Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


Leave a comment

The Top Hat of E.J. Lennox, Architect of Old City Hall

By Amanda Memme

The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection owns five top hats – quite a few, I thought, for this type of accessory. One top hat stood out among the rest (FRC2014.07.091 A-J). This hat was housed in a luxurious hard-shell case of leather and canvas that had been stencilled with the initials E.J.L.T. Not only was this top hat in relatively pristine condition (considering its age), but the case also contained other items: three shirt collar stocks, two well-worn pairs of fine leather gloves, a silk tie and two velvet cushions.

IMG_8576

E.J.L.T. Canvas and leather top hat case 2014.07.091 B, Photo by Amanda Memme

Who would go to such lengths to label this item and what do the letters represent? Also, what is the significance of the additional contents of the box? These questions exemplify individualization of the hat itself.

Individualization of the item describes the “de-commoditization” of a thing according to Igor Kopytoff’s seminal essay “The Cultural Biography of Things.” According to Kopytoff, in capitalist and non-capitalist societies alike, things may be endowed with value; and with value, objects become tradable. If an item’s ability to be traded is what commodifies it, its individualization – through purchase or trade, and hence, ownership – is what changes its status to that of a ‘non-commodity’. He writes: “Such singularization is sometimes extended to things that are normally commodities – in effect, commodities are singularized by being pulled out of their usual commodity sphere” (74). As such, I was curious to uncover who owned this well-kept hat, and forgo its commodity biography in favour of studying its life as a singularized possession.

IMG_8554

Silk plush top hat FRC2014.07.091 A, Photo by Amanda Memme

While I analyzed the hat’s physical attributes using Ingrid Mida’s checklists from her book The Dress Detective, Ingrid told me that E.J.L.T. are initials of Edward James Lennox (1854-1933), an architect of notable Toronto landmarks, including Old City Hall and Casa Loma.

E.J._Lennox_1885

E.J. Lennox courted clients that were elite members of society including Henry Pellatt, for whom he designed Casa Loma, and George Gooderham, for whom he revamped the King Edward Hotel. This information is relevant in discussing the particular biography of my object because, not only does it illuminate an enigmatic physical signifier, but also, ownership of an item gives it different meaning than it had as a homogenized commodity. Kopytoff writes: “In the homogenized world of commodities, an eventful biography of things becomes the story of various singularizations of it” (90). Hence, had this hat been owned by another person, its biography would differ greatly. Perhaps Lennox even wore the top hat and accessories for one of the events related to the opening of these Toronto landmarks. Suddenly, through Ingrid’s revelation, my subject transcended its likely status as a dress artifact – useful for the study of material culture  – and became a “precious Toronto relic,” as Adjunct Professor Janna Eggebeen pointed out.

Aside from the initials stencilled on its carrying case, other notable physical attributes of Lennox’s hat include its relatively good condition. Considering its age, the exterior shows minor deterioration, and mostly along the inside of the brim. This fact, as well as the other formal items included in the box (the collar stocks, leather gloves and tie) suggest the hat was likely reserved for occasions of significance. Folledore notes the emblematic significance of the top hat in formal occasions:

The hat continued, of course, to be a simple, practical way of protecting the head against adverse weather conditions, but it was also used more and more as a way of expressing complex messages heavy with meaning. The [top] hat, like a royal crown, definitely had an emblematic function, since it was a clear statement of virility, and a means of pleasing…respect… (Folledore 25)

The preservation of the hat suggests that it was carefully handled by subsequent owners (see curator’s note below). I believe this reinforces the sentiment that the hat is a precious item with known historical and geographic importance. Adding to this rich significance is the hat’s materiality.

The hat is tall, flat-topped, with an elegant up-turned brim and a flared cylindrical shape. It comprises rigid material covered with different silks – the black exterior, by Ingrid’s assessment, is silk plush. The upturned brim is covered with smooth, black silk and altogether, the exterior is finished with a ribbon.

IMG_8562

Inside of top hat 2014.07.091 A, Photo by Amanda Memme

The interior is covered in cream silk and contains a leather sweatband where the crown meets the interior brim. This is the part which would rest on the head when worn. The natural medium brown of the leather is stained darker by oils from a forehead – leaving a lasting imprint of the legendary wearer. The leather is branded on both sides with a maker’s mark. The overall choices in materials are luxurious, and the format non-utilitarian. These two aspects of its materiality suggest the item is of a ‘special’ type – what Kopytoff would refer to as from “the sphere of prestige items” (71).

