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Here are the essential articles concerning top hats that will be useful to you all but permanently placed on here for easy access.

Guide to Buying a Top Hat

The only guide on the internet to top hat sourcing and purchasing with some information on restoration. Deals with silk, fur and opera hats.

Don’t go and buy a topper until you have read this essential information!

Guide to Polishing a Top Hat 

Guide to bringing a silk topper to a high polish. Mostly based on self-experimentation and some existing practices.

NB: I’ve taken this article off-line because I think you really need to know what you’re doing before attempting to tallow polish a topper and also because I now believe the water polishing method isn’t really good for the hat so don’t want to mislead people into using it. Therefore, I would only advise using the brush and velvet pad for polishing whilst leaving actual tallow polishing to the professionals. 

Method of Making Top Hats

Not a guide but an explanation of how silk top hats are made. With links to videos.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t added to this blog at all for months/years now. I have to say that I don’t think I will from now on as I’ve lost enthusiasm for it plus I am concentrating on guqin and other artistic pursuits, including trying to get a book done and all that.

This year of 2014 has been my annus horribilis; nothing has gone right for me this year and especially in June when I narrowly dodged a proverbial bullet. I’m still a bit shaken by events this year and wish to completely forget this year ever happened once the clock strikes 12am on the 1st January.

In any case, I have done some editing of this blog and would continue to do so for the existing pieces until the most important articles do not have broken images.

I might update the Top Hat Guide when there is a need but don’t hold your breath. I know some info on it has begun to become out of date already. I haven’t been keeping up with top hat news as of late. Plus, I’ve gone off tailoring and such as I never was able to get the apprenticeship I wanted on The Row. In fact, everywhere I go it seems they can’t see talent and potential when it is smack bang in their faces. Well, if they can’t be bothered then it’s their loss.

Friends I thought I had seem distant and indifferent. Too much bitching and intrigue everywhere I go. I’ve been frustrated and tired of everything so it’s best to leave it all behind and get on with life.

To be honest, I feel like a civil servant in ancient China that has been disenchanted with the whole of society and what life has thrown at me and now want to retire to the mountains and forests, become a Daoist and spend the rest of my days playing qin and reading and writing calligraphy etc. They are the only things that seem worthwhile now.

Anyway, I hope you found my blog useful and wish you all well.

Best wishes,

Charles.

I have not been writing on this blog much as I have been preoccupied with other activities as of late for which I apologise.

One issue which I am dealing with now is the issue of broken images and links. Much of the images I linked directly from my Facebook and as you know they change their layouts and hyperlinks every hour it seems so the links always end up getting broken which is annoying. I have shifted almost everything onto Photobucket which is more reliable at least so images should not be broken any longer.

If you do find any broken images from now on, do give me a shout so I can fix them in due course.

I have also done some house cleaning and removed a number of blog posts which I think might be inappropriate and too personal for public consumption. As you know, social media can be a tool that can be used against you so best I be careful and only publish things which are within the remits of art and culture rather than politics.

Eight-piece caps, also known as bakerboy or newsboy caps and various other names, are traditional headwear for the working classes in the yards and factories of the past century as well as the country cap of choice for the landed gentry. The other version is the typcal flatcap which is constructed differently. As the name suggests, the cap is made of eight separate pieces of cloth sewn together with a peak and a button on its apex. These caps have been popular throughout the years but have become even more popular with the beginning of the vintage movements.

The caps softness makes them easy to wear and store, unlike felt and hard hats, and can be worn with casual and informal dress.

There are many different places that sell these caps and in many different versions and cuts but one place which I have found to be one of the best is the Hat People of Oregon, USA.

Each of their caps are made-to-order and in a variety of cloths and cuts. In particular, the various cuts are better than what you would find in other places. For one, their extra full cut is almost similar to vintage proportions and is volumnious. It does not feel too tight when you wear the cap; a fault I find in many other caps when there isn’t enough cloth to create room for the head and you end up having to pull the cap down to stop it from slipping off.

 

I have one of their caps in this extra full cut. After wearing it in, it has more or less become my cap of choice as it is the easiest to wear and has a lot less hassle than my other caps which tend to fall off easily in the wind. They are made with an elastic in the sweatband which you can adjust for fit. The peak is of layered cloth rather than having an insert card so you could easily stuff it in your pocket. The crown is not attached to the peak like others with thread or poppers so you could pull the crown forward to cover most of the peak or slightly backwards, etc. This allows you to adjust for roominess so it won’t feel tight.

The cloths used are wools, cottons and linens. All are hand washable. They are lined in cotton.

The price is reasonable as well for a made-to-order cap and I doubt you could get any better elsewhere without having to pay a lot more for a bespoke cap.

The header photo for this blog shows a group of old men in swimming costumes and top hats on (I also used it as a background photo for a Powerpoint presentation when I did the talk on toppers at the NSC in March 2012).

