One of my New Sheridan Club colleagues alerted me to a letter that was published in The Times newspaper on the 16th June 2011. Here it is below:
Sir, The preponderance of black stove pipe hats is making Royal Ascot look like an undertakers’ convention. The grey topper is more suitable to a summer race meeting but appears to have joined the “at risk” species.
It is fashion, I fear, but if men really wish to pass themselves off as Victorian mill owners, they should invest £2,000 or so in a black silk shaped hat, not one of the Mad Hatter coal scuttles seen crammed down on unlikely heads and only kept up by pink ears.
There are several inaccuracies and presumptions that needed to be corrected here. The letter is rather vague: does he mean all black toppers or just the wool ones? And does he mean a silk plush topper when he says ‘black silk shaped hat’ (which for me conjures up the image of David Beckham’s Royal Wedding sorry excuse for a topper)? Also, there are hardly any stovepipe crown toppers worn nowadays; the most common is the semi-bell crown.
In any case, it would be a failing of me to not respond to this after being given the green light to respond so I wrote this immediately:
Black top hats are suitable for Royal Ascot and at any time of the year. It is the black wool variety that is more suitable for the undertaker as it does not polish to a shine (hence why mourning bands are made of wool). The ‘white’ hat was once made of silk but now it is made of fur felt as grey silk plush is no longer produced (though I know of one hat maker in the entire world that can make black silk top hats out of new silk plush) and came to be worn at the races as it was fashionable to do so before the War. Currently in the UK, black fur plush top hats are the best hats available. The better silk plush variety can be had vintage from as little as £35 for those with a small hat size (the larger the size the more expensive as people in the past had smaller heads). It is better to get one of these vintage hats than splash out thousands on something like David Beckham’s sorry excuse for a topper. Plus, I think black hats look better with morning dress than grey ones. Also, the most common shape of a top hat is a semi-bell and not a stove pipe which has a crown taller than 6 1/2” and the sides are straight and do not taper like the ones worn by President Lincoln.
Charles Rupert Tsua
Author of ‘Guide to Buying a Top Hat’
The letter was published in today’s Times and I have scanned it below:
They missed out the bit about new silk toppers (probably because they didn’t believe in that claim). It’s too bad they didn’t mention my Guide or provide a link to it as it would help quite a number of people I suppose.