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Pimp my hat

PUBLISHED: 11:35 11 August 2015 | UPDATED: 11:35 11 August 2015

The Hat Pimping Parlour, Bungay. Anne Steele (left) and Carolyn Ashton upcycle unwanted hats and turn them into little creations for festivals, parties and weddings.

The Hat Pimping Parlour, Bungay. Anne Steele (left) and Carolyn Ashton upcycle unwanted hats and turn them into little creations for festivals, parties and weddings.

Two friends have set up a business rescuing old hats and giving them a spectacular new lease of life. Lucy Etherington has fun dressing up in their Hat Pimping Parlour in Bungay

The Hat Pimping ParlourThe Hat Pimping Parlour

As a kid, I always loved the TV show Bagpuss – the idea being of toys rescuing old toys, mending them and restoring them to life.

It was all about recycling of course – the blissfully hippie days of children’s TV. But there was also the deeper theme that you don’t have to be tossed out in the trash just because you’ve got an eye missing, or your fur’s a bit worn. With a bit of love and creativity, you can be given a new lease

of life.

There’s similar appeal in what Carolyn Ashton and Anne Steel are doing with what they rather sweetly refer to as ‘pre-loved’ hats – as though the hats might overhear and have to deal with their rejection issues.

The Hat Pimping ParlourThe Hat Pimping Parlour

“We take other peoples’ cast off hats and reinvent them with all sorts of stuff, from feathers, flowers and broken jewellery to car-boot object d’art,” says Carolyn, as she shows me the amazing hat display in the parlour of her Bungay flat. “You can either bring an old hat that’s looking a bit past it, or you can come and try out the ones we’ve already made.”

The upcycled hats no longer look like the battered, tired things they probably were when they arrived – “saggy, and a bit loose at the seams” as they say in Bagpuss. Some are brilliantly bonkers, others beautifully bohemian or trendy, and many wouldn’t look at all out of place at all at the swankiest garden party, or indeed Ladies Day at the Races.

It’s green, bespoke and great value (they start at £10!), with the added bonus, as Anne says, that “at least you know you won’t see anyone else with the same hat.”

They also have the cutest hat model – Anne’s cockerpoo puppy Tilly, who suits the smaller hats and fascinators and comes along to help when they go to fairs and festivals.

The Hat Pimping Parlour, Bungay. Anne Steele and Carolyn Ashton upcycle unwanted hats and turn them into little creations for festivals, parties and weddings.The Hat Pimping Parlour, Bungay. Anne Steele and Carolyn Ashton upcycle unwanted hats and turn them into little creations for festivals, parties and weddings.

I’m thrilled when Anne and Carolyn let me try some on in front of the mirror. It’s like being let loose in a dressing up box. Each hat makes you feel like a different person – one minute I’m a bit of a theatrical vamp, the next I could be in Hoxton with my funky trilby, or at a festival with a gorgeous floppy sun hat.

“You’ll have to come to one of our hat soirees,” says Anne when she sees how much I’m enjoying myself. “Basically we all try on hats and drink wine.”

“One of the things we do that’s really popular is bring hats to a party and let people try them out for the evening or day,” adds Carolyn. “They don’t have to buy them. It’s all about enjoying the hats.”

The hat pimping ladies are as fun, unique and sassy as their creations. Anne is a graphic designer who also sings, writes songs and plays double bass in a blues band called The Delta Beltas. Carolyn has done all sorts, from airbrushing the giant inflatables for The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin gigs, to making architectural models. One of the more unusual strings to her bow is that she is a NASA accredited lunar cartographer. She now also sings and MCs at music festivals.

“We met years ago at a busking night in the Wisset Plough near Halesworth,” says Carolyn. “We both enjoy music and having fun and we’ve been best friends ever since.”

They shared plenty of good times – including children and grandchildren – but also tougher experiences too. When recently both had breast cancer in succession, they decided their lives needed a bit of an emergency revamp.

“I’d been talking about doing hat upcycling for a while,” says Carolyn. “One day when I was feeling really low, Anne marched me off to the charity shops and we came back with two huge bags full of hats, jewellery, ribbons and bows. That was it – the Hat Pimping Parlour was born.”

Its launch was at the Maui Waui festival in Suffolk, which is run by Anne’s son, Silas Rayner. While introducing the acts, Carolyn modelled the hats on their stall for the festival crowd.

“We had a fantastic response,” says Anne. “We sold half our stock in one day.”

Larry Love from The Alabama 3 (who did the theme song from The Sopranos) bought one of their fabulously theatrical Stetsons. Indeed, Anne was particularly surprised at how many of their customers were male. The hard-hats decked with skulls, jewels and feathers were hugely popular, as were those with battery powered fairy lights.

Since then the ladies have created a Steampunk range (a vintage style based on Victorian fantasy fiction and steam-age inventions), which sold out at Wymondham Steampunk Fair last winter, and sold many more through their website and stalls.

Now they are busy scouring car boot sales, charity shops and vintage fairs getting ready to launch their 2015 summer range, starting with Ladies Day at the Great Yarmouth Races on August 13. Neither can believe something they love doing has been this successful.

“What began as a kitchen table-top idea has now spread to the dining room and beyond,” says Carolyn. “People are just loving wearing our hats!”


Look out for the Hat Pimping Parlour at fairs and festivals in East Anglia, or visit their facebook page or website to see the latest collection:


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