Top Hats… & Decadent Dandies.

Someone has complained that it has been ages since I last wrote something – anything – on my blog. This is a mistake. I have been writing a lot, but they were not published. Why is that? Because I deemed them to be all too personal to be thrown to your (in)discretion.

Plus, I have been avoiding to turn this blog, which is a mixture of Lebanese politics and random impressions of the life the Lebanon (past and present), into a blog about emotions and human relationships (including male-female relationships), which is the subject of my last post, which was also left unpublished for the same reason quoted above.

I hope you accepted the last sentence and the “which-es” in it. Now get over it.

I will write about top hats today. I have been harboring a compulsive interest for them since a few months. A solemn interest, I would add, because it’s very serious. I have managed to gather a miniature collection of different types of them throughout the past year. All vintage and handmade, of course: fin-de-siècle, Exposition Universelle 1900, entre-deux guerres, until the age of agony (1950s-1960s); colors black, made of silk or beaver fur; or grey, made of rabbit fur; a couple of collapsible ones (8-sheen silk, obviously); origin France, Germany, or England – the three nations of top-hat chic; a trinational panoply highlighting the subtle shibboleths of each culture: the German ones inevitably have a wider and flatter brim, only slightly flared at the extremity, the French ones give a distinctive bell-like curve to the brim, drawing an arched line in length, and a convex cylinder shape in height, the English ones somewhat in-between the French and German models for the brim, but tending to be squarer in height; all in all, a collection of once-prestigious deluxe brands, such as maître chapelier Delion, France’s top hatmaker, along with Berteil (a hat from which my collection is missing, but not for long, you’ll see), both extinct, although Berteil maintains two clothing shops place Saint-Augustin and rue Solférino in Paris; also, Motsch, formerly owned by Hermès, 42, avenue Georges V, and Lincoln Bennett & Co. Hatters (Piccadilly London) for the grey ones (“by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen,” a pure jewel — I admit this line is to show off). I am still missing a topper from Christy’s; but that’s an easy challenge, therefore not urgently needed.

I wore some of them on three occasions. The first one was at Saint Barbara’s day, the Lebanese Halloween. I put on a 120 year-old collapsible silk hat on top of a carefully-chosen clothing attire, and went to Buddha Bar clubbing. The second one was a Gala dinner in a seaside restaurant not far from Casino du Liban, north of Beirut. I put on a lustrous French silk plush one; it was taller than average, easily 18 cm, almost 19, with pronounced convexity on all angles, which probably made me the first Lebanese 2.10-meter Gothic dandy to ever appear in a mundane event. On both occasions, everything below the hat was engineered to be harmoniously balanced to avoid being overdressed or precious. I had consciously discarded the smoking jacket, silk lapels, and braided trousers. Black-tie is too conservative for me and in most contexts out of context, except in weddings. So I opted for a dark night-blue formal jacket, with peaked medium-width lapels to flaunt the phallic symbols I dispose of (I hate thin lapels, they’re emasculating), a black cardigan successfully crafted to be mistaken for a jacket (it always works), a white herringbone cotton shirt, not-too-black trousers tapering off at the ankles, vertically traversed by an dark braid of matte fabric. Finally, a silk black thin tie and white cotton/flax stripe pocket square, and the deal is done.

The third time was at a bar in Gemmayze.

A colleague of mine at work intellectualized on my so-called “dandy attitude.” She would have dubbed me “Andy the Dandy” if she could, but she could not. Too bad, it would have been amusing.

She called me decadent instead, referring me to Huysmans’s character in his novel À Rebours (1884), which I could not help but buy as soon as I could, a few days later. I took her word as a compliment, and it was, because flattery is not allowed at work, at least according to her, especially with a “subordinate.” So she resorted to a verbal kind of camouflage the French call litote (“understatement”), a reaction she might deny after reading this, but my conviction will not be altered.

This said, Des Esseintes, Huysmans’s character, and I are far too different, although I appreciate the analogy and attach some truth to it. I also appreciated reading the book she mentioned: “the Bible of fin-de-siècle decadence and 1900 depravation”!

Truth be said, I am not that much of a dandy: my white cotton gloves were intentionally left in the closet, and I refused to carry a silver knob black cane that I do not yet own. That is sufficient proof. To be honest, I find joy in simple subtleties, not in excessive sophistication. Des Esseintes is too baroque, too rococo, too ornamental, too vain, high in the social ladder and socially racist by instinct. I am much more classic in taste, sometimes with sprinkles of originality here and there, conventional but unorthodox at once, socially below the middle, and much more respectful to the poor than to the rich; humble humans fascinate me, the richer ones make me hold their mostly dissolute morals in contempt. I am not at all a dandy, in sum.  I grant you that I am narcissistic, among other things, but no the Narcissistic type, and that I am probably writing this out of frustration, due to a job requiring the belief that my own interests lie best in decisions taken by others, banning intellectual self-expression, restraining my individuality, and, worst of all: condemning narcissism! I grant you that I handle my top hats with a quasi religious devotion, but the top hat does not make the dandy, does it? Or perhaps are top hats an asylum, a narcissistic refuge! Definitely, but that’s only the top of the iceberg.

***

The “someone” behind the publication of this post is no other than Stéphanias. A.L., whom I owe some pictures with the praised hats, also deserves to be mentioned and apologized for. I could not, until now, keep my promise, but it’s a matter of time. To the both of you I dedicate this text.

My favorite picture of Sir Winston Churchill. Here with his daughter Mary, on his way to receive the Freedom of the City of London, July 1943.

My favorite picture of Sir Winston Churchill. Here with his daughter Mary, on his way to receive the Freedom of the City of London, July 1943.

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One Response to Top Hats… & Decadent Dandies.

  1. Stéphanias. says:

    very flattered to be the “someone” behind the “gem”..

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