The Chapeau Claque hat looks similar to a black silk plush top hat, but it collapses into itself and it reopens with a clacking noise, hence the name.
When to Wear a Chapeau Claque with Formal Daywear?
The answer is: never! Throughout history, the chapeau claque has always been an evening hat and as such it is not suited for morning dress. In case you don’t know whether you have a Chapeau Claque or a Topper in front of you, don’t just try to push the crown down because you will damage a real top hat that way. Touch the lining along the inside: a Gibus hat will have coils while a top hat has a stiff, smooth, shellacked base. Also, most vintage top hats were made of silk plush while the chapeau claque is usually made with silk satin.
History of the Chapeau Claque
During the early 19th century, it was en vogue for the beaus and gentleman to wear a top hat. Since it is not appropriate to wear a top hat inside a club or bar, these hats were often nonchalantly tucked under the arm. However, as you can imagine a stiff top hat was not easy to carry and so the Parisian hatmaker Monsieur Antoine Gibus
Collapsed Opera Hat
had the idea to develop a collapsible top hat. The Gibus hat was first introduced in 1812 and further improved by 1832. Basically, he created a intricate system of steel springs on the side of the hat that was invisible from the outside. It allowed the gentry to simply fold their hat onehandedly, leaving them with a portable top hat that was handy enough to take it with you anywhere, even to the opera. As such, the hat also became famous under the name Opera Hat.
Opera Hat Side View
While it has always been a substitute for the stiff top hat, the chapeau claque reached its zenith of popularity at around the fin de siècle. Especially in Paris, men would also use it as a fan! Eventually its great popularity throughout the social class spectrum lead to its decline in favor of the stiff top hat.
Nevertheless, the jeunesse dorée of the 1920’s favored the chapeau claque for evening wear. However for daywear, a chapeau claque was never acceptable. By the end of the 1930’s, the Gibus hat was once again losing its popularity for evening wear and so the stiff top hat became the headwear of choice with elegant gentlemen for formal events.
Click here to get to the section about morningwear top hats.