Restored museum deacessioned 1890s hat, she required a complete brim edge treatment and lining replacement. Flowers, willow plumes, cut steel buckle, and ikat silk ribbon are antique as well. This adds a lot of height to the wearer!
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.
It was a warm day so I decided to take these pictures from a nice, cool shady spot. 🙂
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 🙂 :
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:
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.
And finally, the selfie…it seems to be de rigueur these days. 🙂
OK, that was extremely silly…in future posts, there will be more about the wedding dress and wedding itself so stay tuned. 🙂
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. 🙂