Since the Royal Enclosure at Ascot was established in the 1790s, top hats have been omnipresent – and compulsory – for gents at this most famous of race meets. But where did it all start? And which style should you choose? Kristian Robson, proprietor of Oliver Brown, tells all… The very first top hats produced back in the 18th Century were made of beaver fur, and were buffed to produce a high-shine finish. These soon gave way to the more elegant, lightweight silk top hat, which are highly sought-after, even more so today. Since the only factory that produced the silk plush variety ceased production in 1968 (seemingly over an argument between the two owner-brothers), the silk top hat is a rare breed, only available as an antique. Scarcity and rarity only enhances a product’s appeal, so – knowing the discerning nature of our customers – we source and stock a range of fine antique silk top hats: the ultimate statement for gents visiting Royal Ascot. But what sets them apart from today’s top taps? Silk top hats were made with a unique silk plush fabric with a long nap, giving the hat its signature high shine. The silk was stretched over a hard gossamer shell to create the recognisable shape that’s still popular today. The shape and height of silk top hats evolved over the years, with the crowns becoming gradually taller and the brims becoming narrower. But the shape you choose is personal – there’s no right or wrong. However, if you have a smaller head you may want to choose a style with a crown lower in height to keep the overall look in proportion. Colour is a personal choice, too. Antique silk top hats are largely found in black, but from time to time to we come across the brown and grey varieties. Although the black is sometimes considered to be the more formal option, any colour can provide a stylish finishing touch to a morning suit or tails.