View From The Top

In the late ’90s I discovered the surprisingly large vintage costume-ball scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, where about three separate groups put on 19th-century-themed events with live music for waltzes, polkas, and English country dances. There was a smaller scene in LA (in Pasadena, naturally), but nothing like it here in New York.

So soon after I got my white tie and tails, I knew I needed a top hat and eventually found some lice-ridden old thing at an antique store. I eventually got rid of it as it refused to sit at the proper angle.

Today is Easter, which is accompanied by the annual tradition in New York known as the Easter Parade, which was created during the Edith Wharton era as an excuse for Society with a capital S to admire itself. Proper attire for gentlemen was formal daywear, including a top hat. Esquire regularly reported on it and doled out fashion advice throughout the ’30s, until war came and rained on the parade.

At some point during this bleak midwinter, holed up at home around the computer and piano and dreaming of spring, I came to the sudden and embarrassing realization that I have a ridiculous number of top hat images in my apartment. I say embarrassing because they had slowly multiplied without my conscious awareness, but at least I’d noticed them before any Freudian raised an eyebrow and pointed it out to me.

So on this special day of solemnity and pageantry, allow me to give you a tour of my top hat collection. The blasted things are everywhere, like on the bookshelf, on the Oxford cricket team:

On another shelf, my late friend (dressed for a retro event in, where else, but San Francisco), and a birthday card with the delightful line “distinguished yet youthful”:

Directly below, on the piano, are these two characters:

Meanwhile, this drawing of the Duke of Windsor guards the vanity tray:

On the walls are a framed copy of this photo of Prince Aga Khan at Ascot:

I’ve had this for about 12 years; I think it inaugurated the collection:

A recent acquisition, I couldn’t resist this Polish circus poster when I saw it at the Architectural Digest home show:


Finally, on the refrigerator, yet another greeting card, cat, and hat.

So much for no hats indoors. — CC

16 Comments on "View From The Top"

  1. Roger Sack | April 16, 2017 at 3:41 pm |

    That’s Prince Ali Khan who was married to movie star Rita Hayworth, I believe.

  2. That’s not the first time I made that error. For some reason I thought both father and son had the same name but different roman numerals after their names.

    Aga Khan was the star of one of our early posts, findable via the search window.

  3. Mitchell S. | April 16, 2017 at 5:43 pm |

    Hats off to you, sir!

    You appear to be a precocious, punctilious popinjay.

    By the way, I can’t get enough of all those pics of cats in bow ties. A cat in a top hat is a little too much for me.

  4. CC

    Hats off to you. A very nice collection. I hope you have a nice holiday.

  5. A top hat, a white tie and tails
    Nothing now could take the wind out of my sails
    Because I’m invited to step out this evening
    With top hat, white tie and tails

    – Irving Berlin, 1935

  6. Which McClelland blend is that?

  7. Dark Star. It’s OK; I keep Virginias around for a change of pace but prefer English mixtures.

  8. I recognize “Against Nature,” or “À Rebours,” from Dorian Gray. Hope you’re not corrupting any young minds with that tome, Lord Christian. 😉

  9. Like Dorian, that book exerted a great fascination over me when I discovered it at about age 23. Read it a number of times since then.

  10. Hope it didn’t lead to a life of debauchery. Then again, you only live once.

  11. How did you come to be reading “Dorian Gray” and investigate “A Rebours” (you even know the French title), and I’m presuming you read it. What in the world did you think of what so many called the strangest book they’d ever read?

  12. I remember the bejeweled tortoise (and feeling sorry for it).

    You need a Mr. Peanut image!

  13. DG was part of my ninth grade mandatory reading. Even though it isn’t mentioned in DG by name a bit of research tells you that Wilde was referring to “À Rebours,” the book’s original French title. I never actually read that book, as it was said to have corrupted Dorian. I always assumed that it was some hedonistic bible. Never heard it referred to as the strangest book but I just might have to read it now.

  14. I think Dorian says, or the third-person narrator says on behalf of Dorian, “It was the strangest book he had ever read.”

    I don’t think it will corrupt you, but it is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea and I would be surprised if it were yours.

  15. I’d be surprised, too but I believe I will pick up a copy.

Comments are closed.