Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Odd Things: Woven Tophats

Some time ago, a rather unusual accessory came up for discussion on the HSM group....a top hat, woven of walebone (baleen) and rattan, from the Swedish Museum (made in Stockholm).  So I decided to take a look around and see if I could find more examples; I did.  No others of those particular materials, but several examples woven out of straw, or even willow.  Oddly enough, I'm not finding anything written on them--don't know why.  Neither could I find any fashion plates that /may/ depict them (and no, searching for summer fashions didn't work).

1805.  Met Museum

This particular style of hat seems to show up rather early in the 19th century--the earliest example I have yet found is from 1805 and is black dyed straw, and they appear to phase out in the '40s.  The majority of examples I see are a more naturally coloured straw, suitable for wearing in the summer heat.

1840s, Met Museum
Stylistically, they appear to copy the current style of silk or beaver topper--perhaps even being shaped on the same hat blocks after being woven more or less to shape.  However, straw--not particularly interesting; even now, straw hats aren't uncommon.

Whalebone and Cane.  Made in Stockholm, Sweden.
Therefore let's move to the one which caught my interest: A Swedish made topper from between 1820 and 1840, crafted of whalebone (baleen), and rattan.  Rattan!  At least that is what a cursory translate provided as the definition for the word "rotting"--looking deeper I found that it also translates as cane; a plant which is much broader in area, and the Arundo genus is at least native to Southern Europe.  Plus, the term tends to be colloquially used for any similar grass (perhaps one of my Swedish readers might elaborate on native possibilities?).  Happily, this ended my confusion on why a hat made in Stockholm was made with an exotic material. 
Looking closely at this particular hat, you can see that it was woven with a fairly basic tabby type weave (I do textiles, not basketry...), with the cane serving as the verticals and the thin strips of baleen woven between them.

1810-20 Willow Hat. MFA  Boston.
The other is an earlier, French, example which is described as being woven of willow.  However, judging by the fineness of the visible fibers, it may have a willow base and is actually woven in straw--look for yourself (the museum page zooms in quite well).  Regardless, it has rather elegant lines with that smooth transition to the top.  The museum also notes that it is lined in silk--presumably, this is fairly standard in the style, since several other museum entries make note of it.

French, 1820-40.  MFA Boston.
Then there is this mad fellow, with its deeply curved brim and wide flaring top.  Made entirely of straw, you can see it appears to have gotten slightly crushed during normal wear--presumably this is why the prior hat was based on willow.

Germanisches Nationalmuseum
And one last example, chosen mainly because of the attractively woven pattern of the top.  This one is from the '20s, and is a German example (or at least resides in a German museum).

1885, Met Museum

Ok....I lied.  One more one last example, this time for the ladies.  One of the few--the only one yet, actually--which is labeled as definitely being of American make.  I'm gathering that this is also a miniature version, a kind of fascination to perch on the lady's hair, since the measurement given is 12" in diameter.

Hope you enjoyed--as always, feel free to discuss or give more resources in the comments below.

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.