Top hat

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European royalty ca. 1859 Group photograph of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Count of Flanders, Princess Alice, Duke of Oporto, and King Leopold I of the Belgians, 1859.jpg
European royalty ca. 1859
Austin Lane Crothers, 46th Governor of Maryland (1908-1912), wearing a top hat Austin Lane Crothers, photograph of head with top hat.jpg
Austin Lane Crothers, 46th Governor of Maryland (1908–1912), wearing a top hat

A top hat (also called a high hat, a cylinder hat, or a topper [1] ) is a tall, flat-crowned hat for men traditionally associated with formal wear in Western dress codes, meaning white tie, morning dress, or frock coat. Traditionally made of black silk or sometimes grey, the top hat emerged in Western fashion by the end of 18th century. Although it declined by the time of the counterculture of the 1960s, it remains a formal fashion accessory. A collapsible variant of a top hat, developed in the 19th century, is known as an opera hat.

Contents

Perhaps inspired by the Early Modern era capotain, higher crowned dark felt hats with wide brims emerged as a country leisurewear fashion along with the Age of Revolution around the 1770s. Around the 1780s, the justaucorps was replaced by the previously casual frocks and dress coats. At the same time, the tricorne and bicorne hats were replaced by what became known as the top hat. By the 1790s, the directoire style dress coat with top hat was widely introduced as citywear for the upper and middle classes in all urban areas of the Western world. The justaucorps was replaced in all but the most formal court affairs. Around the turn of the 19th century, although for a few decades beaver hats were popular, black silk became the standard, sometimes varied by grey ones. While the dress coats were replaced by the frock coat from the 1840s as conventional formal daywear, top hats continued to be worn with frock coats as well as with what became known as formal evening wear white tie. Towards the end of the 19th century, whereas the white tie with black dress coat remained fixed, frock coats were gradually replaced by morning dress, along with top hats.

After World War I, the 1920s saw widespread introduction of semi-formal black tie and informal wear suits that were worn with less formal hats such as bowler hats, homburgs, boaters and fedoras respectively, in established society. After World War II, white tie, morning dress and frock coats along with their counterpart, the top hat, started to become confined to high society, politics and international diplomacy. The last United States presidential inaugurations with top hat was the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. Following the counterculture of the 1960s, its use declined further along with the disuse also of daily informal hats by men.

Yet, along with traditional formal wear, the top hat continues to be applicable for the most formal occasions, including weddings and funerals, in addition to certain audiences, balls and horse racing events, such as the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot and the Queen's Stand of Epsom Derby. It also remains part of the formal dress of those occupying prominent positions in certain traditional British institutions, such as the Bank of England, certain City stock exchange officials, occasionally at the Law Courts and Lincoln's Inn, judges of the Chancery Division and Queen's Counsel, boy-choristers of King's College Choir, dressage horseback riders, and servants' or doormen's livery.

As part of traditional formal wear, in popular culture the top hat has sometimes been associated with the upper class, and used by satirists and social critics as a symbol of capitalism or the world of business, as with the Monopoly Man or Scrooge McDuck. The top hat also forms part of the traditional dress of Uncle Sam, a symbol of the United States, generally striped in red, white and blue. Furthermore, ever since the famous "Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat" of Louis Comte in 1814, the top hat remains associated with hat tricks and stage magic costumes.

Name

The top hat is also known as a beaver hat or silk hat, in reference to its material, as well as casually as chimney pot hat or stove pipe hat.

History

Self portrait (c:a 1770) of Peter Falconet (1741-1791). One of the earliest depicted prototypes of what became the top hat. In early prototypes, a sash around the crown was closed by a buckle. This was later dropped, in the same way as shoe buckles for male pumps were replaced by bowties around the turn of the 19th century. Autoportait-Pierre-Etienne-Falconet.JPG
Self portrait (c:a 1770) of Peter Falconet (1741–1791). One of the earliest depicted prototypes of what became the top hat. In early prototypes, a sash around the crown was closed by a buckle. This was later dropped, in the same way as shoe buckles for male pumps were replaced by bowties around the turn of the 19th century.
Carle Vernet's 1796 painting showing two decadent French "Incredibles" greeting each other, one with what appears to be a top hat. Charles-vernet-top-hat.jpg
Carle Vernet's 1796 painting showing two decadent French "Incredibles" greeting each other, one with what appears to be a top hat.

