Adam’s Atelier Travels To Heritage Square

This past Saturday, we were guests at a very nice wedding for one of our clients that was held at the Heritage Square Museum in Los Angeles. The wedding was a period affair, Edwardian to be precise although clothing ranged a bit on either side (not including the outright modern). Karin arrived early just to make sure that there were no last-minute complications (there weren’t, thank god) and otherwise assist. In the meantime, I was pretty much on my own so I decided to walk around and get some pictures.

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It was a warm day so I decided to take these pictures from a nice, cool shady spot. 🙂

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Heritage Square is composed of a series of restored houses that were moved (yes, moved) to the museum site from various sites in Los Angeles and the structures have been restored over the years. It’s come a long way since I first visited the museum in 1994. It’s a wonderful slice of a vanished Los Angeles, a Los Angeles that pre-dates the car, freeway and all it’s attendant growth and development. For a description of the various buildings at Heritage Square, click HERE.

One of the more striking houses was the Hale House which was built in 1887. I was unable to get a good picture of it so I lifted one off the internet 🙂 :

Hale House, Heritage Square, Los Angeles - Hale House - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

To me, this house is especially striking and especially the brick chimneys (which are all unreinforced masonry). Beautiful to look at but not the most optimal for earthquake county here in California. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture any interior shots on this visit, but I can assure you that those are just as interesting and especially when you look at some of the details as impossibly small, curing stair cases and the like (in an era where building codes were minimal to non-existent).  In many ways, the museum is a living time capsule and well worth a visit for anyone interested in architecture and interior design of the late 19th century.

As for myself, well I was definitely dressed for occasion and keeping cool at the same time:

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Here I am dressed in my linen sack suit. Although it’s not too visible, I am also wearing a starched fabric detachable collar which is a lot more comfortable than the much stiffer paper/celluloid variety. Believe it or not, wearing a detachable collar is quite comfortable and it’s now standard for me whenever I am wearing civilian clothing.

Also, because of the heat, I decided to give my new straw boater hat a try. I bought it from Darcy Clothing in the UK (highly recommended) and it presented an interesting wearing challenge. The crown is very low and it almost perches on the top of my head. I was able to create some inner tension by adding a thickness of cotton fabric inside of the hatband but I would be careful wearing this on a windy day. Otherwise, after wearing the boater for a few hours, I forgot about the low crown and it was quite comfortable. It’s a look that I highly recommend for summer and in fact is very appropriate for the late 19th Century.

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And finally, the selfie…it seems to be de rigueur these days. 🙂

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OK, that was extremely silly…in future posts, there will be more about the wedding dress and wedding itself so stay tuned. 🙂

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.

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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. 🙂

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

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Austin Lane Crothers, 46th Governor of Maryland (1908–1912)

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).

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Top Hat, 1885, worn by President Grover Cleveland at his First Inauguration on March 4, 1885; National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

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.

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Portrait of a Young Man, Francois-Xavier Fabre, 1795 – 1800.

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Monsieur Seriziat, J.L. David, 1795.

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):

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Fashion Plate, c. 1810.

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:

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Top Hat, c. 1820 – 1825, wool fur felt; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1912-216)

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Another Bell-Crown Top Hat, c. 1850s

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Another example from the 1850s

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Top Hat, c. 1855 – 1860; Fashion Institute of Design Museum (2010.5.13)

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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:

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Men;s Top Hat, c. 1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.6127)

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Portrait, c. 1890

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Lord Ribblesdale by John Singer Sargent, 1902

And naturally, there was also a special case for transporting one’s top hat when they were not wearing it:

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Top Hat Box, c. 1910 (Elekes Andor – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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:

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Men’s Top Hat, Straw, c. 1820 – 1840; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (44.199)

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.

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Advert for silk top hats, 1885.

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. 🙂

A Brief Look At Men’s Hats – The Bowler/Derby

Hats have always been fascinating to us here at Lily Absinthe and millinery/hat-making is an artform all its own. In contrast to today, hats were an essential part of men and women’s wardrobes and they helped to shape and define an individual’s appearance and how the presented themselves to the world. In this post and others to follow in the future, we’ll be taking a look at hats as a means to educating and especially in connection with recreating styles from the late 19th Century. With that, let’s begin…

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For men, hats were an essential part of their wardrobe, ranging from the purely practical for protecting oneself from the elements to the purely decorative for fancy dress. For the most part, the situation/social function determined what clothing was proper to wear and this in turn also affected hat selection.

For everyday wear from 1870 through 1900, probably the two most popular style was the derby or bowler (frontier regions such as the American West had their own peculiar hat styles and we’ll leave those aside for the moment.).  The terms “derby” and “bowler” have been used interchangeably with bowler predominating in Great Britain and derby in the United States.

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Derby, American, Wool, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.49.49.18)

The bowler/derby was characterized by a curved brim and a rounded low crown and was made of stiffened wool felt, reinforced by the addition of shellac to the manufacturing process.  The hat was said to have been invented by a London hatmaker in 1849 as an alternative to the top hat for riding due to the top hat’s tendency to catch branches and get knocked off (although there are some other conflicting stories as to its origins). No matter the case, the bowler/derby’s popularity grew as the 19th Century progressed and was popular with both the working classes as well as the more prosperous middle classes and it was ideal as both practical and semi-formal headwear.

Below are just a few examples:

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The bowler/derby was widely worn, even in the West, and it has even been claimed to have been “the hat that won the West.” Below are just a few notables that sported a bowler/derby hat (at least for the camera):

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Bat Masterson, 1879

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Butch Cassidy

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The Wild Bunch

As can be seen from the various pictures above, the bowler/derby was usually worn with the sack suit although it could also be seen with morning suits and even occasionally with a frock coat.  Just to show how ubiquitous this style was, here’s one interpretation that was made in Japan in the 1890s:

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Bowler Hat, Japanese, c. 1880 – 1897, constructed of rattan and bamboo with cloth bands; Metropolitan Museum of Art

For those desiring  to recreate men’s styles of the later 19th Century, the bowler/derby hat combined with a sack suit is a very good place to start- it provides an outfit that will work for most sorts of daytime events and even a few evening ones. In fact, we would argue that the sack suit and bowler/derby combination is probably the most versatile style for men, more so that the usual pseudo “gunfighter style” that seems to be prevalent these days.  But that’s just our opinion. 😉

Stay tuned for more posts in the future on men’s hats….