M980.37.2 | Top hat
1892, 19th century
Gift of Mrs. Mariette O'Shea and Mrs. Gabrielle O'Shea
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Hat (75)
Keys to History
Until well into the 20th century, almost all men wore some form of headgear outdoors, but not just for protection from the weather. No matter what the style, hats also conferred a degree of dignity, distinction and individuality.
The proper wearing of hats was governed by strict rules of etiquette and social convention. The silk top hat, for example, was considered indispensable with evening dress and a frock coat, correct with a morning coat and completely unacceptable with a sack suit. The wealthy industrialist in his top hat or the labourer in his flat cap tipped his hat or doffed it as a sign of deference or respect. Only a very rude man would wear his hat indoors.
Within these rules, hats, like other clothing, were subject to the whims of fashion. The curl of the brim, the height of the crown or the colourful band on a summer straw hat individualized men's headwear.
This 1890s top hat, of delicate silk plush rather than fur felt, required careful upkeep to maintain its glossy appearance. Properly cared for, a top hat would last many years.
The label of the Montreal hatter, Lorge and Co., appears inside the hat on the inner headband.
Although introduced a century earlier as a form of "crash helmet" for horseback riding, the top hat became the most common form of daytime headdress by the mid-1900s. After World War I, it was worn almost exclusively in the evening and on very formal daytime occasions.
For the well-dressed man of fashion, the top hat was indispensable. No other style of hat was acceptable with evening dress.