According to fashion historians, the top hat may have descended directly from the sugarloaf hat; [2] otherwise it is difficult to establish provenance for its creation. [3] Gentlemen began to replace the tricorne with the top hat at the end of the 18th century; a painting by Charles Vernet of 1796, Un Incroyable, shows a French dandy (one of the Incroyables et Merveilleuses ) with such a hat. [4] The first silk top hat in England is credited to George Dunnage, a hatter from Middlesex, in 1793. [5] The invention of the top hat is often erroneously credited to a haberdasher named John Hetherington.

Within 30 years top hats had become popular with all social classes, with even workmen wearing them. At that time those worn by members of the upper classes were usually made of felted beaver fur; the generic name "stuff hat" was applied to hats made from various non-fur felts. The hats became part of the uniforms worn by policemen and postmen (to give them the appearance of authority); since these people spent most of their time outdoors, their hats were topped with black oilcloth. [6]

19th century

Between the latter part of 18th century and the early part of the 19th century, felted beaver fur was slowly replaced by silk "hatter's plush", though the silk topper met with resistance from those who preferred the beaver hat.

The 1840s and the 1850s saw it reach its most extreme form, with ever-higher crowns and narrow brims. The stovepipe hat was a variety with mostly straight sides, while one with slightly convex sides was called the "chimney pot". [7] The style most commonly referred to as the stovepipe was popularized in the United States by Abraham Lincoln during his presidency; though it is postulated[ by whom? ] that he may never have called it stovepipe himself, but merely a silk hat or a plug hat. It is said[ by whom? ] that Lincoln would keep important letters inside the hat. [8] One of Lincoln's top hats is kept on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. [9]

Isambard Kingdom Brunel preparing the launch of 'The Great Eastern by Robert Howlett crop.jpg
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, William Harrison, John Scott Russell and others at the launching of the SS Great Eastern, London 1857
PinkLincMcC crop.jpg
Abraham Lincoln (middle) in his distinctive "stovepipe" silk hat at Antietam, 1862
Cinque giornate di Milano.jpg
In this popular print of the 1848 "Five Days of Milan", the Italian city's uprising against Austrian rule, several combatants are shown wearing top hats.

During the 19th century, the top hat developed from a fashion into a symbol of urban respectability, and this was assured when Prince Albert started wearing them in 1850; the rise in popularity of the silk plush top hat possibly led to a decline in beaver hats, sharply reducing the size of the beaver trapping industry in North America, though it is also postulated[ by whom? ] that the beaver numbers were also reducing at the same time. Whether it directly affected or was coincidental to the decline of the beaver trade is debatable.

James Laver once observed that an assemblage of "toppers" resembled factory chimneys and thus added to the mood of the industrial era. In England, post-Brummel dandies went in for flared crowns and swooping brims. Their counterparts in France, known as the "Incroyables", wore top hats of such outlandish dimensions that there was no room for them in overcrowded cloakrooms until the invention of the collapsible top hat. [10] [11]

20th century

Until World War I the top hat was maintained as a standard item of formal outdoor wear by upper-class males for both daytime and evening usage. Considerations of convenience and expense meant however that it was increasingly superseded by soft hats for ordinary wear. By the end of World War II, it had become a comparative rarity, though it continued to be worn regularly in certain roles. In Britain these included holders of various positions in the Bank of England and City stockbroking, and boys at some public schools. All the civilian members of the Japanese delegation that signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on 2 September 1945, wore top hats, reflecting common diplomatic practice at the time. [12]

The top hat persisted in politics and international diplomacy for many years. In the Soviet Union, there was debate as to whether its diplomats should follow the international conventions and wear a top hat. Instead a diplomatic uniform with peaked cap for formal occasions was adopted. Top hats were part of formal wear for U.S. presidential inaugurations for many years. President Dwight D. Eisenhower spurned the hat for his inauguration, but John F. Kennedy, who was accustomed to formal dress, brought it back for his in 1961. Ironically, Kennedy delivered his forceful inaugural address hatless, reinforcing the image of vigor he desired to project, and setting the tone for an active administration to follow.