Further illuminating this symbol of power is another, singular detail: a third maker’s mark, in the centre of the crown, printed on the cream silk lining. The mark consists of the manufacturer’s name – Henry Heath Limited – surrounded by the British emblem and text which reads “By Warrant to His Majesty the King.” This detail comprises what is known as a Royal Warrant – a distinction granted to tradespeople who supply the British Monarch and whose manufacturing upholds high standards. The warrant gives status to the maker and its products, and in turn to its owner.

At what upon first glance seemed an innocuous men’s top hat, proved to be anything but. The material evidence suggests that it was owned by a wealthy individual of power, was worn for select occasions and subsequently taken care of. Upon deeper research, the signifiers which led to this assessment were illuminated by Ingrid’s revelation of the name of its former owner. Its relative importance is also relevant in the context of Ryerson’s Fashion Research Collection. Although another hat top from the collection is also stored in a very similar leather case, most others were stored in cardboard boxes, not necessarily original to the hat. As shown by the photo below, their conditions starkly contrast with that of the Lennox hat.

IMG_8568 2

Top Hats in the Ryerson FRC February 2017, Photo by Amanda Memme

What does this reveal? It reveals that, although these items once existed in the same “commodity sphere,” to quote Kopytoff, their post-commodity biographies are vastly different. The signifiers of the other hats say something about their histories, each unique from the others. The hats do share one thing in common, and that is their current biographies, since they have all become further singularized as artifacts belonging to the university.

In every society, there are things that are publicly precluded from being commoditized…This applies to much of what one thinks of as the symbolic inventory of a society: public lands, monuments, state art collections, the paraphernalia of political power, royal residencies, chiefly insignia, ritual objects, and so on. Power often asserts itself symbolically precisely by insisting on the right to singularize an object, or a set or class of objects (Kopytoff 73).

As such, E.J. Lennox’s top hat is totally de-commoditized because, for one thing, it is part of a research collection as an artifact. For another, its viability to return to the commodity sphere has long diminished, as Kopytoff would point out, because it is no longer a fashionable item. Though it will no longer impart status on a wearer, it will, as part of a collection, connote power of the university. As long as it exists, the hat and accesories will provide an educational opportunity and a glimpse of the past. Of course, E.J. Lennox’s legacy of monumental buildings certainly far exceeds his top hat, but his top hat is significant because it humanizes him.

Amanda Memme is a graduate student in the MA Fashion Program at Ryerson University. This post was condensed and edited by Ingrid Mida.

Curator’s Note:

This top hat came into Ryerson University’s possession in 2014 via the donation of the Suddon-Cleaver Collection. Alan Suddon’s records indicated that it was given to him by Mary Gooderham. This fact is interesting since Gooderham was a client of Lennox, but there is no further information on that aspect of its provenance.

Works Cited:

Eggebeen, Janna. Personal Interview. 9 March 2017.

Folledore, Giuliano. Men’s Hats. Modena, Italy, Zanfi Editori, 1989.

Kopytoff, Igor. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” The Social Life of Things, 1986, pp. 64–92.

Mida, Ingrid, and Alexandra Kim. The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. London, Bloomsbury, 2015.

Mida, Ingrid. Personal Interview. 27 February 2017.


Leave a comment

The Enduring Fedora

By Millie Yates

The fedora hat was named after a character in the Sardou play in which it first appeared in 1882 (“Fedora”). How fitting that a hat designed for the stage should be re-interpreted by a theatrical millinery designer like Philip Treacy. Traditionally the fedora was a hat worn by men, but later in the 20th century the fedora was fashioned for women in brighter colours and with an upturned brim for an air of femininity (Peck, “The History of the Fedora”). The object I have chosen to study is a woman’s gray felted fedora by Philip Treacy (FRC 2009.01.402). The beauty of this hat lies in its inexplicable delicacy. A warm, woollen hat such as this (in an oversized shape, no less) should by definition appear bulky. Yet the talented Treacy has made such a hat look as light as air.

Gray fedora felted wool hat with two brown clipper feathers. By Phillip Treacy. C. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.402

Gray fedora felted wool hat with two brown clipper feathers. By Phillip Treacy. FRC 2009.01.402, Gift of Kathleen Kubas.

The first thing to be noticed about this hat is its beautiful soft curves. The round, gently sloping brim is 4’’ (10.16 cm) deep around the hat, with a 1/4’’ (0.635 cm) of topstitching folded up and over the brim towards the sideband of the hat. Based on the appearance of the stitches, it was most likely done by machine. The brim bends upwards gradually towards the back and right side of the hat, peaking at 2 1/4’’ inches (5.715 cm) at the right back of the brim.

