A Century of Top Hats

Last Sunday I was in Highgate Woods when I encountered a man with straight, waist length hair wearing an elaborate turquoise brocade coat. He was wheeling a large suitcase along the path:

He was also sporting a rather psychedelic top hat. I found out he was a magician and had just performed at a children’s party:

This brought to mind another much older wizard-like figure that I’d come across queuing in a coffee shop in New Orleans’ French Quarter a couple of years ago:

I realised I’d amassed quite a few images images featuring top hats so have curated a selection of my favourites. They span from traditional top hats to tall hats with brims that have caught my attention.

From an older wizard to a young girl seen on the London Underground in the summer of 2017:

More photographs featuring tall hats and variations of top hats taken on London transport; the next shot was taken a couple of weeks ago on the Northern Line. I was curious as I thought the tattoo might be a depiction of the author of the Arsène Lupin series of books, Maurice Leblanc. I recently started reading the original stories having watched the French TV series which updates the early 20th century tales to the present day, so I took it to be a serendipitous sign:

Below – a vintage illustration of Arsène Lupin:

By Léo Fontan – Arsène Lupin, Gentleman-Cambrioleur, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68610259

I asked the man about the design of his tattoo and he said he didn’t know who it represented but had been told it might be an old Portuguese writer, which for the UK is even more niche. I’ve whittled it down to two possibilities – the poet Fernando Pessoa who always wore a hat, typically a tall fedora, but had spectacles rather than a monocle, or the more obscure (to me) Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz, a late 19th century writer who is depicted with a top hat, moustache and monocle.

Next, a photograph of a guy in a fluffy top hat decorated with appliqué and buttons, East Finchley Underground platform, 2010:

Busking in London’s Tottenham Court Road tube in 2009, Jean-Claude Madhero, originally from Martinique, sings and plays melodies from The Antilles. I’ve seen Jean-Claude in various top hats and I like the tartan of this one. I don’t know whether it’s a tartan from Martinique – Madras and tartan fabrics have had a complex journey through the African diaspora :

The other week at Gospel Oak Overground I noticed someone dressed all in creamy white wearing a very tall slightly floppy hat, taking a photograph of a subject dressed all in black. There was also a guitar propped against the wall. The photographer’s style to me was reminiscent of Boy George at his most iconic in the 80s.

I then remembered that I still possess a floppy top hat, which can also ‘shrink’ down when folded to resemble a regular bucket hat. There’s a group photo taken at WOMAD where I’m wearing it – probably in the late 80s – but I couldn’t find it. So I photographed myself wearing it in the present day. I’ve chosen this image as the shadow on one side of my face darkens my eye, suggestive of a a monocle. Arsène Lupin meets festival-style:

Despite decluttering I’ve held on to some of my favourite hats. I have a floppy wool cap I bought in Kyoto, Japan in 2016 and at the time photographed the carrier bag it came in:

Below a photograph of a woman at the Venice carnival in 2018, dressed in a steampunk costume complete with top hat and reflective goggles:

The next image was taken at an Anti-Brexit march in London during March 2019. This protester, in his feather-adorned top hat, had plastic percussion instruments to accompany the chanting demanding a people’s vote to hopefully overturn the Government’s decision to leave the European Union:

By way of contrast here’s an old formal photograph of my grandparents, taken by a studio photographer, in which I believe they are marking and celebrating their adopted specifically British identities. In the 1920s my paternal grandparents left Iran for Palestine before settling in the UK in 1928. In this photograph, which judging by the cloche hat dates from that era, shows my grandparents all dressed up. David Aminoff, who I knew as BOBO is in a top hat, has a rose in the lapel of his frock coat and is holding a cane. His wife Dvora aka BIBI is wearing a fur coat – possibly squirrel – accessorised with a clutch bag and cloche hat. They are both wearing leather gloves. I don’t know the occasion and cannot identify the leafy, domestic location. What I find striking is the relishing of an appearance of dapper, British sophistication:

Back to the 21st Century with some photographs I’ve taken of people in top hats on the streets of London. This was taken at Bar Italia in Soho in 2011:

Vintage fox fur and top hat at Portobello Market, 2011:

And finally, from 2019, a different take on Smart Casual in Oxford Circus:


Also published on Medium.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.