Topper: Otherwise called the top hat, a high-crowned, cylindrical men’s hat in silk or beaver
London hatmaker John Hetherington incited a riot with his wondrous shellacked top hat in 1797, “a tall structure having a shiny lustre calculated to frighten timid people,” according to one report. “Several women fainted at the unusual sight, children screamed, dogs yelled, and the younger son of a cordwinder, Thomas, who was returning from the chandler’s shop, was thrown down by the crowd which was collected, and his right arm was broken.” The authorities charged Heatherington with breach of the peace and he was fined £500.
Shocking as it once was, however, Hetherington’s creation—called a stovepipe, high hat, or topper—became ubiquitous by the middle of the nineteenth century, worn by aristocrats, bourgeois strivers, and even stylish three-year-old boys. In fashionable Hyde Park, a long row of men in top hats and frock coats leaned on the railings of the bridle path each day, looking like “a flock of birds which had settled on a telegraph wire,” as aesthete Ralph Nevill (1865–1930) put it. The topper was a mysterious, nearly surrealistic symbol of well-dressed anonymity.
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