The sideband of the hat was blocked in a fedora-style, though the shape has been exaggerated in a number of ways. At its highest point, the sideband of the hat sits at 6’’ (15.24 cm). This peak is on the opposite side of the peak of the hat’s brim, creating a balance within the accessory. The sideband is slightly dented in a number of areas, most notably at left centre-front, right centre-front and left centre-back. These dents look intentional and there are no apparent signs that they were created by the wearer.

The crown of the hat is one of its most interesting attributes. Blocked on a teardrop-shaped hat block, the crown is built up 1 1/4’’ (3.175 cm) along the sides and then sharply dips into the teardrop shape.  All of Treacy’s blocks are handmade by Lorenzo Ré in Paris (Davies 126). The point of the teardrop points slightly off-centre, creating a pretty asymmetry that would frame the face of the wearer. Asymmetry is not uncommon in millinery, as angles that parallel those of the face tend to appear too harsh and geometric when worn (Dreher 12).

A beautiful blue-gray  band curves around where the brim meets the sideband at 3 1/2’’ wide (8.89 cm) for the majority of its length. This appears to be a dyed replica of a Cobra snakeskin. Like the crown of the hat, the band of skin is slightly off-centre. It narrows considerably towards the front left side, where the skin overlaps and is secured with a skin-covered button. The skin folds in three places where it narrows towards the left centre front of the hat, creating an interesting texture with the skin. Tucked between where the skin overlaps are two clipper feathers that lean on a low angle towards the left side of the hat. The feathers are mostly brown and white, and these two colours pick up on the lighter nap of the wool and the darker scales of the skin. At their widest point they are about 2 3/4’’ wide (6.985) but narrow dramatically to a fine point at their tips. The feathers extend approximately 8-9’’ (20.32-22.86 cm) from the hat. The feathers contribute significantly to the delicate air of the hat, giving it lightness and a touch of whimsy.

Gray fedora felted wool hat with two brown clipper feathers. By Phillip Treacy. C. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.402

Detail of band on gray fedora felted wool hat with two brown clipper feathers by Phillip Treacy. FRC 2009.01.402

The wool of the hat has a long luxurious nap that has been brushed in a counter-clockwise direction. It is made from rabbit wool. The colour of the wool is a blue-gray. Its texture is soft and plush, and one could imagine that this would be a very warm hat. This hat was most likely intended for wear in a cooler climate or season. The felt is thick, and would be too hot for the summer.

The inside of the hat is lined with a blue silk satin with a gold piping at the crown. A stretchy Petersham ribbon circles the head size collar. Treacy’s logo is stamped where the lining touches the crown, and in a label at the centre-back of the hat. There is a content label that reads “100% Poils de Lapin” which is French for “100% rabbit hair”.

The hat is in very good condition. The only apparent damage is one small, circular dent on the right sideband just above the skin band. Felted hats may not be worn during humid or wet weather, because they are heat-set and moisture can cause the blocked shape to wilt. The edges and curves of the hat are still very sharp, and the feathers do not appear to be bent or distorted in any way.

A number of sensory reactions occurred to me when viewing and handling this hat. The first was my reaction to the texture. The softness of the hat is felt before even touching the hat’s plush surface. The thickness of the felt looks compressible, as though if it were squeezed it would bounce back. The juxtaposition of the soft rabbit hair next to the scaly, sleek snakeskin is eye-catching. It is interesting that Treacy has used entirely natural fiber and skins in his design: from the rabbit felt, to the ostrich feathers, to the snakeskin and even the silk lining.

Gray fedora felted wool hat with two brown clipper feathers. By Phillip Treacy. C. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.402

Gray fedora felted wool hat with two brown clipper feathers. By Phillip Treacy. C.  FRC 2009.01.402

The balance of shapes and weight within the form of the hat is another hallmark of Treacy’s work. He always works in front of a mirror when creating his forms because to him, mirrors tell the absolute truth about a design. He has said: “If something is off, I need to be able to see it, and then I can spot millimetres from miles away…I believe in that millimetre” (Davies 38).

Drawing of Philip Treacy hat detail FRC 2009.01.402 by Millie Yates Drawing of Philip Treacy hat FRC 2009.01.402 by Millie Yates

Drawing of Philip Treacy hat detail by Millie Yates FRC 2009.01.402

This hat was worn by Kathleen Kubas who loved wearing hats and was known as ‘The Hat Lady’ in Toronto. After she passed away, her family donated over 300 hats to the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. Her hat collection included other top millinery labels like Stephen Jones, Oscar de la Renta, Bentley Tomlin, and Eric Javits.

