Turning Heads

A South Shore milliner’s handcrafted hats provide an elegant flourish of Kentucky Derby Glamour.

By Maria Allen

Photography by Kjeld Mahoney

Designed to attract attention and make a bold statement, decorative cocktail hats have long been a popular fashion accessory worn by British royals and aristocrats. Here in the United States, over-the-top wide-brimmed hats and dainty fascinators are often showcased on the heads of celebrities and socialites attending elite horse racing events like the Kentucky Derby. Norwell milliner Jaine Davies is one person who is helping to preserve the traditional craft of hat making, while striving to make her fanciful designs accessible to an even larger audience.

“Growing up in England, hats were part of the culture,” says Davies, who smiles when recalling how she and her husband decided to move across the pond and settle down in Norwell 25 years ago. “We came for fun, for an adventure,” she says. “Our initial plan was to spend one year living in New England, but we ended up falling in love with the South Shore and we never left.”

Always interested in the arts, Davies was first a painter and later a jewelry maker before eventually deciding she wanted to learn how to make hats six years ago. She studied millinery at MassArt in Boston and honed her skills by taking a series of online courses. “I have always loved clothes and fashion, and making costumes and getting dressed up,” says Davies. “I grew up not far from where the Grand National horse race is held in England and when I started making hats the memories all came back to me.”

While Davies didn’t set out to establish a hat business, her designs soon attracted the attention of friends and neighbors. “One year I made hats for my daughter and I to wear to a pre-Christmas event and I was surprised by how many people came up to me to ask if I could make hats for them too.”

Fast forward to today and Davies is an expert at transforming colorful fabrics and delicate ribbons and feathers into fanciful hats and headbands. Her business, Indigo Hats, specializes in handmade hats for special occasions. A pair of sunlit rooms at the back of Davies’ home function as a cheerful workshop and studio space where customers can come to try on her custom-made designs.


Each hat is a one-of-a-kind work of art, made using the same techniques and tools that milliners have employed for generations. To begin, a sheet of colorful straw fabric is steamed and shaped around a wooden hat block (Davies has a wide assortment of hat block sizes to choose from.). Once shaped, the fabric is pinned in place and a stiffener is applied and allowed to dry. After the base of the hat is complete, Davies is able to really get creative with the colorful adornments on the hat. Silk flowers, feathers and birdcage veils give the hats dimension and personality.

Davies finds inspiration for her hat designs wherever she goes. “When I visited New Orleans, I came back and made hats that were brighter, poofier and with more pizazz,” she says. Conversely, a recent visit to the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston inspired her to make elegant light pink and black hats with a more historical vibe. Customers can choose from a colorful collection of her most recent creations or have a hat custom made to flatter and fit their specific needs. “Some buyers will send me a photo of their dress and I will design a hat to coordinate with it,” Davies says. Her customers hail from all over the world, from California to England.


The weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby are a particularly busy time of year for Davies and she works to fulfill last-minute orders. “Smaller hat styles are very flattering with different hairstyles and they are easier to ship,” she says. Davies also makes decorative bridal hats and headbands, and is working on a series of wide-brimmed hats for summer. “I think they’re going to have embroidery and have a posh, bohemian vibe.”

Each hat is glamorous and distinctive in its own way and is perfect to wear to festive spring luncheons, weddings and fundraisers. “I’ve had customers purchase hats for watching the polo matches in Newport and others to wear to England’s Royal Ascot,” says Davies, who is a big believer in the power of a beautiful hat. “Some people are nervous at first because they aren’t accustomed to wearing hats,” she says, “but if you find something you really love, it gives you a boost of confidence.”


For more information about Indigo Hats, visit indigohats.com.