There has never been a more sophisticated and dominating hat in fashion than the top hat. The topper’s dominance as the gentleman’s headwear for formal occasions wasn’t truly established until Prince Albert started to favor it in 1850, some 50 years after it was first introduced via an incident which became known as the “The Top Hat Riot.”
In January 1797, John Hetherington (an apocryphal English haberdasher) walked along the thoroughfare wearing a top hat in the shape of a stovepipe. Within a short time, a large crowd had gathered around him. There was such chaos that the ‘officer of the law’ grabbed Hetherington by the collar and summonsed him before the court. He was accused of disturbing public order.
The officer, who dealt with the scandal, described the offence as follows: “Hetherington had such a tall and shiny construction on his head that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and a dog started to bark. One child broke his arm among all the jostling.”
The hat maker relied in his defense on the right of every Englishman to place whatever he wanted on his head.
The London newspaper, The Times, wrote the following day: “Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear. We believe that both the court and the police made a mistake here.”