult project you’ve had?
The most difficult and challenging project I have worked on was a promotional hat I made for Royal Ascot , Ladies Day, featuring a jug of Pimms. To create the jug I had to use a plastic that was thin enough to be sewn and light enough to be worn on the model’s head. I found that glue wouldn’t stick as it was a very hot June and the plastic would expand and contract over the day. A nightmare. I was asked at the last minute to add in an umbrella to scale, to fit in the jug. It was not to look like a parasol. This threw the whole balance out and constructing an umbrella is hardly the normal work of a milliner. It worked ok in the end.
What’s your favourite event of the season?
The best social event for hats is of course Royal Ascot!
How did your life change having gone down this path?
My life changed hugely when I decided to set up in business. It is my passion so is all consuming!
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
I am proud of the fact that I have done this for so long and survived a major recession. I have loyal returning customers who also recommend me to their friends.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
I love the fact that I have the experience and confidence that comes with maturity .
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
I don’t like the changes that happen to your body. I don’t like looking old!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
I wish I had looked after my skin better when I was younger.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
I really recommend doing a business course before you set up on your own and be up to date with search engine optimisation (SEO). Essential these days.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
The best mantra I have is “it is all going to be alright” because it always is. Things are always solved even if it means a longer working day or having to miss a weekend. (This only relates to work I have control over!)
Which woman do you most admire and why?
It is hard to name just one woman that I admire but women who have succeeded in distinctly male dominated areas such as Zaha Hadid come to mind. She was outstanding and a great loss.
My intrepid sister in law Sorrel who has travelled the world alone in her 60’s and 70’s.
The Queen for her consistency (and for continuing hat wearing during the fallow years between beehive hair styles and the arrival of hat wearing Diana)
Helen Mirren for her outspokenness and her celebration of being a sexy and attractive older woman.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
You can find out more about my work at www.judybentinck.com and my courses www.millinerycourses.com. You can also buy my book Designing and Making Hats and Headpieces published by Crowood.
Judy’s top tips for choosing a wedding hat
Consider how tall you are
Proportions are crucial to hat choice, so put some thought into what works for your height. Big brims look fabulous on a tall wearer, but can drown a smaller person, and prevent people from seeing the face. Something particularly important for those who will be appearing in wedding photos! If you want to add height, feathers are a great addition for this.
You can’t wear a white hat!
Everyone knows that a white or ivory dress is a cardinal sin at a wedding, but this colour no-go applies to your hat too. You would be surprised how often a guest gets so wrapped up in what they want to wear, that they turn up in a headpiece that in reality should only be worn by the bride.
You need a secure hat
Be confident when wearing a hat by being sure of a good fit or that it is securely attached. A well-fitting hat or headpiece can have internal means of keeping it secure. Combs and hat elastic are good and many fascinators are set on a headband which makes them very secure and it also means the detail will be in the correct position.
Think about adding a veil
If you like the idea of a veil as part of your hat, then go for it. A veil over the eyes can be very subtle and alluring. It softens the features so is very flattering. Spot veiling is particularly successful as the dots can be rearranged to look like beauty spots!
Co-ordinate your hat with your bag but don’t overdo the matching accessories. Some people are over concerned with everything being the same colour, but then bag, shoes and dress can be overwhelming and look rather solid. It is best to break it up with a colour picked out from the hat in either shoes or bag to tie the look together. Nude shoes are a bonus as they go with most colours and make your legs look longer.
Consider comfort too
If you were to spend half the day secretly wanting to take your hat off, that would be a real shame. And once you have found that perfect hat, don’t be afraid to wear it again and again – just combine with different outfits, or add a feather or a broach for variety.
You may also like Midlife Reinvention, Michelle Pozon, Closet Guru – Helping Women Love Their Clothes and Dorrie Jacobson Senior Style Bible Founder at 80.
Last Updated on January 31, 2023 by Editorial Staff