Romancing the Hat in Toronto

“Do you wear hats?”

This was the opening question from Karyn Gingras, and a good one, as we stood in the center of her small millinery boutique, Liliput, in Toronto’s Little Italy.

“Well,” I said, my eyes darting around the store, landing on one that seemed made entirely from peacock feathers, another banded with a leopard-print ribbon, and the ones embellished with flowers, with crushed velvet, with tulle…

“I do in the winter, ” I answered tentatively.

peacock hat

As if the knit hat crumpled in my backpack at that very moment had anything to do with all this.

Imposter syndrome, to which I am especially prone, begins to set in.

“But not really, because I have this giant head.”  I added.

Karyn, who is about six inches shorter than me , flicks a quick practiced look at my head and skepticism flits across her face.

“Probably everyone says that, I don’t know, but I always think hats don’t fit me…”
“Well”, she says.  “Okay. That’s the beauty of custom made, our hats will definitely fit you.”


Hat making, from capeline to finished product

And then she takes me to the back of the store and shows me a shelf filled with felt capeline, rough hat shapes that look vaguely like floppy witches hats — the basic shape that is formed into winter hats. (In the summer, she explains capeline are made from straw.)

She shows me her collection of vintage hat blocks, or molds, which are used, with the help of steam and sometimes heat, to form the capeline into a certain shape. And then how that is finished, with hat band and wire and eventually embellishment, to become the hats that are sold around the store. We talk about how long it takes to make a hat (as fast as one day in a pinch), how the royal wedding this year created more interest in hats, which led to talk about fascinators, and then about hats as a form of individuality.

“Clothing has become very mass produced, hats are a way of expressing yourself,” Karyn said. “You don’t replace a winter coat every year, but you do get new accessories.”

Liliput Hats

She stepped away to help a customer, and I wandered over to a display of fascinators, and tried on a modest one with a spray of black feathers and sequins. I turned my head this way and that. This would be very handy for me when traveling, I thought, building a mental case for dropping $70 Canadian on it, since I don’t  pack dressy clothes and often need to dress up a basic outfit with a scarf or whatnot…

But on the other hand, am I really a sequin and feathers type of girl?

Plus, now I really want a serious winter hat. One that will keep me warm and will still allow me to express myself.

Karyn returns and begins to select hats for me to try on. And then, as they’re sitting a little awkwardly on my head, she stops and says, let’s just settle this and get your head measured. She wraps my head tape measure. “Okay,” she says, “the average head is 22 1/2 inches and yours is 22 3/4s. That’s not much!”

I knew it.

She had the hat band stretched on a couple of hats that seemed promising and eventually I walked out with a hat box, and my very own 1920s cloche: gray, and embellished with felt in other shades of gray. Which fit my giant head, and I daresay my personality, just right.


my hat


If you’re visiting Toronto, you can call ahead to reserve an hour with Karyn, who will go over the basics of millinery and hat style with you and help you pick out a hat. And tell you how your head size relates to average. This was also a stop on my Toronto itinerary, and therefore part of the all-expenses paid trip which you can enter to win. Details here.




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