silk hats

The Silk hat … has become co-extensive with civilisation’ (Encyclopaedia Britannia 1911, vol. VIII, p. 61)

Silk hats were made from the end of the 18th century. They were made of a body of felt or calico or buckram, covered in silk plush.

Silk plush was invented in Florence in 1760. It consists of a flat pile of strands of silk, about 5mm long (longer than velvet), attached to a cotton back-cloth. It was attached to a hat made of felt or buckram and brushed to make it smooth and shiny and to cover the joints between the fabric.

Vast numbers of men’s silk top hats were made during the 19th century, and it appears that hundreds of women’s Welsh hats were made of the same materials between about 1840 and 1880. They were light, waterproof, but difficult to repair.

SILK HATS are of different qualities, bearing different names, according to the quality of the body or the plush with which the bodies are covered, viz., Paris, French, or Satin-napped Hats, Imitation ditto, or Velvet-napped Hats, Gossamer Hats and Imitation Gossamers; the bodies of the Satin-napped Hats are usually composed of Felted Wool and Rabbit Fur, or calico or Linen stiffened with waterproof varnish, can be purchased from 12s. to 16s., and in some instances as high as 20s.; and are a very good article when well made, and particularly when made on felted bodies; they more closely resemble the Beaver and are not so liable as inferior qualities of Beaver to become rough with the heat of the sun; they are judged in the same way as the Beaver, by their firmness and elasticity, beauty of colour and finish. The Imitation Paris, or Velvet-napped Hare—the bodies are made of similar materials to the French, the covering of plush is chiefly manufactured in England, and when well-made they closely resemble the Short-napped Beaver, and are not inferior to them in point of durability or appearance they range in price from 7s to 12s
The common or GOSSAMER HAT is so called in consequence of the body being made of calico, stiffened with varnish, and the plush or covering of an inferior quality of English manufacture to the former; they range in price from 5s. to 7s., and when well-made usually wear well but there is also a spurious imitation of this article the public would do well to guard against, the bodies being made of Willow, Chip, or Straw, which, as a stiffening in itself, is cheaper than those bodies which require to be stiffened with varnish; the plush is usually stuck on with paste or glue, and are in every respect as bad an article as the glue- stiffened Plate; they are easily detected by the purchaser lifting up the lining, when the Willow, Chip, or Straw will appear; sometimes the inside of the Willow body is covered with thin muslin, but on close examination the trick is easily detected but in all cases it is better to purchase from the Hat Manufacturer, whose character as a fair trader, ability as a Manufacturer, and willingness to explain to any Purchaser the nature of the materials of which his Goods are composed, cannot fail to secure the confidence of an enlightened people.
Monmouthshire Merlin, 19.8.1843