Light brown felted Breton trimmed with Mongolian sheep fur, resulting in a halo-like effect. By Oscar de la Renta. C. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.703

Light brown felted Breton trimmed with Mongolian sheep fur, resulting in a halo-like effect. By Oscar de la Renta. ca. Post 2000 – 2008. FRC 2009.01.703, Gift of Kathleen Kubas.

 

Black Mad-hatter women's hat with silk flowers and fur-like feathers. By Philip Treacy. C. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.512

Black Mad-hatter women’s hat with silk flowers and fur-like feathers. By Philip Treacy. ca. Post 2000-2008. FRC 2009.01.512. Gift of Kathleen Kubas

 

Black velvet beret. Black veil with chenille spotted and black rhinestone details. Veil is full face with two long trains. By Kokin New York. C. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.488

Black velvet beret. Black veil with chenille spotted and black rhinestone details. Veil is full face with two long trains. By Kokin New York. ca. Post 2000. FRC 2009.01.488. Gift of Kathleen Kubas.

Her affinity for the fedora style of hat is evidenced by a number of other hats in this style made in different colours and materials like a pink satin fedora (FRC 2009.01.03) and a cheetah-print rabbit wool felt hat (FRC 2009.01.405), also by Treacy . The cheetah-print hat in particular bears a striking resemblance to the gray fedora. Its crown is blocked in a similar tear-drop shape, its sideband is circled by trim and its brim turns up towards the back of the hat. It even shares the same navy-blue lining! The pink satin fedora provides an interesting contrast. Made entirely of a hot-pint satin, this hat is smaller in size than the felt has but shares the upturned brim towards the back of the hat. Its brim is circled with topstitching every 3/16’’ (0.47625 cm). Its lining is equally as bold as its exterior, with a vibrant butterfly pattern in black, pink, orange, blue and green. The classic fedora is an enduring shape in Treacy’s work, fashioned differently from collection to collection. At one time, hats were an essential part of everyday dress. This change in fashion has meant that contemporary milliners like Philip Treacy can treat their designs as exciting challenges and opportunities for new innovations.

The majority of Philip Treacy’s designs today retail upwards of $1000, and his couture pieces often sell for much more. Treacy’s work is favoured by royalty and popular-culture royalty alike. He has designed for Grace Jones, Lady Gaga, Camilla Bowles and created 36 hats for the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate. Born in Ireland, Treacy studied at London’s Royal College of Art and graduated in 1990. His eye-catching designs quickly rose the young designer to fame. Though he is primarily known for his namesake line, Treacy also designs for many established couture houses in Europe, such as Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Alexander McQueen. In the millinery world of today, Treacy’s name is ubiquitous.

Drawing of Philip Treacy hat FRC 2009.01.402 by Millie Yates

Drawing of Philip Treacy hat by Millie Yates FRC 2009.01.402

The colour palette of the hat is elegant and natural, but it is its design that is most intriguing. Treacy does not create ordinary hats; it is the sharp shaping, smooth curves and dramatic feathers in this particular design that command attention. It is this touch of originality imbued in even his most classic pieces that makes Treacy’s work so remarkable.

References

Davies, Kevin, and Philip Treacy. Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies. Berlin: Phaidon, 2013. Print.

Dreher, Denise. From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking. Minneapolis, MN: Madhatter, 1981. Print.

“Fedora.” The Berg Fashion Library. The Berg Fashion Library, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. <http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bdfh/bdfh-div13290.xml&gt;.

Hopkins, Susie. “Milliners.” The Berg Fashion Library. The Berg Fashion Library, 2005. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. <http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bazf/bazf00399.xml&gt;.

Peck, Jamie. “The History of the Fedora.” Broadly RSS. N.p., 01 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.

Phillips, Tom. Women & Hats: Vintage People on Photo Postcards. Oxford: U of Oxford, 2010. Print.

Philip Treacy Website. http://www.philiptreacy.co.uk/

Philip Treacy Millinery. Perf. Philip Treacy. Victoria and Albert Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/videos/p/video-philip-treacy-millinery&gt;.


Leave a comment

A Cherry red Men’s Ceremonial Cap

by Kate O’Reilly

One of the more unusual men’s hats in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is a cherry red men’s cap with a gold emblem, gold buttons, and gold braid. The name of the owner, Clarence B. Shulenberger, is embroidered on the inside. There are no associated records or documentation within the FRC related to the donation of this hat in 1993.

