Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Gentleman’s Fashion: A Silk Top Hat, 1900-1910

Frequently a silk hat is never seen between Sunday and Sunday. Churchgoers still, to a certain extent, affect it, but in these days of outdoor life, bicycling, and so on, the costume worn by men in church is experiencing the same modifications that characterise it in other department.

--“Manners for Men,” by Mrs Humphry ('Madge of Truth')

Top Hat
James Locke & Co.
The Victoria & Albert Museum
No Nineteenth or Early Twentieth Century gentleman’s evening attire was complete without the proper headgear—a top hat. Tall, high-crowned hats with a narrow brim (which was most often slightly turned up on the sides), top hats, in the Nineteenth Century, were worn in black for evenings, but sometimes, for sporting and casual events, they could be grey or brown. For a brief period in the early Nineteenth Century, pale colors between off-white and gray were worn with sporting dress from about 1820, and into the 1840s were acceptable for a man’s daily wardrobe.
The top hat reached the apex of its popularity during the 1840s and 1850s as the middle classes had greater access to manufactured attire. After 1850, new styles emerged, such as the straw boater and soft felt hat, but the most popular of the trendy new styles was the bowler. The rise of the bowler challenged the predominance of the top hat in daily use, but they remained the height of evening fashion.

The advent of the collapsible top hat (called a “gibus”) came in the 1840s and was often worn with evening dress. The gibus worked by means of an accordion of corded silk or cloth over a metal framework, allowing it to be opened easily and closed so that it could easily be carried under the arm.

This particular hat is made of silk as opposed to some which were made from felted beaver fur (and consequently called “beavers). This model by the English firm James Locke and Co. dates between 1900 and 1910.

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