The Sporting Study, Hungerford Arcade

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Feel free to call or pop in to view our current stock as both showrooms are open 7 days a week and close only for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Easter Sunday.

Hungerford Antiques Arcade
Great Grooms Antique Centre

Call: +44 (0)7890 268631

Vintage black silk top hats for sale

This weird 19th century anachronism, which has been laid to rest in all of the other sensible nations around the globe still, strangely, has a foot-hold in our own. Think of weddings, funerals, Royal Ascot, Epsom on Derby Day, investitures or garden parties at the Palace, any man worth his salt would look frankly under-dressed in anything other than a topper. And not just any old topper at that, only a black silk top hat will really do. See our current stock of black silk top hats for sale - we carry a range of sizes from renowned makers such as Christy's, Lincoln & Bennett, Tress & Co, Herbert Johnson, Scott & Co, Dunn & Co.  See See v

The 'Season', Royal Ascot, Epsom on Derby Day, garden parties at the Palace

The longer and colder than average winter has now departed. Spring flowers have woken from their slumber and the car’s ice scraper has (almost) been put into storage for 6 months; which means…the ‘Season’ is almost upon us.

The advent of the warmer weather sends some of us men searching not only for our shorts and t-shirts (which seem to have shrunk since we last put then on) but also for another item of clothing more suited to an Edwardian gentleman than his ‘metrosexual’ modern equivalent. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the top hat.

Accept no imitations

Grey top hats are fine but are, let’s be honest about it, grey. Black felt or silk substitute melusine ones are merely a poor imitation. The true top hat is a thing of beauty. Made from a highly lustrous silk known as hatter’s plush, these things – even though they are now at least 50 years old and in many cases far older, - still stand out in a crowd.

Silk top hat history

Though a French invention, George Dunnage is credited with being the first hatter in England to produce a silk top hat in 1793, though felted beaver (or for the less well off, rabbit) fur was still the material of choice for the first few decades of the 19th Century.

Queen Victoria’s fashion leading consort Prince Albert became the unofficial patron saint of those particular rodents when sporting a silk top hat in 1850. This led to a sharp decline in the beaver trapping industry which up until that time had prospered in North America but was in any case in decline due to the fact that supplies of the raw material were beginning to run low.

Around the same time industrial legislation in the UK called for better ventilation in factories. This would have included hat makers where the use of mercury nitrate, employed to soften the beaver pelts, had an adverse affect on the workers. Inhalation of the vapours from this toxic chemical cocktail affected their nervous systems causing memory loss, trembling and psychotic behaviour. The phrase ‘as mad as a hatter’ entered our language and has been there ever since.

The top hat held sway in the fashion stakes for the remainder of the century and for the beginning of the next, up to the First World War when bowler hats and fedoras became increasingly popular; more suited as they were to modern city life. Toppers still, however, persisted in political and diplomatic circles as well as in the City. No self-respecting stockbroker or senior member of the Bank of England would be seen without one let alone any half-decent public schoolboy.

Unbelievably it was only in 1998 that the Modernisation Select Committee of the House of Commons decided that the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ could do away with the top hat (one was kept at each end of the chamber) which had to be worn when a member wished to raise a point of order during a division. The Committee reported that since the arrival of television cameras the practice brought the house into ridicule. Honourable members though have since found that creative accounting of their expenses is a far better way of making themselves look foolish!

The last looms to make the fabulous hatter's plush cloth which gives the hats the shine of a well-loved and cared-for vinyl disc (remember those pop-pickers) were destroyed in a very un-brotherly dispute between two French weavers in the 1940s. Result being that the looms were lost forever and the hatter’s plush as a material became extinct.

Unfortunately the head sizes of yester-year, like the shorts and t-shirt sizes of last year, tended to be smaller than those of today and finding a hat to fit the modern-day head can be a problem. There are any amount of ex-public schoolboy’s hats in circulation but very few heads in the Royal Enclosure with a circumference to match.

Consequently the price of a good sized hat in decent condition can be a significant outlay these days. But, if you have been lucky enough to find a well fitting topper for Royal Ascot for 5 days in the middle of June, that expense, unlike the nags, could prove a good bet. And, if you have a well-stocked boot, I may well doff my hat to you and join you for a glass of bubbles in the car park!