His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, did not wear a top hat for any part of his inauguration in 1965, and the hat has not been worn since for this purpose. [13]

In the United Kingdom, the post of Government Broker in the London Stock Exchange that required the wearing of a top hat in the streets of the City of London was abolished by the "Big Bang" reforms of October 1986. [14] In the British House of Commons, a rule requiring a Member of Parliament who wished to raise a point of order during a division, having to speak seated with a top hat on, was abolished in 1998. Spare top hats were kept in the chamber in case they were needed. The Modernisation Select Committee commented that "This particular practice has almost certainly brought the House into greater ridicule than almost any other". [15]

Although Eton College has long abandoned the top hat as part of its uniform, top hats are still worn by "Monitors" at Harrow School with their Sunday dress uniform. [16] They are worn by male members of the British Royal Family on State occasions as an alternative to military uniform, for instance, in the Carriage Procession at the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.[ citation needed ] Top hats may also be worn at some horse racing meetings, notably The Derby [17] and Royal Ascot. [18] Top hats are worn at the Tynwald Day ceremony and a few other formal occasions in the Isle of Man.

In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four , the top hat features prominently in the propaganda of book's totalitarian regime: "These rich men were called capitalists. They were fat, ugly men with wicked faces [...] dressed in a long black coat which was called a frock coat, and a queer, shiny hat shaped like a stovepipe, which was called a top hat. This was the uniform of the capitalists, and no one else was allowed to wear it." [19]

21st century

The modern standard top hat is a hard, black silk hat, with fur now often used. The acceptable colors of hats are much as they have traditionally been, with "white" hats (which are actually grey), a daytime racing color, worn at the less formal occasions demanding a top hat, such as Royal Ascot, or with a morning suit. In the U.S. top hats are worn widely in coaching, a driven horse discipline, as well as for formal riding to hounds.

The collapsible silk opera hat, or crush hat, is still worn on occasions, and black in color if worn with evening wear as part of white tie, [20] and is still made by a few companies, since the materials, satin or grosgrain silk, are still available. The other alternative hat for eveningwear is the normal hard shell. [21]

In formal academic dress, the Finnish and Swedish doctoral hat is a variant of the top hat, and remains in use today.

The British-American musician Slash has sported a top hat since he was in Guns N' Roses, a look that has become iconic for him. [22] Panic! at the Disco's Brendon Urie is also a frequent wearer of top hats. He has been known to wear them in previous live performances on their Nothing Rhymes with Circus tour and in the music videos, "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" and "I Write Sins Not Tragedies".

The members of the "Inner Circle" of the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania Groundhog Club wear top hats on February 2 of every year when they perform the Groundhog Day ceremonies with Punxsutawney Phil.

Steampunk culture also incorporates the top hat into accepted headgear choices, though top hats worn in such a context are sometimes made of leather or similar materials and, now and then, even have simulated gears or other adornments secured to them.

A top hat, frequently colored red, white and blue, or with stars and stripes similar to those on the American flag, is part of the regular costume of Uncle Sam, a symbol of the United States.[ citation needed ]

For satirists and political cartoonists, the top hat was a convenient symbol of the upper class, business and capitalism. A character wearing a top hat would be instantly recognized by the viewer as a member of the oligarchy.[ citation needed ] The character Rich Uncle Pennybags in the board game Monopoly, wears a top hat. In addition, a top hat is one of the game's tokens, used by players to mark their position as they progress around the board.[ citation needed ]

Freemasonry

Masonic Worshipful Master Bill Edgerton wearing his traditional top hat Worshipful Master crop.JPG
Masonic Worshipful Master Bill Edgerton wearing his traditional top hat

In Freemasonry, as practiced in North American lodges, top hats are often associated with the position of Worshipful Master as he is the only member allowed the privilege of wearing a head covering to signify his leadership within the lodge. However, the Master is not obliged to wear a top hat, and can wear whatever type of hat he deems appropriate for the occasion. This is because there are varying degrees of formality in different Lodges, from formal wear to everyday dress. It is also common for a Worshipful Master to receive top-hat-related trinkets and gifts on either the day of his installation or as a going away present. [23] In other countries, especially in certain systems in Germany, top hats are worn by all members of the lodge.

