Not-so-top hats

Top hats are quite literally the crowning glory of morning dress. Unfortunately they tend to turn an otherwise outmoded form of dress into something unequivocally antiquated. Why? Because top hats act like a lighthouse pulsating beams of history into people’s minds. You may think that reason enough not to wear one, but personally I consider a hatless man at a wedding more underdressed than a naked man at a coronation.

The problem is, and this is a serious problem, that no contemporary hat makers can make a decent top hat these days. You may think I’m referring to the fact that no one in the world makes the type of silk anymore that is required in the process, but I’m not. This is about style, not substance. This may sound odd, but it is a point that will be repeated – style and fit are as least as important as substance and quality (if not more). Unfortunately, modern top hats have neither style nor substance.

Take this sorry excuse from Gieves & Hawkes.

Expensive fancy dress from Gieves & Hawkes

There are a hundred things wrong with this hat. Firstly, it costs £250. Secondly, the crown is far too small, almost too small for a dressage hat. Thirdly, the felt is dull and lacklustre when it should be shiny. Fourthly, it is quite obviously made from substandard materials, by the fact that the rim is already misshapen (and it hasn’t even been sold yet!). Finally, and most importantly, it is flaccid. It has neither style nor panache – it looks like the kind of hat you’d get from a fancy dress shop.

This hat from Lock & Co is slightly better…

Lock & Co Top Hat: Bargain

It is much taller than the Gieves & Hawkes one, and passably shiny. However, it still lacks much style and, wait for it, it costs £575!

To be honest, I don’t blame Gieves and Lock & Co. As businesses they have a duty to maximise profits and minimise costs. The problem is that people don’t really know what they want in a top hat enough to force them into better ways.

In future posts I will try to spell out what is that makes a decent top hat and how to go about finding one in such a barren climate. In the meantime I will leave you with this photo.

Some sensational top hats!




Filed under Hats, Morning Dress, Royal Paragons

3 responses to “Not-so-top hats

  1. Much as I love top hats, I’m afraid I have to disagree with Richard on one point. For me, a top has to be considered very much an option rather than a necessity. It’s not only that insisting on a hat may put undecided people off morning dress altogether, but also that the practicalities of hat wearing in the modern world render the exercise wraught with pitfalls and headaches.

    The last time I wore a hat to a wedding, I spent more time wondering whether my great-grandfather’s hand-me-down silk topper was safe wherever I had left it than enjoying myself. A full day’s worth of champagne and a precious family heirloom do not a happy marriage make.

    (… can you see what I did there?)


  2. charlesrupertdomeki

    I think the only hatmaker that can make a decent (fur) topper is Patey’s who makes them out of the traditional goss layering technique. Also, they make them bespoke meaning you can specify crown height, weight and shape. I have examined their toppers in the flesh and was pleasantly surprised at the quality compared to the factory made ones flogged by Christys’, Lock’s, et al (which I think come from the same factory and then finished by them individually).

  3. Charles Henry Wolfenbloode

    Also, there is actually a place that can make silk top hats (using new silk plush from what I can gather):

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