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.
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!