Top Hats

Friday, June 24, 2011
Another Royal Ascot has been and gone and, this time, I made the wise decision to expensively upgrade my top hat from the rather poor example I wore in previous years.

Top hats come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and styles, and at least two colours. I wouldn't claim to be an expert on top hats, but here is some general guidance which I have picked up and which may be useful.

Black or Grey?
At Ascot, there is probably a slight slant towards black top hats, but there are still plenty of grey ones to be seen. Grey hats may be slightly more casual, but I am not aware of any event (with the possible exception of a strangely formal funeral) at which it would be unacceptable to wear a grey top hat. Grey top hats are a must with a matching grey morning suit, but otherwise the choice is entirely yours. My own preference is for a black hat, partly because good ones have a particular beautiful shine that grey hats lack, and partly because a black hat can also be worn with evening tails. Not that it is easy to do so without looking like a broadway chorus-singer, but it's a nice option to have.

Grey top hats are generally a little cheaper, it has to be said.

What material
This is where it gets more tricky. You have essentially three options in the 'serious' top hat range, by which I mean not a costume hat picked up for a fiver on a market stall.

These can be made from fur felt or wool, and could be hand-made and quite expensive, or available for as little as £30. The key thing is that the black or grey covering has a matt finish, and a slightly furry texture. This looks fine in grey, but is a bit cheap-looking in black, and lacks the shine that is the hallmark of the proper Edwardian topper.

Melusine wool:
This is the next step up, and is what you will find on all decent quality new top hats sold by anyone from Moss Bros (for about £200) to Lock the Hatter (for closer to £400). In between, Ede and Ravenscroft, Hackett, Bates the Hatter and numerous other places also sell them. Most are hand-made and the visible difference between them is minimal. Melusine, when carefully brushed, has a shine that is close to that of silk, and this is as good as you are likely to be able to get from a new top hat.

The top of the heap in top hat terms. Edwardian top hats were made of silk, and there are plenty scattered around second hand shops for a few hundred pounds or less. The issue is that larger hat sizes tend to be rarer, and therefore much more expensive. Some hatters, such as Lock, will do you a refurbished and refitted silk hat but, depending on your head size and the provenance of the hat, this is likely to set you back several thousand pounds. That said, a good silk hat does look fantastic, and is clearly a cut above even the best Melusine ones.

If you're likely to wear morning dress more than once or twice a year, owning a top hat is worth the investment. Even if you're not, it's a great thing to own and will give you a good excuse to seek out opportunities to wear it.