What on earth is that you may well ask !
I first came across this word when I was reading an old detective novel, and a sentence read ‘Lord Peter Wimsey extended his gibus’.
(I think it is in the book called the Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L. Sayers ). What in the world did that mean ! it sounded very risque’, but that would not be in keeping with the type of book, written as it was in the 1920’s or 30’s as a popular whodunnit.
Out came the dictionary……and there was nothing. So I went to the thick Victorian dictionary; which has to lie flat on the shelf, because its spine is missing. This is because one of our dogs took a fancy to the taste of the animal glues used in its construction, and ate the whole of it one day while we were out. Consequently, each page is now loose, so it has to be handled with extreme care . Turning to the relevant page…there it was. ‘gibus…a collapsible opera hat’.
My investigations have brought to light that this ingenious hat was invented in the 1840’s by a Frenchman, Antoine Gibus, who realised a need for such an item, as gentlemen’s top hats were becoming ever larger, and causing real problems at theatres, operas and soirees because of the amount of space needed in the cloakrooms for them.
One day, scouting around an antique fair somewhere, I spied an interesting looking oval box, with a dished upper surface and a covering of red leatherette. Inside was an opera hat, in extremely good condition. This is the one shown in the picture above. It is made by one of many manufacturers both here and in Europe who copied the idea. Some are made in matt black material, others in satin…and these do a very passable imitation of a silk top-hat.
It was a while before I realized that the word gibus came to mean any collapsible opera hat, not only those by the original inventor…in just the same way as we talk of sellotape, biros, thermos flasks and hoovers.
Other names for this type of hat are CRUSH HAT .. pretty obvious, as you crush it to your chest to close it; and CHAPEAU CLAQUE due to the noise it makes when correctly sprung open with a sharp flick of the wrist. We have several in the collection; pride of place being one actually made BY Gibus, and bearing the name inside, as well as an address in Chandos Place, London. Another one of these hats is in ruins, but serves to show exactly how the mechanism works, as the lining is so torn that you can see inside. There are metal hinges and arms which fold in half, and flat, which reduce the height of the hat from around fifteen centimetres to about two ! This made it possible for a gentleman to keep it with him, and simply collapse it and slide it under his seat.
As shown here, it really does fold right down. The lower pictures try to show some of the mechanisms. Neither of these are by Gibus, so each manufacturer had its own device.
The principle was also applied to coloured hats. We have a white satin one, and also this red satin hat, which must I am sure have graced the head of a circus ringmaster at some time !One thing is certain…they are easier to store than most of the collection.!