On the 16th of January 1797 a man named Mr. John Hetherington was bold enough to walk the streets dressed in something completely astounding ‘with the evident intention of frightening the people’. This article of clothing was so unexpected that the mere sight of it caused women to faint, children to scream and one boy was thrown down in fright and broke his arm.
Thrown down, not fell down. Hmmmm…. Was one of the screaming women his mother who dumped her son on the ground in order to cover her eyes from a terrifying sight?
I am sure you are dying to know what this awful item was, aren’t you? Well, brace yourself….
Mr. Hetherington had the gall to wear the first high silk hat. Yep. A startling hat ‘covered with very glossy silk, the lustre of which dazzled the sight’ was the cause of this disturbance.
What an innocent time 1912 must have been if the sight of an extra shiny, extra tall hat in the street caused such a scene.
The trendsetting Mr Hetherington was fined £500 for disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. That would have been a massive sum back then! Imagine how many more modest hats he could have bought for that?
Nowadays it can cost £500.00 to buy one if you find them in silk. Supposedly the last was made during the 50’s when the fashion for silk top hats went out. Back then he’d have had to have been a very wealthy mercer to have afforded a fine like that.
I suspect that if this story has any ring of truth the fine would have been closer to £50 than 500. £500 would probably been a rich persons entire fortune in 1797!
Imagine, a top hat causes that big a ruckus and later goes on to be a very popular style. Why Abraham Lincoln just wouldn’t have been Abe Lincoln if he hadn’t had a top hat. 😉
I don’t know why the people of 1797 would be so frightened by it though. I mean after all, look at the wigs of that period and the century before. Gaudy!
You’re right, I know very little about Abe Lincoln but if it weren’t for the hat I probably wouldn’t recognize him at all!
I get the feeling this story is more of a beat up than anything else, don’t you! 🙂
Yeah, it’s good for laughs. And the world would need a few laughs around this time. Four days after this article was published the Titanic sank.
I wonder if that was why the story had such legs? When the news of the Titanic reverberated around the world a story like this would have been a pleasing alternative.
To modern day me, this sounds like media spin… and did such a thing exist in 1797? A great way to beat up a craze for glossy dazzling silk hats… I wonder if it really was such a big deal…
I think it sounds like media spin too. A quick bit of research told me that while some believe it to be true, other references seem to think this story didn’t surface until many decades later than 1797. The fine sounds a little extreme too doesn’t it!
Good thing he did not dress like an American senator or congressman. He woulda been tarred and feathered as well if it was up to me. .
Tarred and feathered and a shiny top hat. That would certainly have caused a public stir!
Gosh…. [I’m trying to stay in style here] … imagine what would have happened if he’d worn a bowler hat? Armageddon?
There are some pretty terrible fashion descisions seen in the street every day aren’t there? I wonder what kind of riot a bared and buging midriff over too tight leggings would have caused! 😉
A lynching! 😀
And well deserved too! 😉
Or should that be ‘Here, here’?
Hilarious. It’s hard to imagine that a hat could cause such a furore.
It is quite funny, isn’t it? The first thing that I though of when I read this article was the well-known Melbourne milliner Richard Nylon. Whenever I see him on the telly he is either surrounded by, or wearing, interesting hats. Plus, he has the appropriate facial hair to carry off a top hat 😉
I looked for a clip of him and found this one of him having his ‘mo threaded through an unusual face/hairpiece that I think illustrates my point pretty well 😉
A tall, shiny hat and that’s all… umm…. You have to be naked to get more than a glance in New York in the 21st century. Might be fun to live at a time when a hat would cause that much of a fuss.
I think that there are very few places in the world these days when extreme fashion choices get much more than a passing snigger. Just imagine the societal restrictions they would be living under if that hat caused such a fuss? We are assuming that there is some tiny grain of truth to this story of course aren’t we. 😉 I do want it to be true though!
(As a fashion lover you might like the clip about Richard Nylon I used in my reply to The World is my Cuttlefish above.)