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Royal Ascot & Top Hats

Royal Ascot: What you need to know about its hat rule.

Intro by Charlie. Article by Rupert

I have got so many things to write up about over the next few weeks, from morning suits we are making, to our trip to to Pitti in Italy and a piece about sounds from our workshop. It might not work, but I will publish the latter one in the next posting. In the meantime, it is always important for us to remember the why and where of the context of what we do. And so, there might not be any better time for these words, with Ascot approaching next week, than from our friend Rupert Watkins and his thoughts on hats and Royal Ascot.

The summer Season has kicked off and Royal Ascot’s on the horizon so as well as dusting off the Henry Herbert morning dress, there’s the annual requirement for the top hat. Whether you are lucky enough to own a vintage silk topper, trawling the internet for one or you are having to hire a modern felt hat, there’s certain points to consider when contemplating this elegant headgear.

Fit is beyond doubt critical. Even a vintage top hat in immaculate condition will look awful if it’s the wrong size, coming too far down over your eyes. A correctly fitted hat should rest comfortably half an inch above the ears, sitting completely straight. The hat should not tip back on the head or to one side. To measure your head, place a soft tape measure half an inch above your ears and ensure it is straight. Then cross reference your measurement with a hat size chart on somewhere such as Lock & Co Hatters’ website. The hat needs to be secure enough to not move or fall off when you’re walking but not so tight it leaves a mark when removed.

Most top hats will come in either black or grey; black is still regarded by some as the most formal of all. No hat should be accessorised, the only decoration allowable is the band of black.

Whilst many will hire a modern hat, made of 100 per cent felt, the king of top hats remains the vintage silk. The last silk plush workshop near Lyon closed in 1968 so today there is a finite supply of this elegant headgear and that is reflected in prices for the finest examples. Hat shops such as Lock and Bates carry small numbers of re-conditioned silk hats – often with a price point of well over £1,000 for examples from hatmakers across Europe dating back as far as 1860. Away from St James’s, there is a burgeoning online trade in these investment pieces, it’s worth keeping a beady eye on Ebay.

The shape and height of antique silk top hats evolved somewhat over the decades they were in production, with crowns gradually becoming taller in height and 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 decide on a crown that’s lower in height to keep everything in proportion. Should you opt to search and buy online it’s probably worthwhile to keep a budget in mind and essential have been measured correctly and know your size. Always be prepared to ask questions and request more images.

Once the owner of a top-notch top hat it needs to be cared for. Should it get wet, dry it in a warm and airy place and never near or over direct heat. Dust can be removed by lightly brushing it with a soft bristle brush and silk hats can be buffed to a glossy shine with a velvet pad – known as a mouse. When using a brush or the mouse always brush in the direction of the nap. When not in use store in a proper hat box to protect against light and moths. Whilst a cardboard hat box is ample a leather hat bucket is certainly an elegant and luxurious touch as well as being sought after in their own right.

The proper topper is the piece de resistance to your Henry Herbert morning dress. Elegant, timeless and – along with cufflinks – perhaps one of the few genuine investment items of clothing for a chap, it’s that time of the year to retrieve it from the wardrobe and buff it up for action.

 As always, please feel free to leave a comment below.