The History of the Top Hat

Hatters, if you've never owned a top hat, you should. While we understand the worries and doubts about styling a top hat for everyday wear (if your brain quickly associates the top hat with steampunk, Abraham Lincoln, or Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter — we don't blame you), we wholeheartedly disagree with the common preconceptions surrounding this classic topper. The top hat is a statement making piece and while obviously not a hat for the sartorially meek, it's what we'd call a game changer that's made its mark in history and cemented its place in today's fashion.

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This New Year's Eve, us folks at Goorin Bros. are donning our top hats over our dapper outfits as we toast to 2014 in bold fashion. As an homage to the classic top hat, we're going to shed light on its rich history.

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The first top hat ever created was crafted in 1793 by George Dunnage, a hatter from Middlesex, England. It wasn't until January 1797, though, that the top hat was first seen in public when worn by London haberdasher John Hetherington. Like so many times when someone "breaks the rules" or disrupts the status quo, Hetherington's experimental headpiece received a huge reaction from people on the streets. Reportedly on the first day Hetherington wore his self-made top hat, chaos ensued: a crowd formed around him, women fainted, children screamed, dogs barked and a small boy even suffered an arm injury. The commotion and near riot was described in court as a result from Hetherington wearing "a tall structure having a shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people." Gentleman Hetherington was charged for breach of peace and required to post a £500 bond. The story made headlines all over London and top hats were outlawed for a period after that.

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The unique, tall cylindrical crown and narrow upturned brim made the top hat a bold and even controversial choice of fashion during the turn of the century. Then, dressing differently was considered a fashion faux pas. It wasn't until the next twenty years that the top hat, commonly made of felted beaver fur or rabbit fur, became popular amongst gentlemen of every social standing. Top hats were tall, some even between seven to eight inches high. They eventually went from being made of felted fur to black silk, an expensive fabric that could only be crafted by master tradesmen. In the 1850s, the top hat rose from a popular headpiece to a symbol of urban respectability when fashioned by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria.

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White Rabbit, Flying Private, and Samson

During the Victorian Era, top hat crowns were reduced to between six and seven inches in height, and were given a larger crown top to give a tailored look. The top hat remained popular until the bowler, a hat with an oval shape and a round, rigid crown, supplanted it in the late 1800s. By the 1920s, top hats were about five inches tall, and continue to be that height today. Associated with the upper class, top hats were worn by significant figures throughout British and American history until the 1960s.

Today, the top hat continues to be the perfect topper for formal occasions. Wear it over your ringing-in-the-new-year ensemble, or at the next wedding, and believe us, you'll be the most dapper person at the party. Shop our Heritage American made collection of felted top hats (and a bowler, too) that'll definitely suit your fancy.

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