Ad­ven­tures in head­ware

The deer­stalker and fore-and-aft are now sel­dom seen. Is it time for a re­vival?

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY et­tie Neil-gal­lacher

Et­tie Neil-gal­lacher traces the his­tory of the deer­stalker

For a hat with such a strong im­age, the deer­stalker’s prove­nance is sur­pris­ingly opaque. It is, of course, syn­ony­mous in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion with one par­tic­u­lar fig­ure: Sher­lock Holmes (un­less you’re a rac­ing en­thu­si­ast, in which case John Mc­crir­ick may spring to mind, ear flaps flail­ing and whiskers catch­ing the breeze). Through­out his nu­mer­ous in­car­na­tions, from Basil Rath­bone to Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Holmes has been un­fail­ingly de­picted on screen wear­ing one; it would be a brave di­rec­tor who had the te­mer­ity to jet­ti­son it in favour of a more con­tem­po­rary tit­fer.

Yet the his­tory of the deer­stalker is not en­tirely clear, beyond it be­ing yet an­other tri­umph of Vic­to­rian func­tion­al­ity and form. Stalk­ing was a fash­ion­able and much-ad­mired pur­suit. The En­cy­clopae­dia Bri­tan­nica of 1860 mar­velled at the chal­lenge stalk­ing pre­sented: “The skill of the deer­stalker, in pur­suit of the red deer, is not only de­pen­dant on a good use of the ri­fle, but is shewn in his abil­ity to find and ap­proach deer; to do which suc­cess­fully re­quires the most un­wea­ried per­se­ver­ance.” Cer­tain feathered hats were worn as early as the 1830s but for a recog­nis­able deer­stalker we have to wait 30 years, when they are men­tioned in sev­eral nov­els. By 1870, deer­stalk­ers were all the rage: hard-wear­ing and in­con­spic­u­ous to the an­i­mals but prac­ti­cal and stylish.

They even spawned a spin-off, the fore­and-aft, which be­came hugely pop­u­lar dur­ing the course of the 20th cen­tury. Sim­i­lar but without the ear-flaps, it was more of an all-pur­pose coun­try hat but seems

to be in de­cline, with many re­tail­ers now fo­cus­ing on what has be­come al­most uni­ver­sally re­ferred to as a Sher­lock.

Yet Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle didn’t por­tray Holmes as a field­sports en­thu­si­ast, with no men­tion of his wear­ing a deer­stalker in the sto­ries. The clos­est ref­er­ences were in The Ad­ven­ture of Sil­ver Blaze, when Dr Wat­son com­ments on Holmes’ “ear-flapped trav­el­ling cap”, and in The Boscombe Val­ley Mys­tery, to “a close-fit­ting cloth cap”. Per­haps this was suf­fi­cient for Sid­ney Paget, the orig­i­nal il­lus­tra­tor in the 1890s, against the back­drop of the fash­ions of the time, for it was thus that both he, and Fred­eric Dorr Steele in Amer­ica, chose to de­pict Holmes.

Given Holmes’s sar­to­rial fas­tid­i­ous­ness, it’s ques­tion­able whether he would have been suf­fi­ciently brazen as to wear one around Baker Street, but the im­age per­sists. In­deed, it has been good for busi­ness: hat­ters have traded on it for decades, of­ten call­ing their model a ‘Sher­lock’ and, adding to the con­fu­sion, call­ing their fore-and-aft, if they still make them, a deer­stalker.

Some have noted an in­crease in sales of the Holmes-style deer­stalker since it fea­tured promi­nently in the most re­cent se­ries of Sher­lock on the

BBC. Re­becca Scott, who works in de­sign and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment at Purdey’s, says that sales of the com­pany’s Deer Stalker Sher­lock Tweed Hat have grown from 11 three years ago to 31 in 2017, and that Cum­ber­batch’s por­trayal may have been a fac­tor. Purdey’s also sells a fore-and-aft as a Deer Stalker Tweed Hat. Both re­tail at £100 and while sales of the lat­ter have been con­sis­tent, it is the Sher­lock that is far more pop­u­lar. Made for them by Lawrence & Fos­ter in West York­shire in their own Man­ton tweed, Scott says that they may ex­tend the range if de­mand con­tin­ues.

