Cutting a Dash through the 21st Century


Formal Hats at Patey of London

Now that the winter winds are starting to give my ears a good flicking, my thoughts turn once again to hats.  I’ve been thinking that I should probably invest in a good quality hat – not a woolly type or flat cap, but a smart one that I can wear with a suit. Casual hats, through necessity, have never gone out of style, yet formal hats have slowly disappeared from our streets. Sometime around the 1960s this enduring essential was gradually, and sadly, discarded. Hats are, after all, both practical and handsome. And for those of us losing a bit on top, they hide any shortcomings!


Last week I paid a visit to Patey Hats in the old-world charms of Connaught Village, between Hyde Park and Marylebone, to quiz them about formal hats. Entering the shop I was greeted by an extraordinary display of headwear – almost like going into a museum (of hats, naturally!) There are tricorns, bicorns, bearskins, bowlers and boaters all on display. Patey has been in the business of millinery since the 1695 when some French chaps joined the South London hat-making scene (South London was, and is, the English centre of gent’s millinery) and so set up a long heritage that still survives today. The extremely knowledgeable sales manager, Trevor Campan, demonstrated a rather strange contraption with lots of moveable wooden slats that expands around your head called a conformature.  This device has been the traditional, and still highly accurate way of measuring someone’s loaf-of-bread since Victorian times.  It’s so accurate that my recent haircut gave me a hat size smaller than I was expecting…


The conformature

Patey are famous in the equestrian community for producing riding hats, but they are also one of the few gentleman’s milliners who specialise in bespoke hats.  And that means any type of hat you can think of. There are some practical considerations; the special soft weave silk for top-hats is very rare as it is no longer in production, so most modern top hats are made from felt. Though should you be attending a flat race meet with the Queen any time soon, she is believed to be of the opinion that only silk will do (link). Fortunately Patey has a selection of vintage silk toppers for those with a few grand to spare.

Felt Topper

Felt Topper

Silk Topper

Silk Topper

Now, as mentioned, I’ve been wondering what type of hat works best with a city suit. Bowlers and homburgs were once the only answer but are a bit too old-fashioned now, though you can still buy them both here. Which means that a fedora is surely best. Trevor Campan seems to agree.  All three can be made with fine felt, which isn’t a type of cloth as you may think but is actually compressed soft rabbit fur – producing an incredibly light and hard wearing material.  A cheaper option is to go for a wool hat, which has a slightly fuller appearance but still makes for a smart hat.


If you find yourself between Marble Arch and Paddington, you should pop in to Patey Hats, if nothing else to admire the very fine display of headware on the shelves and, just maybe, to invest in a new bespoke hat.



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