Friday, September 17, 2021

Top Hats a fashion statement for 300 years


I’ve been sharing the history behind my husband’s various antiques. I pulled a box off a shelf in our bedroom closet that has remained closed most of the time for over 50 years. 

Charley purchased it at an antique store to add to his hat collection. He has worn this pristine top hat only a few times in my memory. He had to get it out today for this blog. Note there is a brush included and a nice hat box for storage, although Charley thinks it is not the original box.

 George Dunnage from Middlesex, England, created the Top Hat in 1793. His hat became so popular by 1840 with any man who wanted to show off his social status. Soon even the lowliest of men had this tall head covering. However, the first-time haberdasher John Hertherington wore the hat, a riot broke out. Legend has it that the locals were so shocked at its appearance they formed a mob. Women fainted and a little boy broke his arm after falling in the midst of the mob. Hertherington was arrested for breaching the peace and causing a riot. In his defense, he claimed there was no law regarding what a man wore on his head. 

Over the decades it has taken on different names such as stove top, anguish tube, and topper. There were various versions of the top hat, some had large rims or higher tops. They advertised the Turf as having been created to “make a man—if they were middle aged—look ten years younger and an inch or two taller.” 

Although beaver skin hats were waterproof, hats made of rabbit fur were less expensive. Around 1840, the preferred material was silk. It had a smoother nape. The fashion trend became the larger the hat, the better. Brims became so wide and crowns so tall that theaters added hat checks near the lobby, so patrons' view of the stage was not impeded.

 A French hat maker Antoine Gibus perfected the collapsible top hat. It became popular because it was easy to store. Often referred to as an opera hat because it could be stored under the seat during a performance. This type of hat is still synonymous with magic since magicians often pull a rabbit out of this type of hat. 

Abraham Lincoln wore a stovepipe hat. At six feet four, the hat made him over seven feet tall. It is said to have been a gimmick to attract attention during his election. Lincoln was known to keep letters in his hat. Political cartoonist drew nefarious characters with top hats. It often represented wealth or authority in political cartoons. Most president wore Top Hats to important events with the same idea of showing their authority.

 Top Hats fell out of use in the 1960s during the cultural revolution. John Kennedy was the last president to wear one on inauguration day. Today, in America, you will see top hats worn on Ground Hog Day by the Punxsutawney Ground Hog Day Club members. And there are various celebrities who have been seen wearing some version of the top hat. Orthodox Jews, Free Masons and some horse race enthusiasts can be seen wearing a top hat. And let’s not forget Uncle Sam in every Independence Day Parade.

Have you ever been to an event where a man wore a top hat? 


Charley and I long ago.


Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater. Visit her at 





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  2. How very interesting. Too bad they aren't worn now. Remembering when John F. Kennedy wore his, I thought they made him look very distinguished.

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