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Hat Styles & History

The Mad Hatter

The Hatter in Alice in Wonderland The phrase is known to be in use around 1837, many years before the Hatter character in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland became popular when it was published in 1865. The Phrase Mad Hatter does not appear in Alice in Wonderland at all. He is merely called the Hatter. Though he does preside over the Mad Tea Party and the Cheshire Cat describes the Hatter and the March Hare as “they're both mad”.

To soften fur felts, hat makers used to use a heated solution of Mercury nitrate that was brushed on the pelt. The process was known as carroting, as once treated the fur turned an orange 'carrot' colour

Mercury nitrate is highly toxic. Due to the working conditions and lack of good ventilation, the hatters were being poisoned by the fumes from the mercury nitrate, which was able to travel to the brain, causing symptoms of drooling, trembling, memory loss and psychotic behaviour. So began the phrase Mad Hatter and Mad as a Hatter. In Danbury, Connecticut, USA one of the centres of the hat fur trade, the condition became known as “The Danbury Shakes”

The use of mercury nitrate in hat making was banned in the last century; So if you meet a Hatter behaving madly... Then they are likely a real life Mad Hatter, and has nothing to do with being poisoned! What better job for an eccentric English gentleman!

Gentlemen Hatters

Hatters may be called gentlemen, due to a historic story of when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth journeyed to Tilbury in 1588 around the time of the destruction of the Spanish Armada. She saw a group of well-dressed people loyally cheering in hats. On inquiring who they were and finding that they were journeymen hatters, it is reported that she responded with the words of "Then such journeymen must be gentlemen”.

The Magician's Top HatMagic Rabbit in Top Hat

The French magician, Louis Comte was the first noted magician to pull a rabbit out of a top hat in 1814. Comte, was called "the Conjurer of the Three Kings" as he entertained Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe, it is unknown for certain if it was a white rabbit or not!

Hats vs Caps

There is a difference; A Cap does not have a brim where as a Hat usually has a brim. A Cap can have a peak as with Flat Caps, and Chauffeur Caps, or a Cap can just be a simple crown shape without a brim or a peak, such as Bearskin Cap or a Military Pillbox Cap. Though the term is not exclusive, as a British Army Side Hat, is by definition could be considered a Side Cap with a peak that is worn flapped along with side flaps.

A cap comes from Latin Pileus, where as a brimmed hat was more frequently termed a Petasus or Causia.

Headdress vs Headwear vs Headgear

Headdress is considered more formal. As in you have a dress-code, and with the Military you have various 'orders' of dress.

In the British Military one frequently uses the term Headdress e.g. The command: The Parade will remove headdress, Remove...Headdress! Though if only Royal Navy personnel are present, then the command "Off Caps / On Caps" may be used.

Headwear is considered general all-encompassing  terms, sometime it is considered more applicable to products from a supplier (as in you the phrase "Show me your wares" though spelt differently!). Headwear also covers items not consider formal headdress e.g. a knotted handkerchief worn on head down at the seaside!

Headgear is a term that can be a combination of headwear and equipment or other items that have a primary function that are worn on the head, such as a Scarf, Goggles, Helmets (ballistic, riding,  skiing etc), advertising/gimmick items worn on head such as alien party headboppers, and one can also including baseball caps that are worn the wrong way around!

Types of Headwear

The Top Hat

George Dunnage 1753 - 1823The first Silk Top Hat was documented of being made from a silk shag (plush) in England by the Hatter George Dunnage in 1793. His patent "Water-proof Hats, in Imitation of Beaver" was awarded the next year in 1794. The silk hat as we know it today, with a hard gossamer shell with a covering of silk plush became de rigueur in the early to mid 1800ies. Who invented the first felt Top Hat is still unknown.

The Top Hat evolved from the tall hat, a style worn for many centuries. They were popular in Elizabethan period, with a pleated tall velvet or silk hat, and In the late 15th century painting El Escorial, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, shows a man in what appears to be a top hat. One can trace tall hats back even to the tall headwear of ancient Macedonian Kings.

Top Hats can be made from many different materials some of the first were made from beaver or other types of felt, though top hats have also been made of straw, leather and even wood. Initially they were not called Top Hats, but other names such as: Beaver hats, high hats, tall hats. From about the middle of the 19th Century the name Top Hat became part of our vocabulary, about the same time as the bowler hat was developed, most probably as people needed descriptive to distinguish between the two styles of hats made from the same material.

The Collapsible Top Hat

Collapsible Top HatThe Collapsible Top Hat (a.k.a. Opera Hat or a Gibus) was designed for travelling and storage.

