Every year at this time I watch several versions of A Christmas Carol. It is my favorite movie during the holidays. The period in which the story takes place has forever fascinated me. I especially love the hats. If you are like me the most glaringly obvious sign that a story is taking place in this period is the clothing. Waistcoats, triple breasted vests, high collars and of course the top hat were staples of the day.
The first silk top hat, made from silk shag (a form of plush), was made in 1793. It is not without some measure of controversy that this is credited to one hatter by the name of George Dunnage of Middlesex County in England. The style was never referred to as top hat back then. They were referred to as beaver hats, and Dunnage’s hat made of silk was called “an imitation of beaver”. Thus the silk top hat came into being. Usage of the actual term top hat did not become popular until later in the 19th century. Dunnage’s father Benjamin was in the ribbon trade, which put George in the place to be knowledgeable of the silk trade. Dunnage and a business partner, Thomas Larkin, went into business together under the name Dunnage & Larkin and patented the manufacturing of silk hats until they disbanded the company and went their separate ways in 1818.
Men wore top hats for business, pleasure and formal occasions. A pearl gray color was worn in the daytime, black colors were used for day or night. They were popular primarily due to making the wearer feel taller, handsomer and suave. If men did not don a top hat you can bet they had some style of hat on. It was a demanded fashion. Men, rich or poor, would not be caught dead without a hat on.
Today, top hats are used for all sorts of special occasions. From weddings to racing events, men can be seen wearing these statuesque hats. Around 1980 the making of silk plush top hats ceased, due to the expense of the materials and the making of new looms. For this reason the antique top hat market has seen a rise in recent years. There are also several companies who craft top of the line top hats of newer materials. While still maintaining the grand look of old, the originals will always remain as a symbol of nobility, status, and sophistication.
I personally will always see Ebeneezer Scrooge wearing his top hat along with the Mad Hatter, Uncle Sam, Abe Lincoln, Fred Astaire and of course Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat. Yes that’s right they are all sitting in a room playing poker and eating peanuts and cookies. Seriously!