A top hat (also called a high hat, a cylinder hat, or a topper) is a tall, flat-crowned hat for men traditionally associated with formal wear in Western dress codes, meaning white tie, morning dress, or frock coat. Traditionally made of black silk or sometimes grey, the top hat emerged in Western fashion by the end of the 18th century. Although it declined by the time of the counterculture of the 1960s, it remains a formal fashion accessory. A collapsible variant of a top hat, developed in the 19th century, is known as an opera hat.
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 and uncle Sam in the United States. Furthermore, ever since the famous “Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat” of Louis Comte in 1814, the top hat remains associated with hat tricks and stage magic costumes.
History of the top hat
According to fashion historians, the top hat may have descended directly from the Sugarloaf (Capotain) hat; otherwise, it is difficult to establish provenance for its creation. Gentlemen began to replace the tricorne with the top hat at the end of the 18th century; a painting by Charles Vernet of 1796, Un Incroyable, shows a French dandy (one of the Incroyables et Merveilleuses) with such a hat.
Within 30 years top hats had become popular with all social classes, with even workmen wearing them. At that time those worn by members of the upper classes were usually made of felted beaver fur; the generic name “stuff hat” was applied to hats made from various non-fur felts. The hats became part of the uniforms worn by policemen and postmen (to give them the appearance of authority); since these people spent most of their time outdoors, their hats were topped with black oilcloth. (See Top hat entry in Wikipedia)
According to Neil Steinberg the author of : Hatless Jack : the president, the fedora and the death of the hat:
It was worn without self-consciousness for acentury—from around 1805 to about 1905—by ordinary men: police officers and cabdrivers and shop clerks hoping someday to be owners. Then men gradually drew away from
it, first damning the hat as hideous and uncomfortable, then as somehow morally suspect. The top hat accumulated its own symbolic baggage, becoming a totem of extravagant wealth or the extreme of elegance. The tall silk hat became an image, one so strong that it drove the hat right out of fashion and into costume, worn with sincerity only by the two segments of society whose magnified joy makes them impervious to how they actually appear: teenagers attending proms and grooms on their wedding day.
The top hat arrived in Europe along with the dawn of the nineteenth century, replacing the cocked hat, or what is thought of as the tricornered hat of the Revolutionary War.