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Making a hat fit for the Queen: what it's like to be a royal milliner

For more than 30 years Rachel Trevor-Morgan has reigned as one of Britain’s most sought-after hat makers.

Rachel Trevor-Morgan
Rachel Trevor-Morgan

And since 2006, the milliner’s had the great honour of designing and creating hats for the Queen.

Her Majesty has worn more than 60 of Rachel’s hats on many high profile occasions including Royal Ascot, her diamond wedding celebration at Westminster Abbey and meeting George Bush in Washington.

They’ve also complemented her outfits for royal engagements including a visit to the Jaguar Land Rover Engine Manufacturing Centre on the i54 business park in Wolverhampton in 2014.

And just last week, the Queen wore a sunshine yellow hat, designed and crafted by Rachel at her atelier in St James’s, central London, to officially open the completed Elizabeth Line at Paddington Station.

The Queen opens the Elizabeth Line at Paddington Station wearing one of Rachel’s hats

“It was so good to see her out and about. She always looks so fabulous in these bright colours – she wears them so well,” says Rachel, who has also designed hats for other members of the Royal family, including the Duchess of Cambridge.

When it comes to making a hat fit for royalty, she will liaise with the monarch’s dressmaker and designer Stewart Parvin and senior dresser and personal adviser Angela Kelly.

“We get sketches and swatches of fabric and we design the hat from there. She often wears a block colour coat and a beautiful silk dress with a print. We will most likely reference that print for the trim on the hat,” explains Rachel, who lived in Stourbridge as a young girl.

The mother of three says she always feels very excited and proud when she spots the Queen wearing one of her creations at a public event.

“It’s not a feeling that ever diminishes. I was very excited to make the first hat and every time I see her in one of my hats I’m thrilled and proud to have had the opportunity.”

“She’s the best hat wearer. It’s so wonderful for British millinery to have her always looking incredibly beautiful in hats,” Rachel, who was granted The Royal Warrant of Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen in 2014, tells Weekend.

The Queen opens the new Jaguar Land Rover Engine Manufacturing Centre wearing one of Rachel's creations

As a teenager, Rachel, who now lives in London, had considered becoming an actress but decided she wasn’t “brave enough”.

Knowing she wanted to do something creative, she wrote to 10 London-based hat companies looking for a job.

She secured an apprenticeship with master milliner Graham Smith which she describes as a ‘stroke of luck’.

“I contacted them at the right time when they needed somebody. I ended up as an apprentice and I absolutely loved it,” she explains.

In his workroom, where she says there was a “raft of knowledge to tap into”, Rachel began learning the craft and honing her skills.

“I fell in love with the craft of making hats and now I love the whole design process on top of that. I was very lucky to work with Graham Smith, he’s a real master of his craft,” she explains.

Her first studio was a shared attic in a monastery in Westminster and she sold her creations on a market stall in St Martins-in-the-Field.

Over the years, Rachel, a founder member of The British Hat Guild, has provided many of London’s top fashion retailers, including Harrods and Fenwick, with beautiful and contemporary designs, and also supplies boutiques across the UK, the US and Japan.

Each hat is hand blocked and stitched and every flower hand dyed and rolled. When designing for a client, she will take into account their outfit and, if known, the occasion the hat is to be worn for. She aims to provide them with the perfect hat or headpiece, whatever the occasion.

Rachel, whose father was a vicar at St Thomas’ Church in Stourbridge, says inspiration for her designs can come from “anywhere and anything”.

“I look back at the 40s and 50s, that’s an endless source of inspiration. It was a very glamorous time, the golden age of couture.

“When I’m designing I want my hats to be very feminine and elegant.

“We make a lot handmade flowers so I think I can be inspired by beautiful colours, a bouquet of flowers or I’ll walk through St James’ Park on my way to work and see the beautiful flower beds,” she tells Weekend.

Rachel is a liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers and each year she organises a millinery design competition on behalf of the Livery for students new designers to encourage and support the millinery trade.

Her advice to anyone interested in pursuing a career in millinery is to get some hands-on experience in a sewing workroom and to dedicate time to learning the traditional skills required.

“I would advocate doing an apprenticeship. It’s not so easy these days as a lot of milliners work alone or don’t have the set-up but, if you can, get some experience and see different workrooms.

“There are various millinery courses, or go and learn with an individual milliner. Give your time to learning your craft and learning that traditional way of working,” says Rachel.

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