Friday, February 12, 2010

Hat of the Week: The Regency Top Hat

During the 1780s, a new style of hat emerged in France and England to supplant the ubiquitous tricorn: the early top hat.

These illustrations were taken from one of my favorite books EVER, 'The Mode in Hats and Headdress' by R. Turner Wilcox, recently republished by Dover Press.

Sometimes called a Postilion (after 'post-boys', or carriage drivers, with whom they were popular), it was a narrow-brimmed variation on the 17th century wide-brimmed tall hat made famous in paintings by various Dutch masters, such as this portrait by Paul Rubens.

The following is one of my favorite pictures ever. This menswear-for-women ensemble is on my list of 'someday' fantasy outfits I'm planning to make:

It's taken from the book 'Old English Costumes Selected from the Collection of Mr. Talbot Hughes; A Sequence of Fashions Through the 18th and 19th Centuries', published by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1908. The wearing of antique clothing by live models is now verboten in museum circles, because of damaging stress placed on the garments in motion, so the photo shoot for this book may have been one of the last times these clothes were worn by actual people. As much as I understand and agree with the museum ethics that require that they're not worn by people, I have to admit that the graceful effect of seeing a live person in them can't be duplicated by costumes mounted on mannequins.

The early top hat was worn by men as well as women. As you can see, the 18th century top hat was sometimes slightly conical, and other times straight-sided, but always of a similar height.

Like much of 1780s high style, it began as a fringe fashion of the aristocracy but was soon adopted as a symbol of revolutionary fervor and plebeian patriotism during the French Revolution and into the 1790s. Here are some photos from the French fashion magazine Journal de la Mode et du Goût, published in 1790-1793.

(An interesting 'bonnet' variant:)

During the years following the Revolution, this magazine walked a fine line, politically, by showcasing both revolutionary and aristocratic fashions, until it was finally shut down during the Reign of Terror. During this dark period, all fashion was seen as suspiciously redolent of upper-class luxury and therefore rejected, even persecuted, by those in power as well as the masses. Ironically, the Revolution, which was supposedly initiated to assist the common worker, put untold thousands out of work as the textile and garment industries in France were starved out of business by the death or defection of the rich, while those left standing were afraid to buy the kind of goods that would keep France's most important industries going. Such an un-French state of affairs couldn't last for long, though, and the French fashion industry started to rebuild itself in the latter part of the decade, reaching ascendancy again in the 19th century.

But, back to hats.

This form of top hat remained popular through the early 19th century, until the beginning of the Romantic Period (starting about 1815), when it began to slowly evolve into the shorter top hat shape we're more familiar with today.

Being a history geek, when I decided to have some custom hats blocks made last fall, I knew I needed to have a Regency Top Hat block. I had decided to have some mini blocks made, slightly smaller than 'normal' size, and had a tall top hat crown made that fits with either a tightly rolled brim (like a derby or a later 19th century top hat), or a slightly flatter narrow brim. Here's how they turned out.

Conformateur and Formillion!

Somebody is selling a conformateur and formillion set on ebay right now!

These antique hat-making tools are used to measure heads and shape hats for precise sizing when making very hard hats, like old style top hats and bowlers.

This set is in beautiful condition. I'm a sucker for old-school mechanical stuff, so they're total eye candy to me.

There's more information on how these are used in the classic hat-making manual Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating by Henry L. Ermatinger, Hatter. A chapter starting on page 81 has photos and instructions for the use of these tools.

Master woodworker Mark DeCou has branched out into making hatter's tools- check out his interesting page on the restoration of these fascinating machines.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hat Making Inspiration - Sewing Patterns Part 3

A few more sewing patterns with hats on them! For even more, see my flickr page.

This on is my favorite of the group, I just won it on ebay:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kettle Curl Cowboy

I'm ramping up to start making men's hats, I hope to bring a line of them out in the fall, but one needs a lot more equipment to make them than is needed for women's millinery. It's a good thing I'm a gear hound! Can't get enough tools. In reality, that may be part of the attraction for me...

There are all these great, fussy tools to make different kinds of brim curls and rolls, and names for each of the shapes you can make, but there's not much information out there about what they're supposed to look like, exactly. I just did an image search for the term 'kettle roll', a brim edge treatment, to see if I could get a picture of it. This awesome photo came up.