I had thought it was mid-Victorian based on the style of toppers worn and it seems I was correct based on this website:

http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/BrightonSwimmingClub.htm

The photo is of Brighton Swimming Club, dated to around 1863 and taken by Benjamin Botham.

The fascinating thing is (halfway down the page) the discussion on dating the photograph by examining the style of top hats and costumes the men were wearing; from stovepipes to bell crowns. This is a good guide to use to date hats of that period.

It has come to my attention that Lock’s will be making around 20 new top hats in silk plush. This is due to the discovery of a roll of old stock vintage plush one of their customers discovered in their attic.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1c29dc88-b3b9-11e1-8b03-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1xzgUMnir (it’s further down the page)

They would be made in two of the bigger sizes of 7 5/8 and 7 3/4 of course as these sizes are extremely rare. However, the cost is a whooping £4,500 but I guess that is the cost of a rare bespoke silk topper!

You can see some photos of them making one of the new silk hats here: http://torontotophats.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/new-silk-plush-top-hats-by-lock-co/

As an aside, I have still yet to discover the validity of the ‘new silk plush’ that is used by the firm Silk Top Hats (if you remember, I asked him a while back if he could send me a swatch of the plush for me to confirm it is the real thing to everyone which he refused to do which is strange as my appraisal would be commercially advantageous to him…). I urge anyone who has bought one of his new silk toppers to get in contact with me so I can finally confirm it is genuine silk plush that he uses so others can buy with confidence from him.

I have already explained in detail how one should source a silk top hat and talked about the basic ins and outs of toppers. However, I have not explained how silk top hats are made. This blog will concentrate on that.

Before the method of silk top hat making came into being, the topper was made from a blocked piece of wool felt which was covered in the beaver/fur plush before being trimmed. This is essentially the same method that is still used for fur melusine hats today (the grey felt topper is blocked in the same way without the covering of course). The other method of using a gossamer base shell instead of the wool felt was probably invented by Lincoln Bennett and this method came to dominate how silk hats where made until the plush ran out in the 1940s.

The basic principle of this method is summarised in this video of the founder of Patey’s making the topper:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/top-hats 

The information is very brief but it shows the main process of making one.

There is another video of the Dutch hatmaker, N. V. Jan Spoorenberg, demonstrating in detail the process of how his workshops make silk hats.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xICtDhHRwh8

The process is slightly different at the beginning but after the shell has been made the rest is pretty much the same as the English method.

Below I have translated the text of the Dutch video (using Google Translate, I must add, so there may be mistakes!) and have also included my commentary on the process (with points on the English method where it differs from the Dutch). My commentary and edits will be in parentheses and italics. If you don’t understand some of the terms and topper jargon I use, please refer to the glossary at the end of the Guide to Buying a Top Hat blog.

The Hat from the Low Countries

At the beginning of December 1950, Mayor Kolfschoten visited the company of N.V. Jan Spoorenberg Silk Hats Factory of Van Kinsbergenstraat 39 in Eindhoven.

This workshop was founded in 1820 but was bombed in 1942 which completely destroyed it. On 1st September 1949 it was put into operation again.

Making the hat

The fabrication of a high hat starts with the brim, which is constructed out of flannel [?] cut into the correct shape.

NB: the English method starts with the crown first before making the brim. 

By ironing the flannel with shellac [powder], the flannel is hardened into a brim.

In order to strengthen the brim, the top [upperbrim] and bottom [underbrim] is faced with a layer of cheese cloth [which is ironed on].

NB: the English method uses four layers of goss ironed together to make the brim. This makes the brim very stiff and can withstand more pressure. The Dutch method takes more time and produces a more flexible brim. 

After the correct [hat] size is chosen, the brim will be prepared with an upstanding edge [i.e. inlay].

NB: this means the inner edge of the brim is ironed up to form an upstanding edge or inlay by first softening the inner edge with an iron, then it is slipped over a spinner (which is on a brim block) and the inlay is ironed against the spinner to form the inlay. The inner brim circumference is smaller than the spinner (with the actual hat size) so there is enough inlay to do this. 

A silk hat [block] consists of five parts, from which the crown is manufactured from.

White linen is soaked in the dissolved shellac which is hardened and applied to the sides [of the hat block].

NB: this ‘white linen soaked in shellac’ is gossamer/goss. As explained in the Patey video, this is made of linen, calico or cheesecloth that has been soaked in a solution of shellac, hot water and ammonia which is then stretched on a frame and allowed to cure for several months before it is used. This is where the English method starts; the crown’s side piece is cut to shape then both ends are seamed to form a cylinder, the hat block is then inserted into it, the top inlay is ironed flat onto the tip, the tip piece is ironed on to the top of the block, trimmed and the inlay is ironed onto the sides. Gum dammar stops the iron sticking to the goss. The Dutch method differs in that it directly applies the goss to the block with a cloth wrapped around it to stop the iron sticking to the goss. 

