Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Isambard Look

Time, I think, for another Sensational Hats post. Most of the headgear featured in this popular series is in one way or another extraordinary, but this is an exception: for men of substance in Victorian times, hats like the one illustrated here were thought to be absolutely ordinary, in fact de rigueur, and you would be considered eccentric or possibly even subversive if you were seen in public without something of this kind on your head.

I have taken a holistic approach here and shown the hat not in isolation but as part of an ensemble which is very much of its time, with regard not only to the crumpled trousers but also to the massive chains forming the background; this was the age of real heavyweight engineering, when mighty machines were clanking and steaming rather than buzzing and flickering like the piddling toys of our effete age.

If ever a man had an excuse for displaying crumpled trousers and a waistcoat in disarray, it was the great Brunel in this picture, though his demeanour, coolly smoking one of his 40-a-day cigars, belies the stress of the occasion, the difficult sideways launching of the SS Great Eastern (two people were killed). This was an iron sailing steam ship he had designed, the largest ship ever built at the time, with the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refueling.

Sadly, Brunel suffered a stroke and died in 1859, just before the Great Eastern made her first voyage to New York.

No comments: