A top hat
(also called a high hat
, a cylinder hat
, or a topper
) is a tall, flat-crowned hat
for men traditionally associated with formal wear
in Western dress codes
, meaning white tie
, morning dress
, or frock coat
. Traditionally made of black silk
or sometimes grey, the top hat emerged in Western fashion
by the end of 18th century. Although it declined by the time of the counterculture of the 1960s
, it remains a formal fashion accessory
. A collapsible variant of a top hat, developed in the 19th century, is known as an opera hat
European royalty ca. 1859
Perhaps inspired by the Early Modern eracapotain
, higher crowned dark felt hats with wide brims emerged as a country leisurewear fashion along with the Age of Revolution
around the 1770s. Around the 1780s, the justaucorps
was replaced by the previously casual frocks
and dress coats
. At the same time, the tricorne
and bicorne hats
were replaced by what became known as the top hat. By the 1790s, the directoire style
dress coat with top hat was widely introduced as citywear for the upper
and middle classes
in all urban areas of the Western world. The justaucorps was replaced in all but the most formal court affairs. Around the turn of the 19th century, although for a few decades beaver hats
were popular, black silk
became the standard, sometimes varied by grey ones. While the dress coats were replaced by the frock coat
from the 1840s as conventional formal daywear, top hats continued to be worn with frock coats as well as with what became known as formal evening wear white tie
. Towards the end of the 19th century, whereas the white tie with black dress coat remained fixed, frock coats were gradually replaced by morning dress
, along with top hats.
After World War I
, the 1920s saw widespread introduction of semi-formal black tie
and informal wear suits
that were worn with less formal hats such as bowler hats
respectively, in established society. After World War II
, white tie, morning dress and frock coats along with their counterpart, the top hat, started to become confined to high society
and international diplomacy
. The last United States presidential inaugurations
with top hat was the inauguration of John F. Kennedy
in 1961. Following the counterculture of the 1960s
, its use declined further along with the disuse also of daily informal hats by men.
Yet, along with traditional formal wear, the top hat continues to be applicable for the most formal occasions, including weddings
, in addition to certain audiences
and horse racing
events, such as the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot
and the Queen's Stand of Epsom Derby
. It also remains part of the formal dress of those occupying prominent positions in certain traditional British institutions, such as the Bank of England
, certain City stock exchange
officials, occasionally at the Law Courts
and Lincoln's Inn
, judges of the Chancery Division and Queen's Counsel
, boy-choristers of King's College Choir
, dressage horseback riders
, and servants
' or doormen
The top hat is also known as a beaver hat or silk hat, in reference to its material, as well as casually as chimney pot hat or stove pipe hat.
Self portrait (c:a 1770) of Peter Falconet
(1741–1791). One of the earliest depicted prototypes of what became the top hat. In early prototypes, a sash around the crown was closed by a buckle
. This was later dropped, in the same way as shoe buckles
for male pumps
were replaced by bowties around the turn of the 19th century.
Carle Vernet's 1796 painting showing two decadent French "Incredibles" greeting each other, one with what appears to be a top hat.
According to fashion historians, the top hat may have descended directly from the sugarloaf hat
otherwise it is difficult to establish provenance for its creation.
Gentlemen began to replace the tricorne
with the top hat at the end of the 18th century; a painting by Charles Vernet
of 1796, Un Incroyable
, shows a French dandy
(one of the Incroyables et Merveilleuses
) with such a hat.
The first silk top hat in England is credited to George Dunnage, a hatter from Middlesex, in 1793.
The invention of the top hat is often erroneously credited to a haberdasher
named John Hetherington
Within 30 years top hats had become popular with all social classes, with even workmen wearing them. At that time those worn by members of the upper classes were usually made of felted beaver fur
; the generic name "stuff hat" was applied to hats made from various non-fur felts. The hats became part of the uniforms worn by policemen and postmen (to give them the appearance of authority); since these people spent most of their time outdoors, their hats were topped with black oilcloth
Between the latter part of 18th century and the early part of the 19th century, felted beaver fur was slowly replaced by silk "hatter's plush", though the silk topper met with resistance from those who preferred the beaver hat.
The 1840s and the 1850s saw it reach its most extreme form, with ever-higher crowns and narrow brims. The stovepipe hat
was a variety with mostly straight sides, while one with slightly convex sides was called the "chimney pot".
The style most commonly referred to as the stovepipe was popularized in the United States by Abraham Lincoln
during his presidency; though it is postulated[by whom?]
that he may never have called it stovepipe himself, but merely a silk hat or a plug hat. It is said[by whom?]
that Lincoln would keep important letters inside the hat.
