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What is a Stovepipe Hat?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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A stovepipe hat is a style of top hat, a tall hat with a flat brim and broad crown which used to be an integral part of formal dress. Many people in the United States associate the stovepipe hat with Abraham Lincoln, who often wore one for portraits. By the 1920s, top hats had essentially died out, although they were still worn on some very formal occasions. Most top hats and stovepipe hats today are seen as parts of costumes, rather than as true formal wear.

The design of a stovepipe hat makes it look like a length of piping. The body of the hat runs straight up and down, rather than flaring slightly like a traditional top hat, and the crown is utterly flat. The brim is wide, and it may be flat as well or slightly flexible. Often, a stovepipe hat is also ornamented with a band of grosgrain or silk ribbon, and the traditional color for a stovepipe hat is black.

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Traditional top hats are made from felted fur or silk, because this material is extremely sturdy and it will hold up through hard wear. It also has the added bonus of being water repellent. Silk top hats tend to be glossy because of the silk fibers, which can give them an added flair. At one point, many gentlemen owned top hats for special occasions, but the fad wore out as urban dwellers started to dress more casually, choosing bowlers and fedoras instead of the more traditional top hats.

Top hats are often used in magic tricks, and the most common variety of top hat used in magic is the stovepipe hat, since it is easy to manufacture. Traditional top hats must be carefully made, usually by a skilled hatter, and the ability to make such hats is decreasing along with the demand for them. Stovepipe hats have also been worn by prominent entertainers, ranging from Fred Astaire to Giuseppe Verdi, and many rockers have donned the top hat as an ironic statement in performances.

It can be challenging to find a stovepipe hat. If you live in an urban area, you may be able to find a hat supply which carries them, or could at least size you for a hat. If such a resource is not available, a number of hat retailers sell their products online. Make sure that you understand the terms of a store's return policy, however, as an ill fitting stovepipe hat can be a disastrous purchase. Some of these firms also offer novelty hats inspired by the stovepipe hat, such as floppy hats in patriotic colors for parades and lampooning purposes.

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