How Wearing a 'Kate Middleton' Hat Helped Me Teach My Daughter Not to Care What Other People Think

Diane Clehane

Up until fourth grade, my daughter was blissfully unconcerned with what she wore --- and, more importantly, with what other kids thought of her clothes. Madeline happily wore the Ralph Lauren gingham dresses and plaid kilts I bought for her until one day, when she told me that the 10-year-old "mean girl" in her circle of friends at school (yes, it starts that young) often teased her about what she wore, telling her her clothes were "babyish."


Now that she wears a uniform (and changed schools), that doesn’t happen anymore -- but the teasing left its mark. Ever since then, she is very cautious about choosing what she wears depending on who she’s with. She'll happily wear a pretty dress to church, but it's strictly leggings and an Aviva jacket when she’s doing anything with friends.

With middle school just around the corner, the conversation during the car rides to and from school frequently centers on how important it is to be true to yourself and not worry about what other people think. Sometimes it’s about "how old is too old?" to play with American Girl dolls. Recently it involved deciding whether she should wear the shoes "everyone" is wearing with their uniform even though she thinks they're ugly.

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"You should wear what you want to wear and not worry about what everyone else is going to think," I said for the umpteenth time.

"It’s easy for you to say," said Madeline the last time the topic came up. "You're a grown-up."

"Sometimes it’s even harder when you get older," I explained. "No one wants to look foolish or have people think they're weird."

Little did I know I'd have an opportunity to practice what I’ve been preaching this past Easter.

I recently wrote a piece for a British magazine heralding Kate Middleton's style -- and her love of "fascinators." In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, they’re small ornamental headpieces on headbands or combs usually festooned with feathers, flowers, or a veil. A favorite of posh Brits, they’re a staple at swanky affairs like royal weddings.

I guess I had Kate on the brain when I spied a display of the haute headgear in Nordstrom during a pre-Easter trip to the mall. When I went over to get a better look, I was immediately drawn to a charming saucer-shaped style in black with a pretty bow. I tried it on and fell in love with it. (My mother always said I "had a face for hats." Who else but your mother would ever say such a thing?) The last time I’d worn a hat was at my now 18 year-old nephew's christening, when I'd chosen a wide-brimmed boater like the ones favored by my style icon, Princes Diana.  

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I felt positively giddy while I watched the saleswoman wrap it up and place it in a classic oversized hat box. I mentally selected the dress I'd wear with it on Easter Sunday. I hadn't been this excited about getting dressed up in ages.

"You're wearing that to church?" Madeline was laughing so hard she fell into a heap on my bed when I showed her my Easter bonnet.

"Yes." Horrified by the realization that I now felt mildly foolish standing in front of the mirror wearing my Kate Middleton–inspired creation, I wondered about the store's return policy for hats.

"I don't think Daddy or I will sit with you if you wear that. We’ll sit in another pew." She was still laughing.

"Well, I'm wearing it." I gingerly placed the fascinator back in the box and resolved not to tell my husband about my plan in order to avoid more ridicule. Maybe I could take it back.

On Easter morning, while my husband and daughter scrambled to get ready for church, I stood in front of the mirror in my fascinator, wondering if I really had the guts to pull it off. I thought, Well, I could always take it off before I go into church.

"I bet no one else is going to be wearing a hat in there," said Madeline.

"So what?" I decided I couldn’t back down now even if I wanted to. I wasn’t going to let my 11-year-old daughter hat shame me.

I hadn’t considered if I’d be able to sit in the car with the hat whose bow was brushing up against the ceiling, so I had to take it off for the ride. When we got there, it was a sea of blue blazers, sensible suits, and solid color dresses in the parking lot. Not a hat -- or fascinator -- in sight. Not even on the little girls.

I got out of the car -- sans hat, took a few steps toward the church, and then went back for my fascinator.

"You really don't care what people think, do you?" said Madeline, taking a decidedly more respectful tone.

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"Nope," I said as we stepped into the church. I surprised myself when I realized I actually believed it.

By the time we sat down, Madeline was still looking at me with a mix of wonder and amusement when a woman in front of us turned to her and said, "I love your mom's hat. I wish I was brave enough to wear one."

I kept my fascinator on all through Easter lunch. Truth be told, I loved that I was the only person wearing one.

That night, I told Madeline I was thinking of going back and getting another fascinator for an upcoming party we'd been invited to this summer.

"I want to go with you to pick it out," she said. "I think fascinators are kind of cool."

"Maybe we'll get you one."

"They're not for me, but you looked very pretty in yours."

Mission accomplished.



Image via Diane Clehane

Diane ClehaneDiane Clehane is a New York Times best-selling author and award-winning journalist who has written about celebrities, popular culture, and parenthood for Vanity Fair, Forbes, and People and many other national publications. She writes the popular "Lunch" column for She is at work on her first novel.

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