The brim is attached to the crown and the shell is complete.

NB: this is when the hat block is removed. The English method attaches the brim by slipping the goss with the hole correctly cut to size over the shell on a brim block and the inlay is ironed onto the crown.

The brim is cut to the correct width.

[The underbrim] will be faced with a layer of black [wool] merino, after which the [upperbrim] is faced with a strip of black [petersham? Grosgrain?]

NB: the traditional English facing of the upperbrim is with silk plush. The Continentals often use grosgrain or plain silk satin to face it. The underbrim is faced with wool merino twill but can also be faced with silk serge or (very rarely) silk plush.

The accurate cutting to size of the silk [plush] for the [covering] of the crown is the job of the manager.

NB: the silk plush comes in straight lengths with the silk nap running on the bias. The silk plush strip for the side piece is thus cut on the bias; the ends are thus angled. The side and tip pieces are seamed together carefully. 

The affixing of the [crown piece silk] to the shell is a highly [skilled] work.

NB: the silk covering must fit around the shell like a second skin. The shell is first varnished with shellac before the silk cover is eased over it. The key thing is to get the end seams of the side piece to match exactly. The nap of the left end must conceal the seam. The seam and the whole hat is carefully ironed so the silk cover is firmly affixed to the shell. The hat is then halfblocked on a potance frame to align the silk nap and fix the crown shape. 

To prevent further damage to the finish, the crown is wrapped in paper.

The brim of the hat must have its special shape. For this purpose the brim, with a hot iron [and tolliker], is [curled].

The folded edge is cut neatly.

Then the edge is [hand] moulded.

Now the hat is in the hands of the ladies. [Silk grosgrain] ribbon is [handsewn] onto the [edge].

NB: the hatband would also be installed.

Assembling of [the slip-in] lining.

NB: in the olden days, the lining would be ironed onto the shell before the crown is made. 

With gold letters the name of the retailer is embossed onto the leather [sweatband]. It is then [sewn onto] the hat.

After being passed under the watchful eye of the master, the high silk hat is then cased.

Also chapeaux-claques [opera hats], stabbing [bicornes?] and rijhoeden jachtcabs [riding hats?] are manufactured in diverese variations.

The maufacture of 10,000 high hats and the commissioning of the new plant was presented Mayor Kolfschoten.

Conclusion

So far as I know, only Patey’s have retained the goss method in making new top hats. They particularly use many layers of goss to make rather heavy hats and cover them with fur plush.

I hope this explanation illustrates the skills and effort involved in making top hats and that they aren’t just blocked like a normal felt hat. There is a lot of skill involved in their creation.

Call to arms for all chaps, British craftsmanship defenders, anti-multinational companies and vintage people. Protest against Abercrombie & Fitch’s plans to open a store on Savile Row (right next to Gieves & Hawkes).

http://www.thechap.net/content/section_manifesto/protest.html

They already have a store on Burlington Gardens right on the corner of the Row and now they want to invade into sacred British tailoring territory. Everytime I walk to the Row the Gardens are infested with hipsters and twats, blocking the pavement and generally making it difficult for the public to walk through. They litter and gum the streets with effluvia. What’s wrong with Oxford St, Bond St, etc where their kind of stores are located? Why must they place another store smack bang on Savile Row? It would destroy what little peace and pleasantness that’s left on this road and defile the tradition of having a single trade all on the same road with a store dedicated to overpriced factory made mass produced vulgar rags. This is a deliberate attempt to destroy the bespoke trade.

War lines have already been drawn at the Burlington Arcade where the owners have asked for permission to change the much loved thoroughfare into a soulless Dubai-esque shopping mall and now a new front has been created just a stone’s throw away. The east end of Jermyn St has already been bulldosed and this is just adding more salt to the wound of the destruction of traditional British streets and shopping districts. It is an affront to our heritage and we must try our best to stop the decay (disguised as ‘progress’) of what makes our country great.

If you are free in London on the 23rd April from 9-11am, please come to the protest on Savile Row to defend this British institution from American multi-nationals content in erasing our traditions and architectural space.

Alternatively, you can sign the petition here:

http://www.petition.co.uk/save-savile-row-from-abercrombie-fitch/

UPDATE

Success (of some kind)! Westminster City Council have blocked their plans to broadcast loud music, pump out horrid smells and have half-naked people prancing around the place. This has put a spanner in the works at least and have caused A&F to rethink whether or not to open the shop at all as now they are not allowed to annoy the local populace and its neighbours with its anti-social antics. The fight still rages on. Until A&F does the right thing and leaves what is left of British tailoring tradition alone, we must resist at every step of the way. We are not stopping them from opening one of their shops; we just want them to open it somewhere else more appropriate that does not trample on our heritage. The argument that an A&F on the Row would increase footfall therefore would increase the trade is preposterous. None of the people who shop at A&F care about bespoke tailoring so whether there be more or fewer of them makes no difference other than annoyance and destruction.