Men's cherry red cap FRC1993.08.059

Men’s cherry red cap
FRC1993.08.059

The hat measures 32 cm in diameter and 7.5 cm in height. It is constructed primarily by machine stitching, with a seam at the center-back of the crown. The cap has a cherry red self-fabric, which has the sheen of silk but perhaps the texture of acetate polyester.

The base of the cap is adorned with a 3.5 cm wide decorative band made up of two gold ribbons, encasing a series of nine ruby red braids. Two 1cm wide gold buttons adorn either side of the base of the crown. The buttons have a decorative motif containing a double-headed eagle perched atop a flag with a coat of arms on its chest with one crown above the heads. A gold braided chinstrap is knotted around the gold buttons, and is 37.5cm in length.

Emblem on front of cap FRC1993.08.059

Emblem on front of cap
FRC1993.08.059

An emblem adorns the center front of the cap, and measures 5 cm in height and 4.5 cm in width. The emblem consists of an embroidered Celtic-style cross, made from a metal composite and threaded using a couching technique. In the center of the emblem is a green, embroidered tree surrounded by yellow, hand embroidered text reading “K.T. Comm Court of Honour”.

The cap is lined in a yellow lining that has the sheen of satin but appears to also be a polyester material and made from a twill weave. A 4.25 cm wide brown painted canvas band, made to imitate a leather band, lines the base of the inside of the cap, and is whip stitched into place. The lining is whip stitched into place underneath the canvas band with black thread and lengthy stitches.

Name of owner Embroidered inside cap FRC1993.08.059

Name of owner Embroidered inside cap
FRC1993.08.059

The owners’ name, Clarence B. Shulenberger, is embroidered on the inside of the cap. A 1.75cm x 15.25cm red polyester ribbon is centered on the inside top of the cap and the name is embroidered with a chain stitch in cursive writing. There is a narrow line of padding on the inside of the crown, between self-fabric and lining. The padding runs the lengths of the name inscription and measures 5.5 cm wide and 15.5cm in length.

CONDITION

There is tarnishing along edge of the metal composite emblem and small areas of discoloration on the self-fabric. As well, the gold buttons are tarnished on raised areas. The yellow chinstrap has a greyed appearance, likely caused by dust and dirt. The decorative band encasing the base of the crown also has an overall greyed discoloration, but appears to be more uniform. The ribbons in the band may contain a metal composite that is causing a more uniform aging. On the inside lining there are dark sweat/dirt stains along the top and front where the hat would touch the head and forehead. As well, there are small patches where the lining has been worn in areas. On the inside of the crown are wet stains with a patina color, located next to where the gold buttons are attached with metal wire. The canvas band is losing its paint and is peeking through in areas. As well, the canvas is frayed along the base of the crown.

Detail of braid FRC1993.08.059

Detail of braid
FRC1993.08.059

ANALYSIS

Based on the decorative nature and the considerable wear of this cap, it is likely that this hat was used for ceremonial purposes.  The large emblem placed at the center-front of the crown includes a Celtic cross and appears to be associated with the Scottish Rite style. The emblem, color combination, details and Scottish Rite style is in keeping with the design of the Masonic Lodge’s current cap and emblem that is used by the group today.

The name embroidered on the inside of the cap may be associated with a Clarence B. Shulenberger from North Carolina. He was registered with the Raleigh Lodge #500 Freemasons, located in North Carolina. Mr. Shulenberger was a Grand Master Mason and was registered with Raleigh Lodge #500 in 1939, 1942 and again on November 4, 1961 in The Rosicrucian Fama as a Frater of the Eight Grade. The hat could date anywhere in between that span of time.

There are a number of sources that were consulted to consider the possible owner of the cap, as well as where and for what the cap was used for. Some of the most promising sources include the website of Raleigh Lodge #500, Ancestry.ca, a journal (#23) from The Rosicrucian Fama dated January 1962, a book called The History of Royal Arch Masonry Part Three where Mr. Shulenberger is mentioned.

Note: This post has been edited by Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida.

Kate O’Reilly is a fourth year Communications Student at Ryerson University School of Fashion. She worked as an assistant to Collection Co-ordinator Ingrid Mida in Summer 2013.


