Gender, Sexuality and the Top Hat

With Meg Roberts


When you think of a top hat, who do you imagine wearing it? A Victorian factory owner? The Monopoly banker? Are they usually a man or a woman?

Though top hats have always been associated with men and were an essential part of men's fashion for over 100 years, it was more common for women to wear top hats in the Victorian period than you might expect. Sometimes top hats were part of specific women's outfits, such as for horse riding. But there are also numerous cases of women choosing to flout strict gendered dress codes and don a top hat to express their own individuality. In many of these cases, there is evidence that these women may have had relationships with other women, or otherwise would now be identified under the modern LGBTQ+ umbrella.

This workshop will explore what historical fashion choices can tell us about gender roles and relationships in the past. What did it mean to be gender nonconforming or LGBTQ+ in the nineteenth century? What counts as 'evidence' for historical figures' sexual orientation and genders? Why does it matter? Join this workshop for a whistle stop tour of the history of top hats and how they relate to gender and sexual orientation. 


Teacher's Guide (to follow)

Activity one - Men’s fashion and masculinity

Activity two - Anne Lister meets the Ladies of Llangollen

Activity three - Hetty King in ‘Clothes and the Woman’