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Originally published April 16, 2011 at 7:04 PM | Page modified April 18, 2011 at 6:57 AM

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Princess-to-be Kate Middleton is tops when it comes to toppers

Prince William's fiancee, Kate Middleton, has it all: princely groom, job for life, all that. She also has delightful fashion sense, writes Moira Macdonald, especially when it comes to her hats.

Seattle Times arts writer

On TV

The royal wedding

The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton will begin at 11 a.m. (British Summer Time) April 29 at Westminster Abbey in London. ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and the BBC, among others, plan live coverage starting as early as 1 a.m. PDT. Check local listings for specifics.

Say what you will about Kate Middleton — or Princess Catherine or Duchess of Something English or Waity Katie or whatever you want to call her — the lady can wear a hat.

And, as we count down to the royal wedding on April 29, I find that's the thing about her that intrigues me most. Imagine a life where an assortment of hats awaits, for any occasion. Consider the somber mood created by her large black felt hat (leavened just a bit by a loop-the-loop heart), or the it's-a-bird/it's-a-plane silliness of that taupe-colored feather confection that seems to have made a landing on her head, or the insouciant tilt of her black-and-white flying saucer, or the charming miscellany of her itty-bitty fascinator, complete with feathers, buttons and a cameo. (A fascinator, by the way, is a small and usually whimsical headpiece, not quite substantial enough to be called a hat, but with sufficient personality to stand on its own.)

In those pictures, imagine each of her outfits without the hats. She'd look fine, smart, well-groomed, appropriate. But something would be missing; that extra touch of mystery and dash that a hat adds. Hats change the faces beneath them, adding authority and drama and making a simple outfit suddenly chic.

Think of the heroines of '30s and '40s movies, never fully dressed without a perfect chapeau; or, even now, pretty much any Helena Bonham Carter movie. (I remember the little-seen 2003 hatfest "The Heart of Me," in which Bonham Carter is dismayed by the arrival of her sister, played by Olivia Williams, fully equipped with hat and veil. "Can't you push that up?" she asks with cut-glass diction, referring to the veil. "I feel at a disadvantage.")

The word "bareheaded" has pretty much left the language; instead, it's become the default. Most of us walk around hatless, on days when it isn't freezing or broiling, dreaming perhaps of the glorious hats we might wear had we the time, the budget, the right kind of hair, the je ne sais quoi.

But a princess-in-waiting doesn't have that option. The soon-to-be-former Miss Middleton is about to become the great-granddaughter-in-law of the late Queen Mum, famous for her boisterously cheery hats that looked like Easter baskets on her head, and the daughter-in-law of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who knew exactly what to do with a hat (though not always what to do with her bangs underneath them). Remember the sweet little veiled number Diana wore as part of her coral-colored going-away outfit, after another royal wedding many years ago? I do.

Will Kate have a going-away outfit, even though she and William reportedly aren't leaving for the honeymoon until the day after the wedding? No doubt, and I bet the hat will be a lulu.

A while back, I went to a wedding in Scotland, with the reception held at a castle full of hatted ladies — myself included — strolling about and decorously sipping Champagne. As the afternoon progressed, I wondered about the logistics of removing our daytime hats for dinner (a crucial point of hat etiquette). Eventually, the smiling mother of the bride led a group of female guests to a ladies' lounge, where we all removed our hats and fluffed up our hair, laying the hats on waiting tables.

Hours later, retrieving mine at the evening's end, I remember how pretty the hats all looked, side-by-side in a bright, feathery crowd, and wondered if they'd chatted about their wearers when left alone.

Somewhere, Kate Middleton's hats are assembled, ready to step into a new life with her. I think they're up for the challenge.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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