One of Lincoln's top hats is kept on display at the National Museum of American History
in Washington, DC.
In this popular print of the 1848 "Five Days of Milan
", the Italian city's uprising against Austrian rule, several combatants are shown wearing top hats.
During the 19th century, the top hat developed from a fashion into a symbol of urban respectability, and this was assured when Prince Albert
started wearing them in 1850; the rise in popularity of the silk plush top hat possibly led to a decline in beaver hats, sharply reducing the size of the beaver trapping
industry in North America, though it is also postulated[by whom?]
that the beaver numbers were also reducing at the same time. Whether it directly affected or was coincidental to the decline of the beaver trade is debatable.
once observed that an assemblage of "toppers" resembled factory chimneys and thus added to the mood of the industrial era. In England, post-Brummel
dandies went in for flared crowns and swooping brims. Their counterparts in France, known as the "Incroyables
", wore top hats of such outlandish dimensions that there was no room for them in overcrowded cloakrooms until the invention of the collapsible top hat.
Until World War I
the top hat was maintained as a standard item of formal outdoor wear by upper-class males for both daytime and evening usage. Considerations of convenience and expense meant however that it was increasingly superseded by soft hats for ordinary wear. By the end of World War II
, it had become a comparative rarity, though it continued to be worn regularly in certain roles. In Britain these included holders of various positions in the Bank of England
and City stockbroking, and boys at some public schools. All the civilian members of the Japanese delegation that signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender
on 2 September 1945, wore top hats, reflecting common diplomatic practice at the time.
The top hat persisted in politics
and international diplomacy
for many years. In the Soviet Union
, there was debate as to whether its diplomats should follow the international conventions and wear a top hat. Instead a diplomatic uniform
with peaked cap for formal occasions was adopted. Top hats were part of formal wear for U.S. presidential inaugurations for many years. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
spurned the hat for his inauguration, but John F. Kennedy, who was accustomed to formal dress, brought it back for his in 1961. Ironically, Kennedy delivered his forceful inaugural address hatless, reinforcing the image of vigor he desired to project, and setting the tone for an active administration to follow.
His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, did not wear a top hat for any part of his inauguration in 1965, and the hat has not been worn since for this purpose.
In the United Kingdom, the post of Government Broker in the London Stock Exchange
that required the wearing of a top hat in the streets of the City of London
was abolished by the "Big Bang
" reforms of October 1986.
In the British House of Commons
, a rule requiring a Member of Parliament
who wished to raise a point of order
during a division
, having to speak seated with a top hat on, was abolished in 1998. Spare top hats were kept in the chamber in case they were needed. The Modernisation Select Committee commented that "This particular practice has almost certainly brought the House into greater ridicule than almost any other".
In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four
, the top hat features prominently in the propaganda of book's totalitarian regime: "These rich men were called capitalists. They were fat, ugly men with wicked faces [...] dressed in a long black coat which was called a frock coat, and a queer, shiny hat shaped like a stovepipe, which was called a top hat. This was the uniform of the capitalists, and no one else was allowed to wear it."
The modern standard top hat is a hard, black silk hat, with fur now often used. The acceptable colors of hats are much as they have traditionally been, with "white" hats (which are actually grey), a daytime racing color, worn at the less formal occasions demanding a top hat, such as Royal Ascot
, or with a morning suit
. In the U.S. top hats are worn widely in coaching, a driven horse discipline, as well as for formal riding to hounds.
The collapsible silk opera
hat, or crush hat
, is still worn on occasions, and black in color if worn with evening wear as part of white tie
and is still made by a few companies, since the materials, satin or grosgrain silk, are still available. The other alternative hat for eveningwear is the normal hard shell.
culture also incorporates the top hat into accepted headgear choices, though top hats worn in such a context are sometimes made of leather or similar materials and, now and then, even have simulated gears
or other adornments secured to them.
A top hat, frequently colored red, white and blue, or with stars and stripes similar to those on the American flag, is part of the regular costume of Uncle Sam
, a symbol of the United States.
For satirists and political cartoonists, the top hat was a convenient symbol of the upper class
, business and capitalism
. A character wearing a top hat would be instantly recognized by the viewer as a member of the oligarchy
The character Rich Uncle Pennybags
in the board game Monopoly
, wears a top hat. In addition, a top hat is one of the game's tokens, used by players to mark their position as they progress around the board.
, as practiced in North American lodges, top hats are often associated with the position of Worshipful Master
as he is the only member allowed the privilege of wearing a head covering to signify his leadership within the lodge. However, the Master is not obliged to wear a top hat, and can wear whatever type of hat he deems appropriate for the occasion. This is because there are varying degrees of formality in different Lodges, from formal wear to everyday dress. It is also common for a Worshipful Master to receive top-hat-related trinkets and gifts on either the day of his installation or as a going away present.