Lawrence & Fos­ter it­self cur­rently of­fers both a fore-and-aft, which it calls a Deer Stalker hat, and a Mal­ton (Sher­lock) hat with ear flaps, both for £54. By con­trast, Robert Fair­bairn says that sales are roughly 50:50 but notes it is the lat­ter that has in­creased in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years and is nudg­ing ahead in 2018. Cur­rently of­fered in 10 ma­te­ri­als, he says that any tweed can be used, with much de­mand from “es­tates with game keep­ers who are the ones who are wear­ing them in earnest. They send in their es­tate tweeds to have them made up.”


Camp­bell’s of Beauly has also noted an in­crease, up to around 400 a year, with around 250 be­ing sold to the 120-plus es­tates it works with. Sell­ing both a Sher­lock Holmes hat with ear flaps and a fore-and-aft deer­stalker for £60, John Sug­den, co-owner with his wife, Nicola, says that there’s much more de­mand for the for­mer, which has been thus monikered for al­most a cen­tury. The fac­tory, for mak­ing all the tweed and clothes, is above the shop, while the hats are made up in York­shire. He at­tributes the “re­vival” of the Sher­lock in part

to pop­u­lar cul­ture, cit­ing tele­vi­sion se­ries Out­lander: “peo­ple seem to love the Scot­tish, his­tor­i­cal look, espe­cially Amer­i­cans”, with tourists ac­count­ing for around 10% of pur­chases.

So who else is buy­ing the deer­stalker and why is it ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a resur­gence while the fore-and-aft seems to be in de­cline?

Tourists and nov­elty wear­ers aside, it seems both hats are still largely be­ing bought for their orig­i­nal pur­pose – par­tic­u­larly north of the Bor­der. Fair­bairn es­ti­mates that around 80% of his cus­tomers buy both the Deer Stalker and Mal­ton (Sher­lock) hat, and do so for stalk­ing and shoot­ing, “but they’ll still wear them walk­ing the dog”. He does, how­ever, say that they are less pop­u­lar with the younger gen­er­a­tion. Sug­den says that at Camp­bell’s of Beauly, in the heart of the High­lands, “in and amongst the great stalk­ing es­tates such as Glen Af­fric, Strath­conon, Strath­vaich, Strath­bran and Ralia”, around 80% again of pur­chasers are buy­ing them for “coun­try wear and as­so­ci­ated pur­suits”.

By con­trast, in Lon­don, Lock & Co mas­ter hat­ter Jayesh Vaghela says that sales have re­mained con­sis­tent – a cou­ple of deer­stalk­ers are pur­chased ev­ery week – around 85% of these be­ing bought by “the con­fi­dent wearer” for stalk­ing and shoot­ing. Lock & Co dis­con­tin­ued its fore-and-aft around 10 years ago due to in­suf­fi­cient de­mand;

It seems both hats are still largely be­ing bought for their orig­i­nal pur­pose

its Sher­lock-style deer­stalker comes in three colours and costs a hefty £155, which Vaghela says is jus­ti­fied by the qual­ity of the fab­ric, the fit and the look.

fore-and-aft fans

The fore-and-aft still has its fans. Bry­ony Daniels, from Strath­vaich es­tate, says she hardly sees them be­ing worn, ex­cept when fish­ing. Yet 91-year-old John March­ing­ton pro­vides a ring­ing en­dorse­ment for the perks of the twin peaks, de­spite the pop­u­lar­ity of the sub­tler tweed cap for shoot­ing in Eng­land, ex­plain­ing that they evolved in “wild” Scot­land where the change­able weather ne­ces­si­tates a change­able hat, though “a re­ally dirty-look­ing day is a day for ear flaps”. He has three fore-and-afts and has been wear­ing one for around 70 years. Last year, when fish­ing, one was eaten by his spaniel af­ter a dis­agree­ment over a de­com­pos­ing sal­mon. He “wouldn’t be without it”, the only dis­ad­van­tage be­ing that “when stalk­ing and crawl­ing on your belly, the rear flap catches on your col­lar and tips for­ward. If you ease it up, it then blows away.” By con­trast, in Eng­land, the weather be­ing milder “means one can get away with a cap. So­cially, in Eng­land, the cap’s the thing. They won’t refuse to speak to you in a fore-andaft but they’ll think you’re a bit queer.”