Leave a comment

The Bowler Hat

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

Hats can serve as a signifier of status as well as a functional purpose. The bowler, which was the first hard, round-crowned hat for men, was ordered in the 1850 by an Englishman by the name of William Coke, who apparently requested it to avoid having to continually replace his gamekeeper’s soft hats that were so easily damaged. Originally called a Coke hat by Lock’s of St. James who designed the hat for Mr. Coke, over time it came to be known as the bowler (or the derby in the United States) and is considered one of the most successful and enduring hats ever designed.

Men's Bowler Hat FRC1986.09.007

Men’s Bowler Hat
FRC1986.09.007

This men’s felted wool bowler hat (FRC1986.09.007) carries the label of Churchill & Co. Marlborough St London inside the crown. It is dated to approximately 1900 and the felted wool is tearing at brim. It was well worn by its owner as the leather lining is heavily aged from wear.

Cabinet Card (Bowler Hat)007

In this undated cabinet card by photographer Geo. A. Snider of Brantford, Ontario, Charles Taylor is dressed in a dark wool suit. The jacket has piping on the edges and a small pocket square is visible in the upper pocket. He stands holding his bowler hat in his right hand. Mr. Taylor is probably a country farmer, dressed in his Sunday best. His jacket is more finely tailored than his pants, and the open jacket and awkward pose suggests that this is likely the first time he has had his photograph taken. This cabinet card (FRC2002.04.348) has gold edging along one-side and has been trimmed, perhaps to fit in a frame. The date is estimated to be approximately 1885, when such mounts were popular.


Leave a comment

Of Hats and History

By Ingrid Mida, Collection Co-ordinator

Black sinamay cartwheel hat with asymmetrical brim with draped black mesh. Miss Jones by Stephen Jones FRC2009.01.608

Black sinamay cartwheel hat with asymmetrical brim with draped black mesh.
Miss Jones by Stephen Jones
FRC2009.01.608

Hats are one of the most visible means to signal power, class, status, belonging and/or conformity to modes of dress. After all, for centuries kings and queens wore crowns to signal their power and dynastic position and their servants would be required to remove their hat in their presence to demonstrate their subservience.  Hats can also convey emotional states (mourning) or marital status (bridal veils). Although hats, outside of ones worn as part of a uniform or religious affiliation, are now generally worn as optional accessories to convey personality or as a form of fashionable ornamentation, it was once considered unseemly for a refined gentleman or woman to appear in public without a hat. Like other dress artifacts, hats reflect the social and cultural attitudes of their period.

In terms of fashion history, we as Canadians often overlook the fact that the fashion for men’s hats created out of beaver felts was an important part of the history and the settlement of this country. Felt was made out of animal hairs and the highest quality hats were made out of beaver pelts. Felt hats were once called “beavers” and signaled that the wearer was rich.  The purchase of such a hat was a costly proposition because demand for beaver pelts greatly surpassed the supply. One of the oldest companies in the world, the Hudson’s Bay Company, was founded in 1670, exporting furs from Canada to meet European demand.

This quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes conveys the respect for the quality of Canadian furs:”Wear a good hat, the secret of your looks/Lies with the beaver in Canadian brooks.”

The beaver hat was in high demand until the 19th century when the silk topper became the mark of status.

FRC_Hats_1991.02.005_FRT_Web

Felted top hat with 3 cm black grosgrain hatband. Forest green silk brim lining and patent leather and cream silk crown lining. Late 19th c. Label: Christy’s London. FRC1995.02.005

The  Ryerson Fashion Research Collection has only one top hat (FRC1995.02.005). This Victorian top hat with 3 cm black grosgrain hatband is made of a felted animal hair. It has a forest green silk brim lining and patent leather and cream silk lining and has a label from Christy’s London. The crown is dented and the lining is coming apart inside the crown. The grosgrain is worn and browning, indicating that it was well-worn.  It is likely from the late 19th century and made of rabbit fur. The hat interior crown has the signature of the owner in pencil on the interior “H. Fitzgerald”.

Although the collection has very few men’s hats, we have more than 500 women’s hats, including many by milliner’s like Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, Eric Javits and others. Our hat room is an aspiring milliner’s dream. Visit our Pinterest site to see a small sampling of our hat collection.

Further reading:

Folledore, Giulliano. Men’s Hats. Modena: Zanft Editions, 1989.

Hopkins, Susie. The Century of Hats. London: Aurum Press, 1999.

Jones, Stephen. Hats: An Anthology. London: V&A Publications, 2009.

Langley, Susan. Vintage Hats & Bonnets, 1770-1970. Paducah: Collector Books, 1998.

McDowell, Colin. Hats: Status, Style and Glamour. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.