"…his tall, curly-brimmed beaver hat and many-caped driving coat suggested a man of substance…" *
How many times have you read a similar line in a Regency novel? We tend to think of it as a Regency innovation, but in fact the earlier 18th Century style of cocked hat (or tricorn, as it was called later) was often made of beaver fur, too, although different furs and even woolen felt could be used as a cheaper option. It was the style that changed, rather than the fabric, and the Regency "beaver" was the forerunner of today's top hat, which is now more often made of silk.
Beaver felt was a popular material for hats in Europe from the 16th century through to the mid-19th century, but it was when the beautiful pelts from North America began to arrive in Europe that the fashion really caught on.
Beaver felt hats could be in black, fawn, grey or white and were generally tall, with widely varying the most popular being the wider at the top. Silk hats (or polished beaver) came from Italy in the mid 18th century but did not become popular for our Regency hero until the 1820's and even then they were not general worn until the 1830s.types of crown,
Being a hatter was a dangerous profession, because they used mercury in the felting process and this affected the nervous system and caused mood swings, aggressive behaviour, the shakes and hallucinations. This may well be the origin of the term "mad as a hatter." It certainly sounds plausible to me.
The picture showed the various types of beaver hat worn around the time of the Regency, and the curly-brimmed one definitely shows that the top hat was on its way, and in 1823 a Frenchman called Gibus is credited with inventing the collapsible top hat.
Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory
Sarah Mallory -