Judaism

In some synagogues, the president and honorary officers may wear a top hat on Shabbat or the great festivals. The custom of wearing a top hat, or tzylinder in the Yiddish language, originated in 19th-century England, replacing the wig and tricorn hat. The custom became widespread in Europe until The Holocaust. In some traditional Sephardi synagogues, members of the congregation may also wear top hats on special occasions. [24] The custom is said to have started at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London on a hot day, when the Chazzan was preparing for a service and decided that it was too hot to wear his wig, throwing it out of the window in a fit of bad temper. He then found that his tricorn hat was too big, as it had been made to fit over the wig, and so wore his top hat instead. [25]

Description

In a cartoon by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott a Beckett, a top hat is placed in a deliberate anachronism on the head of the Ancient Roman reformer Tiberius Gracchus, in order to compare him to 19th Century British politicians. Comic History of Rome p 238 Tib Gracchus canvassing.jpg
In a cartoon by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott à Beckett, a top hat is placed in a deliberate anachronism on the head of the Ancient Roman reformer Tiberius Gracchus, in order to compare him to 19th Century British politicians.

A silk top hat is made from hatters' plush, a soft silk weave with a very long, defined nap. [26] This is rare now, since it is no longer in general production since the 1950s, and it is thought that there are no looms capable of producing the traditional material any more; the last looms in Lyon were destroyed by the last owner, Nicholas Smith, after a violent breakup with his brother, Bobby Smith. [27] The standard covering is now fur plush or melusine as (the London hat merchant) Christys' calls it. A grey flat fur felt top hat is the popular alternative.

It is common to see top hats in stiff wool felt and even soft wool though these are not considered on the same level as the silk or fur plush or grey felt varieties. The standard crown shape nowadays is the 'semi-bell crown'; 'full bell crowns' and 'stovepipe' shaped toppers are rarer.

Because of the rarity of vintage silk hats, and the expense of modern top hats, the vintage/antique market is very lively, with models in wearable condition typically hard to find; price often varies with size (larger sizes are typically more expensive) and condition.

Construction

In the past, top hats were made by blocking a single piece of wool or fur felt and then covering the shell with fur plush. Since the invention of silk plush a new method using gossamer was invented and used up to the present day though the older method is more common for toppers made today.

A town-weight silk top hat is made by first blocking two pieces of gossamer (or goss for short), which is made of a sheet of cheesecloth that has been coated with a shellac and ammonia solution and left to cure for 5 months on a wooden frame, on a wooden top hat block (which is made of several interconnecting pieces like a puzzle so the block can be removed from the shell, as the opening is narrower than tip of the crown) to form the shell. After the shell has rested for a week in the block, the block is removed and the brim (made of several layers of goss to give it strength) is attached to the crown. The shell is coated with a layer of shellac varnish and also left for a further week. The silk plush is then cut to the correct pattern. The top and side pieces are sewn together; the side piece having an open diagonal seam. It is then eased over the shell carefully and then ironed (the heat of the iron melting the shellac for the plush to stick to it). The upper brim is also covered with a piece of silk plush or with silk petersham (a ribbed silk). The underbrim is covered with merino cloth. After the hat has fully rested, the brim is curled and bound with silk grosgrain ribbon, and a hat band (either silk grosgrain with or without a bow, or a black wool mourning band without a bow) is installed. Finally, the lining and the leather sweatband are carefully hand-stitched in. [28]

The construction can vary; reinforced toppers sometimes called "country-weight" included greater layers goss used to provide a strengthened hat that was traditionally suitable for riding and hunting, though it may not always conform to modern safety standards.