Norma Hol­man of Hamp­shire-based Qual­ity Cloth­ing Com­pany says that caps have be­come more pop­u­lar be­cause shoot­ing has be­come more ca­sual. “Nowa­days, while the keep­ers are all dressed cor­rectly, the same ap­plies to very few of the guns. There used to be a pro­to­col and it’s still a great gar­ment, but things have changed.”

Keith How­man wore a fore-and-aft for more than 50 years for shoot­ing and fish­ing, say­ing that in terms of prac­ti­cal­ity it knocked a cap into a cocked hat. “Other than on sunny days in the sum­mer and at school, I wore one prob­a­bly ev­ery day,” he re­calls. He thinks its de­cline in favour of a tweed cap may at least in part be at­trib­ut­able to mail-or­der shop­ping, “which makes it much eas­ier to make as a one-size-fits-all model, and would be im­pos­si­ble for a deer­stalker”.

fit for pur­pose

It would seem that the Sher­lock­ian deer­stalker hasn’t suf­fered, be­cause it is uniquely fit for pur­pose and of­fers a greater and more se­cure form of pro­tec­tion from the wild Scot­tish el­e­ments while also cam­ou­flag­ing the wearer. Scott sum­marises that “it’s their ver­sa­til­ity that makes them ap­peal­ing”, while Vaghela says the front peak pro­tects the face from rain and sun, and the back peak al­lows the rain to run off. “The ear flaps give it a clas­sic look but they’re also prac­ti­cal: they come down if it’s se­verely cold to keep the ears warm.”

Sug­den points to their role as cam­ou­flage; “the fore and aft peaks al­low enough cover when look­ing down­wards to shield the white face from the deer as the stalker starts the long ap­proach”. Daniels agrees, that “tweed breaks up block colour – stags will spot blond hair or a block of dark hair a mile off”.

David Thomp­son, a cus­tomer at Camp­bell’s of Beauly, has been wear­ing a deer­stalker for the past 40 years, hav­ing worked as a keeper at To­matin, near In­ver­ness. He has around half a dozen and doesn’t mind when “they get a bit tatty”. The twin ben­e­fits of keep­ing him dry when shoot­ing or stalk­ing, espe­cially ly­ing down, and pro­tect­ing his face from the sun are the key.

Daniels is a proud devo­tee of the Sher­lock-style deer­stalker. “It will keep the sun from your eyes and if you de­cide it’s too hot for a hat you can tie it to your belt – rather than fold­ing it into your pocket and it fall­ing out. Many a flat cap has been lost this way on the hill. The times of year that are ‘in sea­son’ for stags and hinds espe­cially tend to be cold, wet, windy and snowy. A deer­stalker will keep you warm and dry, while keep­ing the wind out. The rib­bons pre­vent you from hav­ing to chase af­ter it when the wind takes it from your head without ask­ing.” The ex­tra cov­er­age pro­vided by the flaps also of­fers pro­tec­tion from the dreaded Scot­tish midges: “any­thing you can cover, you do”.

They’re hard-wear­ing, too. She’s had one for the past 10 years and while the rib­bons are “start­ing to go” she reck­ons the tweed “just gets bet­ter with age”. Fair­bairn ar­gues that, “they get taken off and sat on and folded but they sur­vive”. Vaghela has pro­vided af­ter­care on decade-old deer­stalk­ers; “the form it­self hasn’t been dam­aged”. As Daniels notes wryly, “Once you start wear­ing a deer­stalker, espe­cially when it’s bolted un­der your chin, you will start to for­give it look­ing a lit­tle silly and learn to love the func­tion.”

Top: a fore-and-aft hat – sim­i­lar to a deer­stalker – serves dur­ing a grouse day at Nat Sher­wood in 1958 Above: a fine dis­play of 19th-cen­tury lids

Left and be­low: fore-and-afts serve on a pheasant day in Wilt­shire and a sal­mon day on the North Esk Right, top: Bry­ony Daniels opts for a deer­stalker

The deer­stalker is syn­ony­mous with Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s fic­tional hero – pic­tured here at the Re­ichen­bach Falls, as drawn by Fred­eric Dorr Steele – though whether Holmes ac­tu­ally wore a ‘Sher­lock’ is de­bat­able

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