The Ultimate Fashion Accessory

Hats, or more properly millinery, are the most important accessory in one’s wardrobe and are essential for completing just about any look. Here at Lily Absinthe we offer a variety of hat styles, each custom made for the individual client.

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Our hats are finished, both inside and out, in the manner appropriate for the period and we use period construction techniques and our hats are decorated to coordinate with the rest of your outfit rather than simply being a random assortment of feathers, beads, and other geegaws. For further information, please contact us at info@lilyabsinthe.com.

Trending For 1909…

Early films can sometimes tell us a lot about earlier fashions. Below is some newsreel footage taken in 1909- although it’s labeled “Paris Fashion Week 1909,” I suspect that it was simply filmed in the Spring. In this footage, you see a mix of older and newer fashions to include the Nouveau Directoire and “Delphos”/Classical Grecian styles that were coming into vogue then; designs pioneered by couturiers such as Paul Poiret and Jeanne Paquin. Enjoy!



Trending For 1898…

The use of birds was a major style element in millinery during the late 19th Century and especially during the 1890s and 1900s. Often various avian parts were used to include wings, plumage, and even whole bodies. Recently, in the course of researching something completely different, I came across this illustration in the December 18, 1898 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:

Bird Hats_Los Angeles Herald_Dec 18 1898

I would like to think that this was meant as satire but given the excesses of the era, maybe not. Either way, it’s a commentary on the excesses of fashion, 1890s sty.e… 🙂

A Brief Look At Men’s Hats – The Opera Hat

Today we continue our story of the top hat a little further with a brief look at the opera hat (aka the Gibus or chapeau claque)… 🙂

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One interesting version of the top hat was the opera hat. The opera hat was a collapsible version of the standard top hat and was intended to make the hat easier to store, typically underneath one’s seat at the opera, hence the name “Opera Hat.” It is said that necessity is the mother of invention and that certainly applies to the fashion world. As discussed in a previous post, during the 19th Century, the top hat rapidly made a place for itself as being one of the key pieces of men’s formal wear. A symbol of respectability (and especially for a growing middle class), the top hat was worn at all formal social events such as the opera.

Opera Hat 8

However, as noted above, once one had arrived at a formal social event, what was one to do with their hat and especially at an event such as an opera or other theatrical performance- holding a top hat in one’s lap can be awkward. One could try to put it underneath their seat but there was the risk of the hat being crushed or dented (or simply not fitting). Of course many venues provided cloak rooms but even then, one ran the risk of having their hat crushed or dented. Also, dealing with one’s top hat could be a problem when getting into a covered carriage with a low ceiling.

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In the case of the top hat, the solution was somewhat obvious- find a way to collapse the crown. One solution was devised in 1812 by a hatmaker in England named Thomas Francis Dollman who patented an “elastic round hat” in which the sides of the crown were made of a thinner material than the top or brim. A steel spring was sewn into each side of the crown and the hat was fitted with ribbons so that it could be held in a collapsed position. Dollman’s patent expired in 1825 and it would appear that his invention never took hold, at least when it came to top hats.

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Opera Hat, c.1901 – 1904; National Gallery of Victoria

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Interior View

The next step came in 1834 when a Parisian hatmaker named Antoine Gibus applied for a patent for what was described as a chapeau mècaniques in which the top hat was fitted with a hinged frame so that the crown would collapse and the top of crown would become flush with the brim. With this design, the wearer would have to manipulate the frame open and closed- there was no spring action. Subsequently, on November 30, 1837 Gabriel Gibus (Antoine’s brother) filed a patent for an improved version that included a spring mechanism (from what information I was able to glean, it appears that a series of patents were filed).

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A patent drawing of the collapsable top hat by Gabriel Gibus, November 30, 1837.

With the spring mechanism, the hat could now be opened quickly and because of the distinctive “snap” the hat made, it was often referred to as chapeau claque. The usefulness of the collapsable top hat, or opera hat, was self-evident and it became popular (although there were a few hold-outs 🙂 ). Starting in the 1850s, several more patents were filed by the Gibus family and they became wealthy from the royalties paid for their invention.

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Below are some x-ray pictures that show the mechanical workings of the hat:

And here are some more examples:

 

 

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Close-Up Of Collapsed Opera Hat

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Opera Hat & Box

Functioning vintage opera hats are available today but many of them are in fragile condition and not really suitable for wear. Reproductions, or rather new ones, are available from specialty hatmakers but they are not cheap.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this little diversion into the world of opera hats and while getting one is not on the top of my “must have” list, it’s certainly a tempting possibility. 🙂