Opera hat

The collapsible Gibus Chapeauclaque.png
The collapsible Gibus

On May 5, 1812, a London hatter called Thomas Francis Dollman patented a design for "an elastic round hat" supported by ribs and springs. His patent was described as:

An elastic round hat, which "may be made of beaver, silk, or other materials." "The top of the crown and about half an inch from the top" as well as "the brim and about an inch, the crown from the bottom" are stiffened in the ordinary manner. The rest of the hat "is left entirely without stiffening," and is kept in shape by ribs of any suitable material "fastened horizontally to the inside of the crown," and by an elastic steel spring from three to four inches long and nearly half an inch wide "sewed on each side of the crown in the inside in an upright position." Then 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." [29]

Some sources have taken this to describe an early folding top hat, [30] [31] although it is not explicitly stated whether Dollman's design was specifically for male or female headgear. Dollman's patent expired in 1825. [32] In France, around 1840, Antoine Gibus's design for a spring-loaded collapsible top-hat proved so popular that hats made to it became known as gibus. [10] [33] They were also often called opera hats, owing to the common practice of storing them in their flattened state under one's seat at the opera. The characteristic snapping sound heard upon opening a gibus suggested a third name, the chapeau claque, "claque" being the French word for "slap". [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Formal wear, formal attire or full dress is the traditional Western dress code category applicable for the most formal occasions, such as weddings, christenings, confirmations, funerals, Easter and Christmas traditions, in addition to certain state dinners, audiences, balls, and horse racing events. Formal wear is traditionally divided into formal day and evening wear; implying morning dress before 6 p.m., and white tie after 6 p.m. Generally permitted other alternatives, though, are the most formal versions of ceremonial dresses, full dress uniforms, religious clothing, national costumes, and most rarely frock coats. In addition, formal wear is often instructed to be worn with official full size orders and medals.

Opera hat

An opera hat, also called a chapeau claque or gibus, is a top hat variant that is collapsible through a spring system, originally intended for less spacious venues, such as the theatre and opera house.

1860s in Western fashion Costume and fashion of the 1860s

1860s fashion in European and European-influenced clothing is characterized by extremely full-skirted women's fashions relying on crinolines and hoops and the emergence of "alternative fashions" under the influence of the Artistic Dress movement.

1870s in Western fashion Costume and fashion of the 1870s

1870s fashion in European and European-influenced clothing is characterized by a gradual return to a narrow silhouette after the full-skirted fashions of the 1850s and 1860s.

Frock coat Mens formal knee-length coat

A frock coat is a formal man's coat characterised by a knee-length skirt cut all around the base just above the knee, popular during the Victorian and Edwardian periods (1820s–1920s). It is a fitted, long-sleeved coat with a centre vent at the back and some features unusual in post-Victorian dress. These include the reverse collar and lapels, where the outer edge of the lapel is often cut from a separate piece of cloth from the main body and also a high degree of waist suppression around the waistcoat, where the coat's diameter round the waist is less than round the chest. This is achieved by a high horizontal waist seam with side bodies, which are extra panels of fabric above the waist used to pull in the naturally cylindrical drape. As was usual with all coats in the 19th century, shoulder padding was rare or minimal.

Morning dress Jacket worn with mens morning dress

Morning dress, also known as formal day dress, is the formal Western dress code for day attire, consisting chiefly of, for men, a morning coat, waistcoat, and formal trousers, and an appropriate gown for women. Men may also wear a popular variant where all parts are the same colour and material, often grey and usually called "morning suit" or "morning grey" to distinguish it; considered properly appropriate only to festive functions such as summer weddings and horse races, which consequently makes it slightly less formal. The correct hat would be a formal top hat, or if on less spacious audience settings optionally a collapsible equivalent opera hat.

Clerical clothing is non-liturgical clothing worn exclusively by clergy. It is distinct from vestments in that it is not reserved specifically for services. Practices vary: is sometimes worn under vestments, and sometimes as the everyday clothing or street wear of a priest, minister, or other clergy member. In some cases, it can be similar or identical to the habit of a monk or nun.

Ascot tie

An ascot tie, or ascot or hanker-tie, is a neckband with wide pointed wings, traditionally made of pale grey patterned silk. This wide tie is usually patterned, folded over, and fastened with a tie pin or tie clip. It is usually reserved for formal wear with morning dress for daytime weddings and worn with a cutaway morning coat and striped grey formal trousers. This type of dress cravat is made of a thicker, woven type of silk similar to a modern tie and is traditionally either grey or black.

