The Rise And Fall Of The Collapsible Top Hat: Manliness, Technology and Novelty in Nineteenth Century London, 1812–1905
This dissertation set out to investigate the collapsible top hat in the context of nineteenth-century Britain in three chapters.
The first chapter set out to place the use of
collapsible top hat in context, providing insight into the importance of visual
demonstrations of class. It also explored the role of the collapsible top hat
in the performance of manliness in the public spaces of leisure and travel,
while tying these ideas into thoughts of the hat as a symbol of conspicuous
The second chapter dealt with the technology within the hat, looking to put it in context of innovation, patenting practices in nineteenth-century Britain. This chapter also makes the argument that the life of the top hat as a popular form of headwear was extended by the collapsible top hat that worked to mitigate some of the practical issues of the top hat.
The third chapter discusses
the role of novelty in the collapsible top hat, both as a marketing device and
as a consumer consideration. It also brings up questions regarding the role of
novelty in manliness, identity and the popularity of the Gibus style
collapsible top hat. To do this, patent records from the National Archives at Kew and the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle in Paris were used.
Surviving collapsible top hats in collections throughout the UK were located and research visits were made to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Ascot Top Hats Ltd., the Snowhill Wade Costume Collection, the Killerton Collection, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, and the Fashion Museum in Bath. Article and illustrations from Punch and the Gentleman’s Magazine of Fashion from 1828 – 1895 were consulted. Newspapers, etiquette and hatters manuals were also used to create a base of primary research.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2015
From straw embroidered stomachers to collapsible top hats, everything about clothing fascinates me. I am interested exploring not only who wore what clothes, but how the clothing was made, and what effect that had on contemporary perceptions of the clothing.
- BFA, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2003