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Master the hat trick

The beret is fresh again, but its simple chic can be hard to harness. Hat designer Eugenia Kim offers pointers on finding the right one to complement your signature look.

January 06, 2008|Erin Weinger | Times Staff Writer

EVEN before Phillip Lim sent model Irina Lazareanu down his spring runway in a tilted sequin topper in September, the beret had already emerged as this year's elegant revival.

Back in a way not seen since Faye Dunaway pulled one on in "Bonnie and Clyde," the beret had been popping up on trendy starlets everywhere. Rihanna mixed a gray casual knit style with jeans and a daring bustier for a modern take during an MTV appearance, and during a Teen Vogue fashion show, Hilary Duff wore a black number tilted to the left with a wisp of bangs peeking through. For a Chanel fete, she teamed it with leggings and ankle booties.

The beret can change the look of an outfit and add personality to lackluster ensembles in an instant, but don't be deceived: Simple in design, berets are tricky to get right.

Hat and accessory designer Eugenia Kim, whose funky styles are a favorite with Alicia Keys and Madonna, offers advice to ensure that the topper remains sophisticated, instead of becoming merely ordinary.

Cheaper than an Equinox membership

"If you have a round face, you can lose 5 pounds by wearing one," says Kim. "A chunky beret makes the face look slimmer." A plush popcorn knitted style adds bulk to the top of the head and diverts eyes away from the face. We'll take three.

It's all in the tilt

Long before becoming a fashion ornament, the beret was conscripted by armed forces throughout the world where its tilt was determined by policy. Chic civilians need not worry about proper inclination, however; their focus should be on what looks good in the mirror. "Tilt it to the side you want to cover," Kim says, "your less-good side."

Quasimodos take note: "If you have a lazy eye or weird cowlick, you can cover it. It's a great cosmetic." It's even possible to wear the beret straight on the head, instead of at an angle. This look requires old-fashion experimentation to find out what works best with your features.

What about color?

Black seems to be the standard beret hue, but colors and textures act as a catalyst in creating the stuff memorable outfits are made of. "Eggplant is a good color because it looks good against most skin tones," Kim says. "More adventurous girls can do something like bright purple. If you wear a purple hat with all black or all gray, it really punches up the outfit."

The drab urban uniform of jeans and a T-shirt is dramatically brightened when spruced up with a chunky wool beret -- in any color. A sleeker style in cashmere adds a seductive edge to simple party wear and dramatic red lips. Plain styles work best with busier outfits and vice versa, so plan accordingly to avoid a fashion disaster.

The right size

Despite what the label might say, one size does not fit all, but because many styles stretch and change shape, hope is not lost for those who have trouble finding the right fit. Berets come in a variety of sizes, so spend time adjusting your hat for your ideal look. If a certain size doesn't seem to be working, move on.

"If you have a small face, push it back," Kim advises, adding that petite facial features are prone to being overpowered when the hat isn't resting far enough back on the head. When deciding which beret to wear in her own daily pursuits, she likes to use size as a theme. "A cute little beret can be worn with a short dress, and a big huge one is cute with wide leg pants. A black sequined one with black skinny jeans is cool, too."

Parting words of wisdom

"A beret is a great starter hat," says Kim. Its uncomplicated style is a wonderful way for would-be hat wearers to break into the market before venturing in statement-hat territory. "But it can be the hardest hat to get. Play with it. Don't just stick it in the middle of your head; tilt it and see what works. It takes patience to find your groove."


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