The First Collapsible Top Hat in England predates the more well-known Gibus inventions; It is credited to the Hatter Thomas Francis Dollman who invented "An elastic round hat, that may be made of heaver, silk, or other materials" in 1812.  The hat was invented so that; When packed up for travelling, "the double ribbon fastened under the band is to be pulled over the top of the crown to keep it in a small compass".  So initially the Collapsible hat was geared for Gentlemen who travelled, and not specifically the Opera or Theatre even though the popular name Opera Hat was used to describe it from early on.

The Elastic Round Hat was then superseded by various models, indluding the Circumfolding Hat and the Soft Folding Hat. One model even folded across the crown, in the same manner a Chapeau-Bras worked. It took a few more years until the French inventor Antoine Gibus to perfect and patent a popular design that collapsed top to bottom. His most famous (but not only!) patient was in 1837 (#8026) Chapeaux mécanique.

Predominantly made in black silk (either in a dull grosgrain fabric, or a shiny satin) they can be made in many colours. During the Victorian and Edwardian era collapsible hats were predominantly worn to the Theatre or Opera with white-tie and stored underseat or in the cloakroom. Though they still may be used during the day with Morning Dress at Royal Ascot and are very practical if travelling with reduced luggage requirements as - so can be very convienent as they can fit in overhead storage when flying.

The Bowler Hat

Sir Winston Churchill Cambridge BowlerThe Bowler was manufactured in 1849 by Thomas and William Bowler, hat makers in Southwark. It was created for Mr Coke a customer of Lock & Co, as a hardened domed hat to protect gamekeepers.

In America the bowler became known as the Derby where it was commonly worn at the famous race.

A tall crowned version with flat sides called a Cambridge Bowler was also created in the late 1800ies and was famously worn by the character Odd-Job in the James bond movie Goldfinger, and also was favoured by Sir Winston Churchill (who nicknamed it a Bowker).

In the twenty first century it still used for morning dressage wear, carriage driving, judges and stewards at country shows and other Traditional Establishments. It is also required as proper order of dress for the Guards and also Cavalry regiments for remembrance events.

The Boater Hat

Straw Boater with Household Hatband and BowWhilst the boater can be considered a flat crowned, flat brimmed straw top hat, the origins of the modern straw hat come from the sailor’s hat, made popular by The Royal Navy's Jack Tar hat  of the latter part of the nineteenth century. Prior to being called a boater, the the hats were merely called straws,  or a staw plait hat, they were sometimes also called a Leghorn Hat (Hats from Livorno, western coast of Tuscany, Italy)  the term boater took some time before it became commonplace. It was possibly not used until the early part of the 20th century when it became fashionable for gentlemen to wear them out boating.

In the twenty first century is still traditional headdress to be worn with a blazer when attending Henley Royal Regatta as part of The Season.

Boater hats predominately come in a black hatband and bow, though striped hatbands are popular too. Military, Educational Establishments and Clubs frequently have their own colours made into a ribbon which is worn instead of a black one. A striped blue/red/blue hatband (in Household Division colours) whilst specifically a regimental colour, is also worn by civilians rather like a Royal Stewart Tartan is consider a Universal Tartan.

The Panama Hat

Panama HatA traditional brimmed hat from Ecuador made from the plaited leaves of the Toquilla plant (Carludovica palmata). Commonly called a straw (Paja) hat, its popularity increased when President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal during construction wearing this style of hat. The back band is traditionally a Black Silk - the sign of mourning for Queen Victoria who died in 1901.

There are two main manufacturing regions in Ecuador: Montecristi and Cuenca. Montecristi are generally considered the premium hat, though it ultimately depends of the expertise of the weaver, and actual quality of the weave.

The quality of a panama is often expressed in grades, these can vary from 1 to about 25; The higher the number the higher the quality. But as there is no regulation of panama grading, one maker’s grade 8, could be the same as another grade 10, or even grade 16. One of the best ways to assess the quality is to compare the number of weaves per square inch (WPSI) taken on the side of the crown/ Unfortunatley as every hat is unique the WPSI varies in every hat, so we use the terms sub-fino, fino, super-fino, and ultra-fino as a rough guide between the qualities.

There are two main types of Paja weave:

Brisa weave - Rather like a Diamond weave pattern, and usually made with less Paja than a Llano weave hat, and is less tightly woven so takes less time to make.

Llano  weave - Rather like a Herringbone weave pattern, and usually made with more Paja than a Brisa weave hat, and is more tightly woven so and takes more time to weave.

