I knew Victorian men wore collapsible top-hats to the opera, but I never cottoned on to the fact that this marvel of practicality had a name until last night. I was reading a 1930s murder mystery in which the detective tips his gibus to a charwoman on his way to the opera – and finally the penny dropped.
The point was that an ordinary top hat was a nuisance once you were seated. Where would you put it? On your knee? Between your feet? Far too inconvenient.
It’s named after its inventor, one Antoine Gibus, who came up with the idea in 1812.
I always thought these collapsible, spring-loaded hats would get horribly creased in their boxes and couldn’t imagine how a well-dressed gentleman could countenance one. But from these pictures, it looks as though gibuses work quite well, with few wrinkles or irregularities – and they probably looked even better when they weren’t over a hundred years old.
Gibus; a wonderful new, obsolete word to add to my growing store.
I tell you, I’ll slay them at scrabble one day…