Fictional Fashion: The Mad Hatter’s Hat

The Mad Hatter from John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

One of the most iconic pieces of fictional fashion is the Mad Hatter’s hat. It’s the defining feature (along with his madness) of one of the most popular characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It has a rather unusual history and many, many incarnations!

The curious thing about the Mad Hatter is that he is never referred to by that name in the original text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, nor is his hat ever described in the text. The only time it is mentioned is when the King of hearts demands that he remove his hat in the courtroom and he objects that it’s not his hat – he is a hatter and it is for sale, but he has none of his own. Nothing more is said about it after that! Presumably he is wearing it from the first time Alice meets him, though, since she immediately knows he is the Hatter the Cheshire Cat had mentioned to her previously.

Disney’s animated version of the Hatter

Indeed, in the original illustrations by John Tenniel the Hatter is never seen without his hat. It does indeed appear to be a sample of the hats he makes and sells, for it has a price card on it reading “In this Style 10/6” (ten shillings and sixpence). The hat Tenniel gave him is a top hat of the sort we often call a “stovepipe” and is likely made of silk or perhaps beaver fur and certainly had a felt base, which is what the mercury that made Victorian hatters go mad was used for. The price is a bit low for a top hat from what I could find about hat prices in the 1860s, but as the Hatter repeatedly describes himself as a poor man and clearly doesn’t actually spend much time making hats, perhaps it’s a fair price for his creation!

Hat as weapon

Tenniel’s illustrations have become the inspiration for nearly every incarnation of the Hatter since his introduction in the original book. Even the price tag tends to appear, price unchanged, in most versions! The hat also tends to be rather oversized, which is consistent with the illustrations, which show a hat that does not appear to fit the wearer well. But as it is not his personal hat, perhaps fit was not something he worried about when creating it. Modern versions are often odd colors and sometimes add strange trims to exaggerate the appearance of insanity in the wearer.

In some modern Alice-inspired stories, the Hatter’s hat actually becomes more than just a crazy accessory. In The Looking Glass Wars book series by Frank Beddor, the Mad Hatter can throw his hat like a discus and it’s razor sharp edges make it a deadly weapon. In the television show “Once Upon a Time” the hat is actually a magical portal between worlds and the Mad Hatter (and others) can use it to travel back and forth between Wonderland, the real world, and the Enchanted Forest.

The Mad Hatter is one of the most beloved characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and, consequently, appears many times over in many forms of media. But one thing seems to always remain the same, whether he is a badly singing tea aficionado or a magical hat wielding assassin, he is never without his iconic hat!

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