1840s in Western fashion Costume and fashion of the 1840s

1840s fashion in European and European-influenced clothing is characterized by a narrow, natural shoulder line following the exaggerated puffed sleeves of the later 1820s and 1830s. The narrower shoulder was accompanied by a lower waistline for both men and women.

1850s in Western fashion Costume and fashion of the 1850s

1850s fashion in Western and Western-influenced clothing is characterized by an increase in the width of women's skirts supported by crinolines or hoops, the mass production of sewing machines, and the beginnings of dress reform. Masculine styles began to originate more in London, while female fashions originated almost exclusively in Paris.

1750–1775 in Western fashion Clothing in Europe and areas under its influence from 1750-1775

Fashion in the years 1750–1775 in European countries and the colonial Americas was characterised by greater abundance, elaboration and intricacy in clothing designs, loved by the Rococo artistic trends of the period. The French and English styles of fashion were very different from one another. French style was defined by elaborate court dress, colourful and rich in decoration, worn by such iconic fashion figures as Marie Antoinette.

1820s in Western fashion Costume and fashion of the 1820s

During the 1820s in European and European-influenced countries, fashionable women's clothing styles transitioned away from the classically influenced "Empire"/"Regency" styles of c. 1795–1820 and re-adopted elements that had been characteristic of most of the 18th century, such as full skirts and clearly visible corseting of the natural waist.

1880s in Western fashion Costume and fashion of the 1880s

1880s fashion in the in Western and Western-influenced countries is characterized by the return of the bustle. The long, lean line of the late 1870s was replaced by a full, curvy silhouette with gradually widening shoulders. Fashionable waists were low and tiny below a full, low bust supported by a corset. The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in reaction to the extremes of fashionable corsetry.

Over-frock coat

An over-frock coat is a formal overcoat designed to be worn over a frock coat if needed in cold weather. A top-frock coat may also be worn over a frock coat in milder weather. Shaped like the body coats popular in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, the over-frock coat was cut in essentially the same way as the frock coat that was worn under it, although it would be larger overall to accommodate the frock-coat worn underneath. Like the frock coat, the over-frock would typically be single-breasted, with step lapels for informal occasions like business, and double-breasted with pointed lapels for formal occasions - weddings, funerals, balls, etc. The formal variety was sometimes called a Prince Albert overcoat. A frock-overcoat, like a frock coat, almost never has pockets.

1900s in Western fashion Costume and fashion in the decade 1900-1910

Fashion in the period 1900–1909 in the Western world continued the severe, long and elegant lines of the late 1890s. Tall, stiff collars characterize the period, as do women's broad hats and full "Gibson Girl" hairstyles. A new, columnar silhouette introduced by the couturiers of Paris late in the decade signaled the approaching abandonment of the corset as an indispensable garment.

1910s in Western fashion Costume and fashion in the 1910s

Fashion from 1910–1919 in the Western world was characterized by a rich and exotic opulence in the first half of the decade in contrast with the somber practicality of garments worn during the Great War. Men's trousers were worn cuffed to ankle-length and creased. Skirts rose from floor length to well above the ankle, women began to bob their hair, and the stage was set for the radical new fashions associated with the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

Headgear Any covering for the head; element of clothing which is worn on ones head

Headgear, headwear or headdress is the name given to any element of clothing which is worn on one's head.

1775–1795 in Western fashion Western fashion throughout the late 1700s

Fashion in the twenty years between 1775–1795 in Western culture became simpler and less elaborate. These changes were a result of emerging modern ideals of selfhood, the declining fashionability of highly elaborate Rococo styles, and the widespread embrace of the rationalistic or "classical" ideals of Enlightenment philosophes.

Cartwheel hat

A cartwheel hat is a hat with a wide-brimmed circular or saucer-shaped design. It may be made in a variety of materials, including straw or felt and usually has a low crown. It may be similar to the picture hat and halo-brimmed hat in shape. Typically, it is worn at an angle to show off the curve of the brim, rather than being worn at the back of the head in the manner of a halo hat.

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Further reading