A Guide To Top Hats, By Oliver Brown's Kristian Ferner Robson (2024)

Did you know that the last top hat was made in 1968, and that since the silk making equipment no longer exists, it is only possible to acquire a vintage silk top hat? Find out everything you need to know about top hats (and more importantly, how to wear yours) in our guide by Oliver Brown proprietor Kristian Ferner Robson…

DID YOU KNOW? Since the beginnings of the top hat, the human head has inflated. The average head size has gone up around 4cm from 6 7/8ths in 1850 to 7 ¼ today making the larger sizes in even higher demand, and subsequently are often higher in price too.

Three steps to the perfect fit…

However handsome your top hat, the wrong fit or size can ruin the overall look. Get it right by following this step-by-step guide to measuring for a top hat and achieving the perfect fit.

  1. Take a soft tape measure and place it around your head. Ensure it is half an inch above your ears and straight.
  2. Measure in centimetres or inches, and use this measurement to find your hat size (refer to any hat size chart).
  3. A correctly fitted hat should rest comfortably half an inch above the ears, sitting completely straight. Not titled to the side, or to the back.

What style top hat?

The shape and height of antique silk top hats evolved somewhat over the years, with the crowns gradually becoming taller in height and the brims narrower. The most common shape of antique silk top hats is the ‘bell-shape’ which has slightly curved sides, but there are also examples such as the ‘stove-pipe’ which has straight sides and is particularly tall.

The shape you opt for is a personal choice, for example if you have a smaller head you may want to opt for a crown that’s lower in height to keep everything in proportion. The same goes for the height of the top hat. There is a tall 6” hat is a walking topper, or the shorter top is around 5.5”.

A Guide To Top Hats, By Oliver Brown's Kristian Ferner Robson (1)

What’s the different between the antique and modern top hats?

Antique Silk Top Hats are the most traditional and are made from a unique silk plush with a long nap, giving it the beautifully polished look we recognise today, the looms that made this fabric are no longer in existence and general production has ceased.

The more contemporary counterparts include the silk imitation Melusine Top Hats which are made from melusine, a special long-haired fur felt that is the closest alternative to the silk originals. This creates a hat that has a beautifully polished finish and a noticeably elegant profile. Another is the Fur Felt Top Hat which is hand-crafted of 100% fur felt, and finished with a mourning band made of Melton wool and fully lined with white satin.

Dos and Don’ts…

DON’T customise: if you’re looking for Royal Ascot top hats and have access to the Royal Enclosure, the dress code requires gentlemen to wear black or grey top hats without adornments such as coloured ribbons.

DON’T sit the hat on its head: when setting it down on a flat surface, always put the hat down upright, with the brim of the hat on the table. This maintains the condition of the crown, which is vulnerable to damage, and once worn can never be repaired, only blackened to minimise the effect of the damage.

DON’T dry your top hat on a radiator: if you get caught in the rain and your top hat gets wet, it’s important you let the hat dry in a naturally warm and airy environment – never over direct heat which could distort the shape of the hat.

DO keep it shining: once you’ve purchased your antique silk top hat, it will need to be buffed from time to time to keep the polished appearance. Using a velvet pad, sweep over the surface in the direction of the nap a few times until the hat’s deep, glossy shine is reinstated.

DON’T use your top hat as a champagne bucket: after a full day at Royal Ascot, it’s surprisingly easy to forget!”

This guide was put together by Kristian Ferner Robson, proprietor of Oliver Brown // 75 Lower Sloane Street, London // oliverbrown.org.uk. Oliver Brown is an Official Licensee to Royal Ascot.

Images courtesy of Oliver Brown

A Guide To Top Hats, By Oliver Brown's Kristian Ferner Robson (2024)


What is the difference between black and grey top hats? ›

For formal occasions, black top hats are traditionally worn with a black morning coat, while grey top hats generally partner with a grey morning suit. The 'conformateur' head measuring device is often used at Lock & Co. to determine the correct size and shape of a hat.

How tall were top hats? ›

The popularity of the top hat reached its peak towards the end of the 19th century. It takes on more reasonable proportions, stabilizing around 12 cm to 15 cm in height. All gentlemen are still expected to wear a top hat at formal and/or important events.

