Written by Lia Hobel | Photos by Megan Spurrier Photography

With the Virginia Gold Cup on the horizon, spectators know that outfits and elaborate headgear are just as important as the main event — especially for the ladies. But don’t settle too quickly for just any hat. Millinery, after all, is a specialized craft — an art that continuously changes in trends, style, and material.

Fortunately, there’s a local milliner who stays up to date on the latest hat fashion, and has a lot of fun in the act. Elena Wittman is the owner of Art of Hats Studio, a millinery boutique she operates out of her Leesburg home. It’s her personal haven where ordinary items are transformed into chic adornments for customized hats. “My imagination is wild,” she says. “Millinery is so versatile. I literally can make a hat out of anything — and I mean anything.”

Wittman’s headpieces demonstrate her mastery in millinery techniques, varying from cocktail hats to swanky fascinators and more. She began her millinery training journey in 2010 while living in London. On a whim, she decided to take classes at a community college and realized it was something she desired to pursue more deeply. Since that time, she has studied with many millinery masters, including studying in New York and through online classes in Australia, Ireland, Spain, and Israel.

There’s nothing that makes Wittman cringe faster than bad millinery. Dare to drop the name “Amazon” for your hat or the “Dollar Store” for flowers to decorate your headwear and prepare to hear a gasp and a lecture. Millinery is worth paying a little more, according to Wittman. She recommends buying the best that you can afford to have, as quality pieces are built to last for years. Once you see the difference, it’s hard to disagree.

“You know how they say, you put a little piece of you in your product, you really do,” she says about her millinery method. Generally, headpieces take hours to weeks to make, depending on her mood. “I make hats that look good when I’m happy,” she says. “If I have to do something where I have to push myself just for the sake of doing, it’s not going to look good.”

From ready-to-wear to bespoke headpieces, there’s something for everyone, even if you don’t know it yet. “Any woman looks good in a hat,” she says. “You just have to find the one that looks good on you.” It’s not an easy task for most. Oftentimes, women come to Wittman with something already in mind, only to be surprised when they’re steered in a different direction.

“I am very upfront,” she says. “I want them to be happy with what they wear, and not just take their money and say ‘bye.’ Most of the time, people agree.” Wittman provides hat consults free of charge, as she’s passionate about educating the community on proper millinery. She also regularly hosts workshops and private events where she shares her expertise. In her classes, everything from selecting a hat to learning how to wear it is covered.
“Wearing a hat is a science to itself,” she says. “It’s not enough to buy a hat, even if it’s very expensive and fancy or a designer hat. You still have to know how to pull it off.”

Before trying to perfect the right hat tilt and adjusting accordingly, Wittman says ladies should wear hats that are “considerate” of their surroundings, particularly at horse racing events. As a general rule of thumb, hats should not extend beyond the shoulders for social etiquette. Women should wear a hat that still provides shade, but doesn’t obstruct the view for others, she says.

“I prefer fascinators and cocktail hats,” she says. “They do look good on everybody and are very easy to put on, and they are considerate and cute.” The term “fascinator” was coined in the 17th-century European fashion era. Back then, it referred to a lacy scarf a woman wrapped around her head or fastened. It was meant to give a bit of mystery to a woman, but today it has turned into much more.

This year, Wittman’s boutique has spawned new interest as people dressed up for video call parties. They streamed shows like Bridgerton and Peaky Blinders together. With wineries, polo, Gold Cup, and weddings, there are endless opportunities to wear hats in Loudoun County.

“Lately it’s been very young ladies coming to me for hats to wear every day,” she says. Hats have always been a timeless wardrobe staple. Wittman will continue to spread millinery culture to Loudoun ladies to boost their confidence in wearing them — because every woman looks good in a hat, even if they don’t know it yet. ML

View Wittman’s work on her website artofhatsstudio.com and Instagram @artofhats.

Published in the April 2021 issue of Middleburg Life.