If you’re heading to the racetrack this weekend, you’ll need to bring your best hat game. David Dunkley, official milliner for the 155th Queen’s Plate, explains how it’s done.
“All hatmakers get into it by accident. I had my dream job: I was working at Queen’s Park for a couple of politicians, but in the end, it wasn’t as perfect for me as I thought. I took a hatmaking course as a stress release, and [then left] the office. I studied with retired milliner Barbara Hobbs and had a table at St. Lawrence Market for two and a half years. Perhaps I was closeted about it [laughs], but I didn’t know I was artistic. I learned that by doing.”
THE QUEEN’S PLATE
“I am the official milliner—the style guru—for the Queen’s Plate [Canada's oldest thoroughbred horse race]. I advise people on what to wear: Just because it’s big and flashy doesn’t mean it’s good for the event. A milliner always wants everybody to look at the hat, but a great one should frame your face. The brim should not extend much more than an inch past your shoulders or it throws the scale off.”
THE “REBECCA” HAT
“This season, blue and white spoke to me, and it’s also the colour scheme for the Queen’s Plate logo. I knew I wanted to work with a really big flower, plus little ones at the back. It’s got a floating veil, and I’m playing on a circle theme all the way through. I knew there was a garden-party motif—hence, let’s have a garden on your head.”
“Everything is made by hand in the shop. I designed the flowers myself, and each petal was cut out and shaped individually. The sinamay [straw] comes in big sheets, so my job was to take these floppy sheets, cut them into shapes, and stiffen them with glue. Then we wired and bound the base. This is about a 40-hour hat here.”
“Historically, hats have been a symbol of wealth, [and] people still love to dress up and put on flamboyant outfits. Everybody loves the My Fair Lady stuff, but some of those styles are too big. You don’t want to miff the person sitting behind you with feathers that block their view of the race.”
David Dunkley Fine Millinery, 974 Bathurst St., 416-538-0998. Fascinators start at $135, hats at $165. The Queen’s Plate runs July 6 at 5:38 p.m. at Woodbine Race Track, 555 Rexdale Blvd., 416-675-7223.