Don’t let the title of this post fool you into thinking that the hat in question is dead. It is very much alive and well (unless you count Faire-sweat). The point is how it came to be.

I’ve long enjoyed being a peasant at the Renaissance Faire. Who doesn’t love the irreverent attitude, the ability to wipe your dirty fingers on your clothes (you quickly get over the fact that you are ruining the costume you labored over – those are marks of good times had, not stains!) and the occasional peasant pile? Those noble looking tall hats have long intimidated and intrigued me. As my guild slowly moves up in standing from lowly peasant to something like lower middle class, we’ve all started looking at things that actual Renaissance Sumptuary Laws and social standing would have prevented real peasants from having.

Sheriff in an Elizabethan Tall Hat

A tall hat meant status. It’s no Pope’s hat, mind you, but the only tall hat a peasant would have gotten their hands on would have been tattered and almost unrecognizable as headwear. Our new Lord Mayor and Sheriff both needed a tall hat.

As with any other costume piece, there is a lot of variation on the theme when it comes to the exact size and shape. Look here, here, and particularly at period portraiture. Our two men wanted hats that weren’t too tall and brims that were big enough to shade their eyes. Unlike Elizabethan England climate, the CA Ren Faire is full sun and 95+ degrees 95% of the time. There were particularly fond of a leather version we had seen, but I was hoping to give them something cooler and opted for the linen of their doublets.

5 paper mock-ups later I had a good shape that worked on both men. Then the construction began. I highly recommend Denise Dreher’s book, From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hat Making, as well as tips from Lynn McMasters and basic hat making info that can be found in may outdated sewing and hat making manuals from times when hats were commonly worn.

Hat making is both challenging and simple. It requires precision (unless you’re draping something), many steps, considerations such as what thickness of wire will bend appropriately without bending randomly, how and when to best attach a brim, how to attach fabric to a concave surface, and how best to store the finished hat. Hat making requires a lot of pinning and hand sewing, but can be accomplished easily and with excellent results if you have the right tools (which aren’t necessarily the classic ones) and patience.

1. The hat foundation almost complete; 2. The mulled foundation, which creates a smooth surface. This is particularly important if your outer fabric is very smooth or has shine; 3. Outer fabric complete on the tip and pinned to the top (convex) brim; 4. The brim complete. You can just barely see my stitches on the outer edge where the underside is stitched on.

I chose to attach the brim on the foundation instead of waiting until the outer fabric stage. The head opening on these hats is not a regular oval, but dips down slightly in the front and back, making things a little more difficult. I actually completed the Sheriff and Lord Mayor’s hats differently, but neither way completely had advantage over the other. Only one of the brims was mulled on the underside, which, in this particular case, did not make much difference in the final product.