I’m so pleased to welcome longtime reader and contributor, Charles (known here as ChicagoChuck), back to Royal Hats, to share a wonderful story connected with his visit to Royal Ascot this year!
Trading in our Toppers
When my partner Bob and I purchased our top hats from Steve in 2012, he mentioned that if we ever wanted to trade them in for a nicer/higher quality top hat, he’d be happy to do that. One of the things I always wondered, however, was what made one better quality than another? Would I be able to notice the difference? Ever since Steve mentioned that idea, I was very interested in the possibility.
Charles’ original antique silk top hat
As we were planning our trip to London in June 2018 that would include three days at Royal Ascot, I set aside time to visit Steve. I contacted him and reminded him of his previous offer – he responded that we were welcome to visit and offered to show us any hats he had and explain the differences between them. Of course, keep in mind that at any given time he has only so many hats in his inventory. Because silk hats have not been manufactured for 60+ years, all the hats he has are older and vary in quality and sizes.
We arrived in London early on the Thursday morning before Ascot and made our way to Steve’s “shop” by early afternoon that same day. Shop is in quotation marks because he basically operates out of a warehouse/garage-type space in East London.Both Steve and another man, Paul, were in his shop (as well as a couple of people who assist Steve in refurbishing hats). Paul is the public-facing person for the enterprise and was preparing to deliver several hats purchased for Royal Ascot. Paul was full of interesting stories, some related to members of the royal family.
Story 1 – Mike Tindall’s silk top hat: Mike Tindall purchased a silk topper a few years ago and it was tricky getting him fitted because he has a large head and there simply aren’t very many silk top hats in larger sizes. They found Mike a hat and he purchased it and wore it a few times. But what happened next shook everyone – at one of the times Mike was wearing his hat he put it on a chair and someone sat on it and flattened it out! Paul isn’t sure if the hat we now see Mike Tindall wearing is the same hat that has been refurbished or another silk topper.
Mike Tindall in black top hats that appear different- Ascot 2017 and Ascot 2015
Story 2 – I also asked about Prince William’s hat – what makes it look like it doesn’t fit him. Steve said the hat’s scale is wrong for Prince William. Because William’s head and face is so narrow he should have a hat that correlates to his face shape, one that is narrower in the body of the hat. He doesn’t know where Prince William obtained his hat but assumes it might be a family hat because he feels that if he’d purchased a hat specifically for himself the hatter would have steered him to a better scaled hat.
The Duke of Cambridge in his short-crowned top hat at Ascot 2017 and Ascot 2016
Story 3 – Both Steve and Paul agreed that Prince Harry seems to not care so much for the top hat outings because they agree that his hat never looks polished with a nice sheen. Maybe the new Duchess will change things for him. *Note – I had this conversation before Royal Ascot and, as many of you probably noticed from Opening Day, Prince Harry’s hat looked a bit more polished than previous wearings. Maybe the new Duchess did tell him to polish his topper!
Duke of Sussex’s hat looking slightly more polished at Ascot 2018 than Ascot 2015
Story 4 – Steve said he worked on the Duke of Edinburgh’s black top hat not too long ago but it was in awful shape and he thinks that’s why he doesn’t seem to wear it as often as he used to. Not going to buy a new one at this point!
Duke of Edinburgh at Ascot in 2016 and a garden party in July 2017. Notice the visible wear under the hatband.
Now back to my story of trading in our hats – Bob went first. Steve actually had two or three hats in Bob’s size that were nicer than his current hat. He pointed out the differences, primarily finer quality silk that, consequently, could be polished to a higher shine. Also, often these old hats have ripples or bumps under the silk that are noticeable. The finest hats are as smooth as silk (pun intended!) with no visible marks or ripples. Bob found himself a very fine hat and traded his in accordingly.
Bob and Charles’ new silk hats on the first day of Royal Ascot
Then came my turn. Steve really had only one hat in my size that he said was finer quality than my current hat. While it was nicer than my current hat it was not as noticeably finer than the difference between Bob’s two hats. But, dammit, I wanted to trade in my hat! So trade it in I did. The upside is the new hat is 1) definitely finer than my previous hat; 2) fits me much better. This hat truly fits my head perfectly. And it is significantly lighter in weight than my previous hat, which Steve attributed to the finer quality. The hat’s original leather band on the interior could not be re-used but it was marked 1915 so we know the age/dating of my hat. Interesting to think I’m wearing a hat of a man who wore it over 100 years ago. And, at the three outings at Royal Ascot I had multiple men mention my “proper topper.” I had two different men challenge me on how could I possibly have such a fine top hat given that I’m an American. They just couldn’t understand it! And one of the men was equally impressed that I knew and sang the words of “God Save the Queen” as her carriage passed us by.
Bob and Charles looking most handsome on Day 2 (fantastic tartan trousers Charles!) and Day 3 of Royal Ascot
Now that I’ve learned a good bit about top hats it was interesting to look at the many, varied hats one sees during a day at Royal Ascot. I’m quite proud that I, even a lowly American, can make my way around the Royal Enclosure wearing such a fine example of a gentleman’s silk topper!