How to … make a top hat

As promised in our Dickens Dress Up post here is a step-by-step guide to dressing up like a smart Dickensian gentlemen.

What you need

  • 1 x large sheet of black card (A2)
  • 1 x rectangle of black card (approx. 21cm x 59cm)
  • Compass
  • White pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Double sided tape
  • Sellotape
  • Crepe paper
  • Collar, bow tie and moustache template
  • White card
  • Lolly-pop stick, wooden coffee stirrer or similar

1. To begin creating your top hat take your large sheet of black card. This black card should provide you with the brim and top of your hat, with enough left over to make a moustache, collar and bow tie.

Using the compass and a white pencil draw a large circle in the corner of your black card. Then draw two smaller circles inside the large circle.

Here are our measurements for these circles:

Outer circle – 28cm diameter (set compass to 14cm)
Middle circle – 18cm diameter (set compass to 9cm)
Inner circle – 14cm diameter (set compass to 7cm)

Our measurements created hats that fitted most of the participants at our Family Fun session. You could tweak them by increasing or decreasing the diameter of your circles depending on how big or small your head is.

2. Once all three of your circles are drawn neatly, cut round the large outer circle.

Then you need to cut round the inner circle to remove the centre of your brim. The easiest way to do this is to fold the large circle in half and then cut along the inner line. You should end up with a doughnut-shaped piece of card with a circle drawn in the middle of it.

3. Now use your white pencil to draw short lines from the inside of the doughnut to the drawn line, all the way round. .

Cut along these lines to make tabs.

4. Fold the tabs upwards and glue the outsides of them. Attach the long rectangle of card to the tabs to make the crown of the hat. Glue or tape the end of the rectangle to itself to close the crown.

5. Next you need to make the top of your hat. Draw a two circles one inside the other on your large piece of black card.

Here are our measurements for these circles:

Outer circle – 22 cm diameter (set compass to 11cm)
Inner circle –  18cm diameter (set compass to 9cm)

If you have altered the brim measurements to suit your head size then you will need to alter top measurements too. Just make sure that your top inner circle is the same size as your brim middle circle. Then adjust your top outer circle so that it gives you a 2cm border around your inner circle.

Cut round the outer circle.

6. Draw lines from the outside of your circle to the inner line, all the way round, and cut them. Fold the tabs, glue them and stick them into the crown of your hat.

7. The structure of your top hat is now complete! All that’s left to do now is decorate it. First cut across a folded pack of crepe paper to make a ribbon. You can decide on the width you want your ribbon to be, ours was about 3cm wide. Then glue around the base of your hat, where the brim meets the crown and stick the ribbon to this. Overlap the ends of the crepe paper and cut off any excess. Your top hat is complete.

8. To complete your Dickensian costume you can create a collar (complete with bow tie) and a neat moustache.

To create the collar first cut a long strip of black card from the leftovers of your large sheet of card. It should be 3cm wide and be long enough to fit around your neck with a short overlap. Find the middle of your collar by folding the strip of card in half lengthways.

Next use the templates provided above to draw and cut out two white shirt points. Using your half way fold as a guide, stick your points to the back of your collar. We had ours pointing up the way as this was the fashion of the time, but you can decide which way you want them. To complete your collar draw round the bow tie template on to card. We used some of the leftover black card but you could jazz it up with colourful card.

To wear your collar wrap it around your neck and attach it together at the back with sellotape.

The final touch is the moustache. Draw round the template onto black card (or a card to match your hair colour) and cut out your moustache. Stick it to the end of a ice lolly stick, or similar. A pencil would work, we used a recycled coffee stirrer from the Library cafe.

Your costume is now complete and you can proudly pose for a Dickensian portrait like our Family Fun participants.

If you make a top hat of your own we would love to see the result. Send us some pictures to and we’ll pop them up on the blog!

Posted by: Lynsey


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