In other countries, especially in certain systems in Germany, top hats are worn by all members of the lodge.
In some synagogues
, the president and honorary officers may wear a top hat on Shabbat
or the great festivals. The custom of wearing a top hat, or tzylinder
in the Yiddish language
, originated in 19th-century England, replacing the wig
and tricorn hat
. The custom became widespread in Europe until The Holocaust
. In some traditional Sephardi
synagogues, members of the congregation may also wear top hats on special occasions.
The custom is said to have started at the Bevis Marks Synagogue
in London on a hot day, when the Chazzan
was preparing for a service and decided that it was too hot to wear his wig, throwing it out of the window in a fit of bad temper. He then found that his tricorn hat was too big, as it had been made to fit over the wig, and so wore his top hat instead.
top hat is made from hatters' plush, a soft silk weave with a very long, defined nap.
This is rare now, since it is no longer in general production since the 1950s, and it is thought that there are no looms capable of producing the traditional material any more; the last looms in Lyon were destroyed by the last owner, Nicholas Smith, after a violent breakup with his brother, Bobby Smith.
The standard covering is now fur plush or melusine
as (the London hat merchant) Christys' calls it. A grey flat fur felt top hat is the popular alternative.
It is common to see top hats in stiff wool felt and even soft wool though these are not considered on the same level as the silk or fur plush or grey felt varieties. The standard crown shape nowadays is the 'semi-bell crown'; 'full bell crowns' and 'stovepipe' shaped toppers are rarer.
Because of the rarity of vintage silk hats, and the expense of modern top hats, the vintage/antique market is very lively, with models in wearable condition typically hard to find; price often varies with size (larger sizes are typically more expensive) and condition.
In the past, top hats were made by blocking
a single piece of wool or fur felt and then covering the shell with fur plush. Since the invention of silk plush a new method using gossamer
was invented and used up to the present day though the older method is more common for toppers made today.
A town-weight silk top hat is made by first blocking two pieces of gossamer (or goss
for short), which is made of a sheet of cheesecloth
that has been coated with a shellac
solution and left to cure for 5 months on a wooden frame, on a wooden top hat block (which is made of several interconnecting pieces like a puzzle so the block can be removed from the shell, as the opening is narrower than tip of the crown) to form the shell. After the shell has rested for a week in the block, the block is removed and the brim (made of several layers of goss to give it strength) is attached to the crown. The shell is coated with a layer of shellac varnish and also left for a further week. The silk plush is then cut to the correct pattern. The top and side pieces are sewn together; the side piece having an open diagonal seam. It is then eased over the shell carefully and then ironed (the heat of the iron melting the shellac for the plush to stick to it). The upper brim is also covered with a piece of silk plush or with silk petersham (a ribbed silk). The underbrim is covered with merino cloth. After the hat has fully rested, the brim is curled and bound with silk grosgrain ribbon, and a hat band (either silk grosgrain with or without a bow, or a black wool mourning band without a bow) is installed. Finally, the lining and the leather sweatband are carefully hand-stitched in.
The construction can vary; reinforced toppers sometimes called "country-weight" included greater layers goss used to provide a strengthened hat that was traditionally suitable for riding and hunting, though it may not always conform to modern safety standards.
The collapsible Gibus
On May 5, 1812, a London hatter called Thomas Francis Dollman patented a design for "an elastic round hat" supported by ribs and springs. His patent was described as:
An elastic round hat, which "may be made of beaver, silk, or other materials." "The top of the crown and about half an inch from the top" as well as "the brim and about an inch, the crown from the bottom" are stiffened in the ordinary manner. The rest of the hat "is left entirely without stiffening," and is kept in shape by ribs of any suitable material "fastened horizontally to the inside of the crown," and by an elastic steel spring from three to four inches long and nearly half an inch wide "sewed on each side of the crown in the inside in an upright position." Then packed up for travelling, "the double ribbon fastened under the band is to be pulled over the top of the crown to keep it in a small compass."
Some sources have taken this to describe an early folding top hat,
although it is not explicitly stated whether Dollman's design was specifically for male or female headgear. Dollman's patent expired in 1825.
In France, around 1840, Antoine Gibus's design for a spring-loaded collapsible top-hat proved so popular that hats made to it became known as gibus
They were also often called opera hats
, owing to the common practice of storing them in their flattened state under one's seat at the opera. The characteristic snapping sound heard upon opening a gibus suggested a third name, the chapeau claque
, "claque" being the French word for "slap".
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, Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat
, 2005, Granta Books
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