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BY DESIGN : Avoiding Those Bad Hat Days

July 14, 1994|MAUREEN SAJBEL

Pulling off a high-fashion hat requires a certain attitude.

"They call for personality. You have to keep your chin up and your head movements have to flow from your shoulders," says Elisa Ballestas, who has vast experience in these matters. "If you wear an outrageous hat, you arrive a few minutes late. You don't want to be seated when other people are coming in."

For those who know little about hats--and don't have the guts to make a dramatic entrance--Ballestas offers the following advice:

The Do's

* Start with a basic shape, preferably one with a small to medium brim. "A big brim will scare you to death." Wear that hat for several months before trying a second.

* "Choose your first hat to coordinate with your current wardrobe." It might be romantic, tailored, classic, vintage or outrageous. "Lots of women see a great hat, buy it and find they don't have anything to wear with it."

* Start experimenting now with a great summer basic: a medium-brim straw hat in a neutral or natural color. In winter, try a beret with casual clothes. (Winter suits require serious hats.)

* Master the try-on technique. Place the front of the hat on the forehead, with the brim about two inches above the eyebrows, then rock it back on the head. Tilt it a little to find the best angle for your face. "You don't have to wear the hat the way it was designed."

* Expect to pay $100 for a good hat. Some designer styles cost $300 or more. But don't overlook street fairs and flea markets, where fun or funky hats can be had for $20.

* Choose an evening hat in velvet or with such decorative details as sequins, feathers or net. "Otherwise you're saying one thing on your head and another on your body."

The Don'ts

* "Wear a large-brim straw hat at night. It doesn't go because a large brim calls for sun."

* "Send mixed messages." A flowered hat paired with a fitted suit, for example. "A flowered hat needs a sun dress or a flowing dress."

* "Show your hair while wearing a hat." The lone modern exception is the beret, which can be worn with long and loose hair. For other styles, tuck hair in, bangs and all, or pull it back into a low bun or ponytail.

* Allow jewelry to overwhelm. Earrings should be small and inconspicuous. Necklaces should be as understated as a long strand of pearls or small gold choker.

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