Archive for April, 2012

Notoriety and the Topper
April 16, 2012

The first time the top hat was ever worn in public was in London on the head of John Hetherington in January 1797; and while today this style is refined and stately, the wildness of a tall stove-pipe top hat caused an upheaval in the streets. In barely no time at all, Hetherington drew a large crowd and was subsequently arrested on the spot.

The offense was described as followed: “Hetherington appeared on the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat … a tall structure having a shining luster, and calculated to frighten timid people. As a matter of fact … several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children began screaming, dogs yelped, and a younger son of Cordwainer Thomas … was thrown down by the crowd which collected and had his right arm broken”. There was so much chaos that the officer grabbed Hetherington by the collar and gave him court summons for “disturbing the public peace”.

It was reported on the front page of The London Times that, “Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear. We believe that both the court and the police made a mistake here.” And so it was born, and with such a ruckus, its no wonder that the top hat came to define the 19th century and continues to be worn today.

It’s easy to see from old photographs and drawings why the nineteenth century is sometimes know as the Century of the Top Hat. Men wore top hats for business, pleasure and formal occasions — pearl gray for daytime, black for day or night. The historian James Laver once made the observation that an assemblage of toppers looked like factory chimneys adding to the mood of the industrial era.

The Top Hat made a massive resurgence in the 1930’s when Fred Astaire brought it back into favor. Virtually all “men of the town” had one in their wardrobe, and dressing in “black tie” always included a Top Hat. Astaire’s influence even  brought the popularity of the Top Hat back to its origins in England and France.

Today, the Top Hat continues to play more a role of “statement”, rather than “costume”. Whereas so many other styles of hats tell a story of a specific era, the Top Hat possesses that timeless quality.  It is steeped in the tradition of both 19th Century Aristocracy, Heyday Hollywood Musical’s, and is still worn today for those very, very special occasions as a contemporary statement of importance and celebration.

Nowadays, Steampunk fashion is influencing a resurgence of the top hat made from leather to felt, vinyl to silk and in an array of shapes, sizes, textures and trims. Rising from relative obscurity, Steampunk has become an extraordinary trend, remixing styles from the Victorian era, classic Goth, gypsy, and industrial fetish to create a unique and beautiful other-worldly, Sci fi adventure look. Steampunk design balances form and function and repositions the top hat to its origin of cutting edge fashion.

The Beaver Hat, Then & Now.
April 3, 2012

For half a millennium, beaver felt was the most prized fur when it came to hatmaking. Most beaver hats were made popular in Europe during the mid-1500s to the late 1800s. Beavers came to Europe as a result of explorations of the new world. In North America they were trapped by Native Americans and afterwards, skinned. The skins were then stretched and dried before the Native Americans took them to trading posts where they exchanged the pelts (that shipped off to hatters) for guns and knives.

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The reason why the beaver hat was “prized” above all other furs was that it felted readily into a dense, durable, and waterproof felt that had a silky sheen. The best beaver hats were made from beaver coats – these coats were made of beaver pelts worn by the Native Americans through the winters. The wear helped prepare the skins; the long guard hairs fell out from the pelt, separating and leaving only the soft under fur pelts. The soft under fur pelts were then used to make beaver felt hats.

It takes around four pounds of beaver pelts to get just enough fur for one felt hat. The supply and demand of beaver pelts was constantly changing its value. During the late 1700s and 1800s, beaver fur was in its greatest supply – beaver hats were readily available to most members of society. However, by the mid-1800s, the heavy demand for beaver pelts in Europe drove the beaver population to near-extinction – making beaver hats increasingly expensive.

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As the demand for beaver hats increased, hatters made them with less and less beaver fur. Often the beaver fur was mixed with all types of other furs, such as rabbit, mole, wool, muskrat, etc. These mixed fur hats were called “stuff hats”. But when the demand for inexpensive beaver hats became even greater, the silk hat was created. The beaver hat’s popularity declined during the early/mid-1800s as silk hats began to rise. By the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, beaver hats were largely replaced by silk hats.

Back then, hats symbolized a person’s authority, status, and social standing – without a hat, a person had no position and no status. The more elaborate the hat, the higher the status and position of the wearer. As the hat plates indicate, there were many styles of beaver hats, from those denoting military status such as the “Continental” Cocked Hat (1776), the “Navy” Cocked Hat (1800), The Army (1837); to those indicating on civil status like the Clerical (18th century), the Wellington (1812), the Paris Beau (1815), the D’orsay (1820), and the Regent (1825).

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Beaver felts reigned for decades and beaver hat is still considered the most prized felt of all for hats, softer, silkier, and more water-resistant than rabbit or sheep fur. Though nowadays, most felt hats are produced from other fur materials due to pricing concerns, you can still find 100% beaver hats at fine hat retailers, and within the O’Lover Hats collection. We have a selection of vintage beaver felts that were recovered from defunct hat manufacturers so as to not waste this incredibly precious material.

See more felt hats at O’Lover Hats