21/07/2010

HENRY HEATH'S TOP HATS - AN EXTRAVAGANT CONCOCTION...



Today, while walking along Oxford Street in London, you might chance to see an establishment that was founded in the reign of King George the Fourth, for which Fashion was a Speciality.



Henry Heath’s Hat Manufacturers provided the most brilliant silk plush – which ‘retains its glossy brilliancy in wear.’ The discerning buyer might chance to see the advertisement that asked, Why Wear an Ill-Fitting hat? They could then visit Henry Heath’s and subject their craniums to Heath’s successful system of Head Measurement that ensures the luxury of a well-fitting Hat adapted to the form of the wearer’s head.
EXTRA QUALITY, Silk Hats (Cash Price) 17/-
Other Qualities (Unequalled for Hard Wear) – 13/6 & 10/6
BEST FELT HATS 7/6  9/6  10/6
The Heath Hat Factory employed upwards of seventy persons, and refused to supply goods to any Co-Operative Stores. The hats were purchased direct, at cash price and customers could always rely on receiving business-like attention.
For an extra shilling, once that perfect hat had been purchased, the proud, and well-fitted owner could carry home THE NARROW HAT BRUSH which had hard bristles at one end and was perfect for keeping the brim of the hat free from dust and spots. By post one stamp extra.

Gentlemen in Tricorne hats

In the Victorian era, most gentlemen wore a hat, whether for occupational use or as a fashion accessory. Top hats went by several names, including Toppers, Chimney pots, and Stove Pipes, first coming into fashionable use when they replaced the tricorne hat at the end of the eighteenth century.
In 1797, when a certain Mr Hetherington, wore a top hat on the streets of London it was said that a large crowd gathered around, inducing such chaos that the gentleman was arrested and accused of disturbing the public order, and the officer who dealt with the problem went on to testify that, “Hetherington had such a tall and shiny construction on his head that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and dogs started to bark. One child broke his arm among all the jostling.”
In reply, The Times was to write: "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"

Coppers in Toppers

Indeed, they had. Initially made from felted beaver or rabbit fur, The top hat was set to become quite the fashionable thing. and,  rather ironically, it was incorporated  as part of the uniforms worn by both policemen and postmen.
For a brief period during the 1820’s and 30’s a version with concave sides was produced – and this was called The Wellington. But straight sides were to win out and as the century went on crowns became higher and brims narrower, with the Stovepipe being popularised by the American president, Abraham Lincoln – who was said to keep his letters inside.
Abraham Lincolnin his top hat

Back in England, Prince Albert also liked the style and as others followed the trend the American trade in beaver skins was very greatly harmed, with a general desire for silk plush instead.


The black silk top hat was made from cheesecloth, linen, flannel and shellac – onto which was attached a silk weave with a long defined nap, and the brim of the hat always had a ribbed band of varying proportions.
A folding version was produced for the opera – where internal springs allowed the hat to be compressed and stored away under the seat.
But,  even with such innovations, as time went by the common working man chose to wear bowler hats instead, and the topper became more widely connected with the aristocracy, bankers and politicians, and those who attended public schools, such as Eton – though top hats have not been worn at that establishment since the 1940’s.



ADDENDUM: The picture below is courtesy of  'Colourman' , otherwise know as Patrick Baty, a follower of this blog who recently wore his great grandfather's silk top hat - which must be at least one hundred years old - to the Garter Ceremony at Windsor Castle. It looks as good as new!

10 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing about men's fashion. It is a rare event. And I do think there is something very dignified about a man wearing a smart hat.

    The trouble arises only when a particular fashion gets fixed for all time for ritual purposes eg beaver/rabbit furs for policemen and toppers for bankers, politicians and Etonians. Goodness knows what we should make of modern judges and barristers wearing wigs in court.

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  2. Indeed...one of the most enduring fashion items, those dashing powdered wigs, Hels!

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  3. Silk hats really are the most magnificent invention. I inherited my great grandfather's one, which must be about 100 years old, and wore it to Garter Day this year. Wearing one certainly affects the way that one carries oneself. However, it was quite an experience trying to negotiate Putney High Street on my way to the station!

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  4. Colourman, I'm sure it caused quite a stir - and very special to wear one with such history! Do you have any photographs?

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  5. Yes, here's one, although (as always) Caspar was curious to see what was happening - http://scr.tw/aXtAvzj

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  6. Thank you, Colourman. The link doesn't seem to open here, but I've added your picture to the main body of the blog - and a very fine hat it is too!

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  7. Excellent posting as usual. It reminded me of a character I came across when researching the sequel to my latest novel. It's set in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1842 and it was then that hatmaker Samuel Martin set up shop in the main street and started advertising in the local paper. His neighbours said it would never work in Aberdeen. They were wrong. He was hugely successful and a slick operator. When a competitor advertised "new patent washable beaver hats" in February, Samuel made sure his next advert featured "superior beaver hats which never require washing".

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  8. Thank you, Bill. The wonderful power of advertising!

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  9. I have a top hat made by Henry Heath. Could you tell me how much it is worth please & where i could sell it?. Mrs Josephine Hickman. e-mail:- jhickman1@hotmail.co.uk

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  10. I have no idea about values or selling. Sorry.

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