Why were stove top hats popular? ›

The hats, remarkable for their sturdiness and ability to repel water, quickly became a fixture atop the heads of status-conscience Europeans. Demand for the hats was high, and by the early seventeenth century, beaver were trapped to extinction in Western Europe.

Are top hats still made? ›

The Beginnings of the Top Hat

In 1968 the only factory that produced silk plush ceased production, hence today there is a finite supply of silk top hats in the world.

What do the different Coloured hats mean? ›

Green Hat: creative thinking. Red Hat: feelings and instincts. Yellow Hat: benefits and values. Black Hat: risk assessment. White Hat: information gathering.

What is the best color hat to wear? ›

Start with your complexion. A general rule of thumb when decidingwhat color is best for a hat is to identify your undertones. For skin with yellow or red undertones, warm colors like brown, tan, or maroon will complement your face. For those with cool undertones, matching cool colors like grey or blue is the way to go.

When did top hats become unpopular? ›

Hats off. The top hat was the height of fashion from the mid-19th Century right up to the Second World War, but instead fell out of favour afterwards. Today, top hats are still worn and are part of the white tie dress code, only seen on those formal occasions which require it.

What is a fun fact about top hats? ›

1814 first record of a white rabbit being pulled out of a top hat, by a French Magician named Louis Comte. The American financier J P Morgan loved wearing top hats so much he had his cars made with a high roof so he could ride around wearing his beloved hats!

What do top hats symbolize? ›

As part of traditional formal wear, in popular culture the top hat has sometimes been associated with the upper class, and used by satirists and social critics as a symbol of capitalism or the world of business, as with the Monopoly Man or Scrooge McDuck.

Why don't they make silk top hats anymore? ›

When the factory burnt down, the looms burnt with it, all the information, all the technology went with that one factory. So, from the mid-60s onwards silk is no longer available. Today all the silk top hats we own are vintage silks which we then buy in and refurbish.

Did Abraham Lincoln wear a top hat? ›

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was known for his iconic top hat. Lincoln was often seen wearing the tall, black hat, which became a symbol of his presidency and is now considered an important piece of American history.

When did the tricorn fall out of fashion? ›

The tricorne or tricorn is a style of hat that was popular during the 18th century, falling out of style by the early 1800s, though not called a "tricorne" until the mid-19th century. During the 18th century, hats of this general style were referred to as "co*cked hats".

Did top hats have mercury? ›

It's well known that mercury, a toxic heavy metal, was used to prepare the animal fur, often beaver, used to make top hats.

Who still wears top hats? ›

Top hats first became fashionable for men in the 19th century and are still popular today for both sexes. These days they are worn as a trendy fashion accessory or at formal occasions.

Where is top hat headquarters? ›

Top Hat's main headquarters is located at 151 Bloor Street West 200 Toronto, Ontario M5S 1S4 CA. The company has employees across 6 continents, including North AmericaEuropeAsia.

Why a grey top hat? ›

James Lock III invented the grey top hat and we christened it 'The Ascot'. This was only worn in the royal enclosure at Ascot, so the aristocracy could separate themselves by being the only ones wearing grey top hats! In 1790, originally, they were made from beaver fur which is similar to a top hat made of rabbit fur.

Can you wear a grey top hat with a black morning suit? ›

According to morning suit etiquette, the finished look should be accessorised with a black or grey top hat and gloves. Shoes should not be slip on – only highly polished lace up black shoes are acceptable, and these are to be paired with black socks.

What is the difference between white top hat and black top hat? ›

There exist two types of top-hat transform: the white top-hat transform is defined as the difference between the input image and its opening by some structuring element, while the black top-hat transform is defined dually as the difference between the closing and the input image.

Is black a good color for a hat? ›

And besides sunscreen, what better way is there to shield us from damaging UV rays? Although we normally expect to see summer hats in neutral to lighter shades, if you really think about it, black absorbs the sun's rays rather than reflecting them onto your face and neck. Besides that, a black hat just looks cool!

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