What is a Milliner?

Milliners design and create hats and other headgear such as caps, bonnets, fascinators and bridal headpieces. These professionals use a range of materials such as fabric, felt, fur, and leather to create hats.

If you are keen on having a hands-on role in the fashion industry, becoming a milliner may be the right career choice for you. This job role is very hands-on since you’ll not only be designing the hats, but making them too. It’s also extremely creative and rewarding, but it does take skill and persistence to become a full-time milliner.

Here’s everything you need to know about milliners, from what they do to how much they earn and tips for becoming a professional milliner.

What Does a Milliner Do?

A milliner is a hat maker. He or she is responsible for designing and producing hats to align with a client’s demands. They are highly-regarded professionals that typically work with an affluent customer base. These customers are usually extremely fond of custom-made hats, and wish to purchase headwear tailor-made for their size, taste, and preferred material. It is down to the milliner to make hats based on their requests.

Most of the time, it is down to the client to choose the materials and decorations on the hat. Whereas it is usually the milliner’s responsibility to design and construct the headpiece. Typically, clients request tailor-made hats to wear at a special event, such as weddings, horse races, or religious ceremonies. 

Making a headpiece is a complex process which requires a lot of skill, patience, and precision. The milliner cuts the pattern to the desired shape based on the design and uses hat forms and steam to mold it into the right shape. They will then line the hat, trim any excess material that does not belong, and decorate the hat with any chosen adornments, such as artificial flowers, feathers, or ribbons.

Depending on whether you work for a company or are self-employed, and the client for which you are working, roles may differ. In some cases, for instance, you may be required to design the hat, select the fabrics and adornments yourself, and make it. In other cases, clients may have a very specific vision and wish for you to deliver on that vision.

Responsibilities of a Milliner

When it comes to the work of a milliner, there are two processes: a design process and a technical process. The design process involves selecting colors and fabrics, and liaising with clients. The technical process involves actually making the product.

Here are the typical roles and responsibilities of a milliner.

  • Communicating with clients and buyers to establish their individual needs
  • Producing software-aided and hand-drawn design sketches
  • Selecting and purchasing fabrics
  • Modifying designs in accordance to a client’s needs
  • Creating samples
  • Staying up to date with fabric and colour trends
  • Attending fashion shows, exhibitions, and trade shows
  • Cutting fabrics to desired shape
  • Molding and blocking the material to form the shape of the hat
  • Sewing linings and adornments onto the hat
  • Applying specialist chemicals to protect hats
  • Reproducing hats in different colours and materials
  • Altering hats to meet the customer’s wishes


Hat designers typically work long and irregular hours depending on their workload. They are either employed by a larger company or hat design franchise, or are self-employed, providing hat-making services to individual clients. 

Roles and responsibilities may differ depending on whether you work for a company or are self-employed. In the early stages of your career, working for a company is a safer bet for regular work.

Skills of a Milliner

Are you wondering what it takes to become a milliner? Being a milliner isn’t just about your qualifications and experience. You also need a few personal qualities to succeed in this career role. Let’s take a look at the skills and personal qualities milliners need:

  • Creativity and artistic skills
  • Good hand-eye coordination
  • A good sense of colour and design
  • Extensive understanding of fashion trends
  • Practical hat-making skills
  • Thorough understanding of colours, textiles, and patterns
  • Business awareness
  • Good communication skills
  • Able to work alone or as part of a team
  • Able to meet deadlines

How Much Does a Milliner Earn?

Starting salaries for milliners may be around £15,000 a year. Milliners with more experience can expect to earn £20,000 or more. Well-established milliners may earn as much as £30,000. As for self-employed milliners, they usually charge each client an individual price, which ranges from £150 to £300.

Milliners don’t normally go into this field for the sake of earning big money. They do it purely out of passion or to advance their career in fashion. 

You can definitely expect a low salary for the first few years of your career until you become more established or form your own business designing, making, and selling hats.

Your Long-Term Prospects

Being a milliner can be an exciting and rewarding job role. However, you must be aware that it will take a lot of skill, energy, and dedication to enjoy a prosperous career as a hat designer.

Milliners may be able to progress into a related area, such as fashion designing or retail buying. It may even lead to work opportunities overseas. 

You may also be able to set up your own label to create and sell hats to individual clients and companies. This requires strong business skills, excellent hat-making abilities, and a good reputation in the industry.

What is a Milliner

Tips for Becoming a Professional Milliner

Milliners can work in a variety of different market areas, including designer, high street, exclusive haute couture, and sportswear. Many milliners create their own business or work self-employed, selling their designs to individual customers or existing companies. Some milliners get started by becoming involved in a hat design franchise.

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a milliner? Whether you want to become a full-time milliner or wish to use it as a stepping stone to another career in the fashion industry, there are some ways to up your chances of becoming a professional milliner.

To become a milliner, you’ll usually have to gain a degree or complete a higher national diploma in a related subject. Fortunately, there are plenty of good higher education courses in fashion design available across the country. 

Most employers expect new milliners to possess basic design and construction skills. You can gain this knowledge and experience by getting qualified or training on the job – as in interning or offering your help in exchange for training.

If you are keen on starting your own label as a milliner, get started by making connections in the industry. The more people you know, the more likely you’ll end up with a long and happy customer base that will continue to use your services.

Also, make sure you create a compelling portfolio featuring your best designs so you can show them off in the early stages of your career to gain clients.

Becoming a milliner isn’t difficult if you’ve got the passion and dedication to make it happen. With proper training, a keen eye for fashion, and a good portfolio, you can easily work your way up the ladder in this industry and land a rewarding job role as a milliner.

If you’re interested in learning more about millinery check out our podcast episode on How to Excel as a Milliner.

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