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!
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:
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… 🙂
During the late 19th Century, hats were considered to an essential fashion accessory for both women and men and as such, you were not considered to be completely dressed for leaving home unless you wore one. While hats had their origins as a practical means of protecting the head against the elements, it didn’t take long before hats also became to be considered as more of a fashion accessory rather than a practical item of apparel. Naturally, there was a bit of overlap between the practical and the aesthetic and this was reflected in the variety of hat styles that developed during the late 19th Century.
One of the most common “signature” hat styles during the 1880s was the flower pot hat which was a high-crowned hat with a silhouette that resembled an upside-down flower pot (hence the name 🙂 ). Typically made from either blocked or sewn straw, or in some instances from buckram and wire, this hat created a high profile upon the wearer’s head, creating a large canvas for decoration. Decoration ranged from simple ribbons or feathers to more elaborate flowers and in some instances, a millinery birds (stuffed birds). The brim could be shaped in a number of different ways and even the crown could take complex shapes.
Below are a few examples of the flower pot hat in its many styles, both in portraiture, fashion plates, and advertising:
As can be seen from the above, there was a lot of variation and in some instances, the “flower pot” profile is somewhat obscured in the more extreme hat styles. Also, decoration and trim could be taken to extremes as in the case of the millinery birds (a style that eventually fell out of favor during the 1890s due to public reaction to the widespread depletion of bird species due to over-hunting).
Now let’s look at some extant examples:
The above example is a very basic style, made from straw. The trim is fairly restrained, some ribbons and flowers. What is especially interesting is that there is a brown velvet underbrim whose color complements the color of the straw hat body.
And another basic straw style, this time the straw has been dyed black. The trim is fairly minimal, consisting of black ribbon and some artificial fruit. The colors of the artificial fruit provide an interesting contrast to the black hat and ribbon; black was a common color for the straw hat body. Below is another example of a decorated black straw flower pot hat:
While straw was the predominant material, other materials could be employed such as silk plush (the museum caption mentions that it might be either beaver or silk plush, we suspect that silk plush is the more likely material given the late date of the hate; the numbers of beaver had been severely reduced by the 1850s). Here, the trim is even more restrained,consisting of some large silk ribbon. The contrast in textures between the silk ribbon and the silk plush is remarkable.
And now for something a bit more over-the-top:
This is definitely a more extreme style of flower pot hat to include a millinery bird with feathers that have been dyed to create a pink color effect combined with, what appears to be painted details. As can be seen from the above example, hat trimming was only limited by the imagination of the milliners and their clients.
One final thing to note is that these hats were intended for wear with a variety of daytime outfits as opposed to one specific dress. While there were examples of flower pot hats that were deliberately made to match a specific dress, this was not a universal practice in spite of what the fashion plates would portray; for those women of lesser means, the cost was simply prohibitive.
We hope you have enjoyed our brief excursion through the world of flower pot hats of the 1880s and in future posts we hope to expand further the discussion of Victorian Era millinery. 🙂
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)… 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Below are some x-ray pictures that show the mechanical workings of the hat:
And here are some more examples:
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. 🙂
Nothing symbolizes the height of 19th Century men’s fashion than the top hat. The symbol of respectability, the top hat reigned supreme as the ultimate fashion accessory and at one point was worn by people of every social class, including workmen. The top hat had a tall crown and a short brim that could either be curled or straight and was primarily made primarily from wool, rabbit, or beaver felt. Beaver was especially prized because it was waterproof and warm. However, due to Beaver’s popularity, the supply rapidly diminished during the 1830s (the over-trapping of Beaver was one factor leading to the demise of the “Mountain Man” lifestyle).
As a replacement, silk plush fabric was developed in France during the 1830s and was increasingly used, especially because of its natural shine. The variety of silk plush (sometimes referred to as milliner’s silk plush) used in top hats was a textile with a raised pile or nap that gave a high luster. According to some authorities, silk plush has not been manufactured since the late 1940s thus giving rise to a thriving market in vintage tops hats. Also, the odds of finding a genuine beaver top hat are on the open market are very small and many hats that are marketed as “beaver” are actually made of silk plush (compared to silk plush, beaver is actually duller). Finally, top hats were came two types, a “town weight” and “country weight” which was a more reinforced version (typically worn while riding).
The specific origins of the top hat are obscure but generally speaking, its origins can be found during the 1780s and 1790s when the earlier “sugarloaf” style was revived. From the 1790s on, men’s hats began to take the form of what would later become the top hat and they were made in a variety of crown and brim shapes. This shift in fashion was especially noticeable in France at the height of the French Revolution when fashions rapidly shifted away from 18th Century fashion which was deemed to be too aristocratic.
By the early 1800s, the top hat had established itself as the leading form of men’s hat and they came in a variety of styles (more than the later part of the 19th Century):
During the early to mid 19th Century, top hats went through a number of style trends to include the bell-crown with its curved upper crown and the stovepipe with its tall crown and harrow brim. Below are a few examples:
Gustave Caillebotte, Portrait of Paul Hugot (1878)
By the 1890s, the top hat had taken the form that more or less survives to this day: a relatively low crown with a slightly curved brim:
And naturally, there was also a special case for transporting one’s top hat when they were not wearing it:
Top hats were also available in a straw version for more warmer climes although this seems to have been more of an early 19th Century style:
By the early 20th Century, wear of the top hat was increasingly limited to formal occasions rather than worn as part of everyday dress and this trend has continued on into the 21st Century.
The top hat is the centerpiece of any man’s formal wardrobe for the late 19th Century and a definite “must-have” for anyone recreating the clothing of this period. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the world of top hats. 🙂