The cap that rose again
HEAD GIRL: Along with the whippet, no stereotype of Yorkshire is complete without mention of a flat cap. But can it be reinvented for the 21st-century? Rhian Kempadoo-millar certainly thinks so. Sarah Freeman reports. Pictures by Gerard Binks and Bruce Ro
HEY don’t make Acts of Parliament like they used to.
While current legislation may be all about legal aid and same-sex marriages, back in 1571 the government of the day was busy drafting a Bill to increase the wearing of hats among the British public.
By the end of that year it was decreed that on Sundays and holidays, “all males over six years of age, except for the nobility and persons of degree” were to wear woollen caps on pain of a fine of three farthings.
The idea was little to do with fashion – its aim was to stimulate domestic wool consumption and boost the home economy. However, as the lawyers were dotting the Is and crossing the Ts they were also unwittingly sowing the seeds of a British design classic. The flat cap was born.
Pinpointing the moment it became entwined with a peculiarly northern stereotype is less easy, but by the time Andy Capp began gracing the pages of the Daily Mirror in the 1950s the flat cap had already come to represent a breed of white working class men, the kind who wore braces over their vests and long johns under their trousers.
Rhian Kempadoo-Millar is well aware of the connotations that come with those two little words, but the Leeds designer is also convinced that with the addition of a little luxury silk and a few cutting edge tweaks to the standard design, she might just have reinvented the symbol of Yorkshire grit as a must-have item for a fashion hungry public.
“There’s got to be a reason that it has survived so long,” says the Leeds designer, who recently unveiled her first range of flat caps which bear little resemblance to those that filled the wardrobe department of Last of the Summer Wine. “In some ways it’s quite a simple design, but it works.”
Rhian certainly practises what she preaches. Ask those who have met her to describe the 36-year-old and most will remember her as the girl with the curly hair and the flat cap.
It was also her dad’s headwear of choice, which during the 1980s he matched with smart, but slightly outlandish golfing outfits – this was after all the decade where Pringle made pink acceptable for men.
“He was Scottish Jamaican, he wore flat fronted Farrahs and bright colours, the kind of clothes most people couldn’t get away with, but he always looked incredibly stylish. Dad died when I was 10, but whenever I think of him, he’s wearing a flat cap. To me it’s never been associated with that dour working class image, it was always something much more classy than that.”
While flat caps have been a staple of her own wardrobe for as long as Rhian can remember, it’s only recently that she had the idea to return to her creative roots and launch her own business.
Rhian, who grew up in Newcastle before