Fashion is at its best when we’re given permission to play. It is, after all, supposed to be fun, right? This would explain our sudden obsession with hats—they are a visual delight, an unexpected statement, a telegraph of someone’s personal style like no other accessory.

On the runways, the resurgence, unsurprisingly, started with a bang: one supersized straw hat at Jacquemus’ spring/summer 2018 show, its circumference nearly as wide as a beach umbrella. The front row gawked; the Insta set double tapped; a nearly nude Bella Hadid, on a photo shoot in Mexico, drew 1.5 million likes posing under the generous shade of a similar style by Olmos y Flores.

Now, one full turn of the fashion calendar later, the spring/summer 2019 catwalks are a dress-up box ripe for the picking: ’80s-inspired broad-brimmed boaters tipped to the side at Moschino; romantic, slightly haunting beekeeper styles from Simone Rocha; knit swim caps outfitted with fanciful frills at Michael Kors; and 3.1 Phillip Lim’s reincarnation of last season’s bucket hat, this time even roomier and done up in luxe white leather.

Look-at-me hats stem from a desire to dress up again, a reaction to the now-curtailing athleisure trend, says Ana Correa, an accessories and footwear trend forecaster at WGSN. “It’s a power statement from women taking more important roles in the workplace and society,” she says of the comeback. “We want to feel impactful in our clothes.”

Hats certainly acted as a visual marker of Meghan Markle’s royal ascension. A no-frills fedora became a go-to in the courting phase, and a petal-pink Philip Treacy fascinator worn three days post-nuptials solidified her new title as the Duchess of Sussex. Now, you could picture her at this year’s Royal Ascot sporting Valentino’s elegant mile-high straw hat, the wafer-thin wisps offering refuge from the world’s prying eyes.

As the duchess proves, the right hat permits reinvention. We witnessed how an encrusted cowboy style worthy of the 10-gallon name took Jennifer Lopez’s Grammys red carpet Ralph & Russo look to an 11 and how a black bolero transformed Lady Gaga’s Ally from struggling singer to tour headliner in A Star Is Born. “Wearing one gives you an opportunity to be more yourself, whether that’s remaining undercover or standing out,” says Dani Griffiths, the Vancouver-born milliner behind New York-based hat label Clyde. “If you find the right hat that gels with you, it can provide a sense of security and ease.”

This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.