Like Boater Hats modern Panama hats still predominately come in a black hatband and bow, though striped hatbands are popular too. Military, Educational Establishments and Clubs frequently have their own colours made into a ribbon which is worn instead of a black one. A striped blue/red/blue hatband (in Household Division colours) whilst specifically a regimental colour, is also worn by civilians rather like a Royal Stewart Tartan is consider a Universal Tartan.

Panamas are great for the summer and are still traditional for Lords, Wimbledon and Glorious Goodwood.

The Trilby

Trilby HatWhilst the name can be traced to the heroine Trilby O'Ferrall in a play adaption of George du Maurier's 1895 Novel of the same, who wore the specific style of hat on the stage; The hat was obviously made prior to the play, in order for the person to wear it on stage (rather like Panama hats were still worn prior to the style being seen at the Panama Canal!).

The Trilby style is a short brimmed hat with a creased felt crown and sloping sides, it most likely can be traced to the Tyrolean hat. Even the name is very similar sounding, and is likely to have been evolved rapidly from Tyrolean to Trilby in the post World War One era when it was probably impolite to talk about anything Germanic due to anti-German sentiment (Shhh! Don't mention the War!) and the story of Trilby O'Ferrall was likely to be a more palatable legend.

A Trilby is traditionally a felt hat, but the Trilby style can be also made in straw or cloth. The Trilby has a crease on the top of the crown, and two dents either side at the front, the type of crease style can vary in shape and size.

The Trilby often has a snap-brim effect with the back of the brim sharply upturned.

The Trilby was the hat famously used by Jake and Elwood Blues in the film The Blues Brothers (1980) (played by Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi).

The Trilby remains a firm favourite of hat wearers to this day, and is customary to wear them to racing Cheltenham and during the National Hunt season.

The Fedora

Fedora HatThe name likewise comes from a heroine;  Princess Fédora in an adaption of Victorien Sardou’s 1882 play of the same name, who wore the specific style of hat on the stage.

Like the Trilby, a Fedora is traditionally a felt hat, but the Fedora style can be also made in straw or cloth. Again like the Trilby, the Fedora has a crease on the top of the crown, and two dents either side at the front, the type of crease style can vary in shape and size.

The difference between a Fedora and a Trilby (apart from the name!) has been debated many times. We consider the primary difference between them is the brim width. A Fedora when measured at the front of the brim (as brims width can vary around the hat circumference) has a width of 2 inches or more. A more subtle difference is a Trilby is frequently (but not always) worn finished with a snapped brim (down at the front and up-turned up at the back), where as a Fedora’s brim tends to be finished in many ways from snapped, down-turned, to slanted.

A Fedora hat with the wide brim and tall crown is also famously worn by the film character Indiana Jones.

The Fedora also remains a firm favourite of hat wearers to this day; A brown felt Fedora, is still used by Guards Officers for when dressing in civvies, as classic Town and Country headwear.

The Homburg

Edward VII in a Homburg HatEdward VII when he was the Prince of Wales used to visit his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II during the latter part of the 19th Century. The hunting outfit they wore included a green felt hat similar to the Tyrolean hat but with the brim rolled slightly inwards on the side, a single crease running down the centre of the crown and very slight pinches at the front. He requested a hatter called Möckel from Bad Homburg to make them for him and the Homburg hat was born.

The lightweight and casual Homburg worn in black, became a firm favourite over the stiff top hat in the 20th century as with formal dress-code. Though in the 21st century, it has become more fashion than formal wear.


The Tyrolean Hat

Possibly the ancestor of the Trilby; the Tyrolean Hat is typically made in a green felt (though other colours are popular including grey). It is also knownTyrolean Hat as a Bavarian hat, or an Alpine hat, due to the popularity of the headwear style in Tyrol region of the Alps.

Like the Trilby the Tyrolean Hat has a short brim, sloped sides, and dents of either side of the crown, though unlike the Homburg or the Trilby, the top crown of the Tyrolean Hat is usually rounded not usually indented or creased on the top.

The Tyrolean Hat is also finished with a corded hatband and a Gamsbart brush at the left side of the crown. The Gamsbart is made from the beard hair of the Chamois goat, and traditionally a hunting trophy, the Gamsbart can also be finished with flowers or feathers, similar to English tradition of putting hunting pheasant feathers into the side of a hat.

The Tyrolean Hat is similar to Robin Hood style hat of the middle ages. Both are hunting hats, which have a common specification of a soft short brim and pointed front brim (which allows an archer to shoot a bow and arrow more easily), and green in colour for camouflage.

Ascot Top Hats