Designer Sarah Bray tells me that sun hats are as timeless as the summer itself. Just take the Little Women cast who blew us away with their headwear in late 2019 or the ribboned-straw statement pieces in Pride and Prejudice that I've been swooning over since I was old enough to have a crush on Mr. Darcy. Whenever the hotter months swing around once more, so too does the pursuit of shade, and Bray's sun hats bring us a sustainable, and fashionable, way to stay protected from UV damage.
Bray has always adored sun hats, but that's not why the Bermuda-based designer wrapped her small business—Sarah Bray Bermuda—around them. Instead, she tells me she felt drawn to the individual pieces, the way a certain antique ribbon could accent palm leaf. How seagrass could morph effortlessly into armor against the sun. And, most of all, how all of these materials came together to create a statement piece that could be both stunning and sustainable; both incredibly effective at protecting the wearer without negatively affecting the environment.
"What's great about a sun hat is that it actually is biodegradable—these materials are completely natural," says Bray. "There's a lot of biodegradable grosgrain ribbon out there that's made in the US." Each hat is handwoven, and to-date, Sarah has made and sold only a small batch of 500 hats—each of which is unique from the last. And each of which is highly customizable to fit your every outfit and whim.
Shop now: Plumeria Sun Hat, $150
"There's so many amazing vintage and antique ribbons out there, which is why I decided to have antique ribbon as an option—because that also fits in my ethics of wanting things to be either biodegradable or to not add any additional weight to [the environment] at all," says Bray. "I really thought it would be nice to have the ability to have interchangeable ribbons that you can choose based on your mood." The ribbons hail from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s—and all come pre-cut to tie straight on your hat.
Shop now: Vintage Marigold Ribbon, $35
It's no surprise that sun hat sales skyrocket when the UV index reaches peak scorching in late summer (Bray, frankly, can't keep her hats from flying off the proverbial shelves)—but the designer says that 2020 has been different. COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine have increased the lure of the outside world, and many folks are hurrying to buy something that's chic and easy to protect their skin on long, moseying walks. "We're no longer going to parties so we don't need high heels anymore. We might not be investing in a cute little handbag. What we are doing with our days is spending time outdoors, or improving our outdoor living spaces, or gardening, or going out on walks, or hanging out by the pool with the family or going to the beach," says Bray.
She's onto something: A surge of hikers have stormed trails nationwide in a time when adventuring and the outdoors have become even more intertwined, bike sales just keep climbing, and people both with and without dogs report taking far more walks than usual. All these factors make the need for sun protection doubly important—and along with sunscreen, hats like Bray's are no-doubt essential.
Even next year (or the next) when those clear summer skies are no longer clouded by the looming clouds of a pandemic, the spirit of summer will continue to live on. And sun hats like Bray's, well, they long ago locked down their status as accessories that never quite go out of style.
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