Jaunty Hat


Military Orphan Press

The Pith Helmet: Jaunty Hat. British Indian Empire Magic in a Hat.

This is the long awaited history of the British Indian pith helmet Jaunty Hat in two volumes, hard-backed, illustrated in full colour: The first volume is now available. Everything is here for the reader to gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex subject. Revealing how the pith helmet came from humble, rural origins in Bengal to provide the most powerful symbol of the British Indian Empire, the author shows how its essential development closely mirrored imperial transitions, a final rise, decline and fall in 120 years. Giving all pertinent army dress and clothing orders, patents, manufacturers’ ephemera and retail advertisements, background political and social history, evocative pictures of the hat in service, and in antiquity, C.P.Mills’ superb work restores the neglected integrity of a much loved icon in British Indian history. Here is the pith helmet, explained and illustrated in full depth. Pith helmet, English equivalence of the Indian sola topee, was generic for a light-weight hat designed solely to protect against extreme sunlight, by light reflecting colour and ventilation. It encompassed many materials along the way, including date palm leaves, wicker-work, sola pith, fur and wool felt, calico, cork, leather, paper and canvas, to name just the main. Sola pith, an ultra light-weight sponge-wood, grew in the rivers of Bengal. It had traditionally been used by Indian artisans for fishing floats and temple carvings, before being adapted to hot weather hats for the English in India. Jaunty Hat tells of the exquisite, at times ambivalent, affection of the old English for the Shiny East, and of the magical hats they wore to protect them from its fearsome sunlight. Victorian army doctors for long thought that strong sunlight could penetrate skin, muscle and bone, and hit the central nervous system; the head, neck and spine had thus to be well insulated against it. Indians crafted them the hats, and the nexus between ideas and styles both English and from the ‘Mofussil’ (rural India), provided for years of fun at the solar hatters. The work pays close attention to hat makers, a neglected profession in British Indian history, and in particular it shows of bitter rivalry going between English makers, Ellwood and Hawkes, and similar between hat makers in England and in India, competing for hot weather trade. Over 60% of output remained Indian. Indian makers had price and locality on their side, which was enough, in the end, to overcome old English snobbery and prejudice as to Indian-made items of dress. Due to inflationary pressures of the 2nd Boer War, and further and similar difficulties in the Great War, English makers had priced themselves out by inter-war years, and Indian hat makers were resurgent: Sola pith had remained the most enduring material, and it retained the ultimate, historical generic of pith helmet.

Jaunty Hat - The Pith Helmet

British Indian Empire Magic in a Hat