London is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Despite the mushrooming growth of tourist resorts all over the world, London still holds its mark. It caters to thousands of tourists from all over the world. Due to its popularity as a tourist destination, the tourism industry flourishes and so do all of its supporting sister industries. Tourists look for souvenirs to take back home to remember their London experiences. Several souvenirs exist in the market, however the one I shall analyze is the one I feel to be one of the most authentic London mementos.

I will look into the Union Jack Top hat. It is available at almost every big and small tourist stores, any street side vendors will also have it. More than often, tourists can actually be seen wearing them around London. Most of the popular tourist attractions such as the Tower of London, The London eye, London dungeon, amusement parks and museums will have souvenir shops almost always having this particular Top hat up for sale.

Fig. 1 – Union Jack Top Hat

The union jack top hat is a textile product made up of primarily polyester. It is essentially a top hat with the Union Jack made upfront. I believe this best reflects London because London is the core and the heart of the United Kingdom. In addition, nowhere else in the United Kingdom do so many tourists land and shop.

This particular top hat has more than just one link to London. The first being the Union Jack print and secondly the fact that it’s a top hat.

The Union Jack, now forgotten about and taken for granted and passed off as the flag of the United Kingdom, has in fact a great deal of history and wisdom behind it. It is actually the combination of three flags in one. The red on white cross of St. George of England lies over the red on white cross of St. Patrick of Ireland and both overlay the white on blue cross of St. Andrew of Scotland. Only Wales is not represented.

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Fig. 2 – Union Jack

This is to prove that not only does the Union Jack unite 3 different regions and 3 different cultures into one, it preaches diversity and welcomes differences with open arms. Similarly, London is home to thousands of Asians besides just the Europeans.

The use of the Union Jack on the top hat comes into effect because historically, top hats had a deep relationship with London. People to this day relate aristocracy and class with top hats which is almost always tantamount to the civilized society of England. Top hats ruled the fashion scene for gentlemen in the 19th century. They were originally made out of felt and then later started to be made out of silk. They contributed greatly to the 19th century industrial revolution also as many a people felt that they looked like factory chimneys and paralleled it to the industrial revolution that was taking part all over the world at that point in time. London was an avid and active member of the industrial revolution and all the noblemen and the royals soon adopted the top hat. It soon came to become more of a class statement than anything else.

Fig. 3 – Top Hat

However the first real chase after the top hat came about after John Singer Sargents famous portrait of Lord Ribblesdale in 1902. The refined look and the sleek appearance caused by the top hat gained immense popularity with the elites in very short time. It soon became a case of those not wearing top hats actually envying the ones that did.

Fig.4 – Portrait of Lord Ribblesdale

Top hats were worn for business, parties, functions and many other occasions. Usually lighter shades were worn in the day and darker ones during the night. Top hats lasted longer in diplomacy and politics than they actually managed to in fashion since they had become a symbol of class. They had become synonymous to etiquettes and good manners.

            Later with the discarding of the top hats in favor of more comfortable hats, it came to be worn as merely part of a formal attire or in other more recent instances, as ceremonial gear,(for example; the groom wearing a top hat and a tail coat on his wedding).

            In the case of our London souvenir being the Union Jack top hat, 2 totally separate ideas come together to work. First and foremost, the presence of the Union Jack, is in itself symbolic, and a little cliché’. However tourists are out to get cliché’ souvenirs. Secondly the facts that it’s a top hat and top hats have a history that is closely linked to the elites and the noble classes and the snobbery that was so very typically London.

Fig. 5 – Street side souvenir stall

The Union Jack top hats are manufactured in London by more than just one manufacturer. There are actually a variety of the ones produced. Some differ in colors’, such as some being just plain red with the Union Jack on them or some being plain blue. Others with bells and shimmer. The materials also vary, ranging from shimmery shiny hats to velvety ones or ones that are as plain and cheap as polyester(which strangely enough seems to take the most market share of the Union Jack top hats sales).

The hats are bought by retailers which are further bought by small-scale retailers. Since most of the souvenir shops keep a limited stock or each variety and type of a souvenir, buying in bulk does not make sense. Over and above, the demand varies seasonally. London is flocked by tourists in summers whereas in winters, the tourist activities are rather slow.

One of the most important and logical reasons following the topic of tourists flocking the city of London in the summers , for the high sales of this top hat is the need for the protection from the harsh summer London sun. Most of the tourist destinations, most of the arranged tours such as the open bus tours around the city are conducted during the day in the stark sunlight. However prepared the tourists may come, it is most likely that they forget to bring their caps. However besides just providing them with shelter, the hats have that added dimension of making one stand out as a tourist. What the top hats did for the wearers of its time, this particular top hat still manages to do so; grab attention for the wearer.

In earlier days, the top hat assumed nobility and power. The wearer was respected and awed. The hat still stirs up similar sentiments for the wearer of this day and age. It singles the buyers out as tourists, it gives him that attention. The visual attention also remains true as the wearer manages to stand taller than the rest of the crowd and hence still be in view.

The design, although immensely cliché, is very intelligent. By combining the 2 most important needs of a tourist, and presenting the top hat to him as a souvenir that can be used rather than just displayed and forgotten about, it gives the product that certain design edge.

In this day and age, design has evolved and gone past the point of being just art. Design is meant to be intelligent and supposed to benefit the users. Great designers of today believe in the availability of good design for the masses at an affordable and cheap price. It is meant to make the most of the least amount of resources. Economy of means best describes the methods used for the best examples of great design.

When a product is designed, all aspects are chalked out. The costs of the raw material, the cost of production, of transportation, of retailing, of the overheads and ofcourse, of packaging are also taken into consideration.

Regarding the top hat, the material used is normally cheap. Polyester is not only a cheap material, but it is also easily washable and just as easily disposable. As a raw material it is readily available and not only that, there are ample of fabric dealers with a wide range and variety of the material.

 The manufacturing process rather simple and short,(stitching required only) and then the sale of the hats in bulk to a wholesaler who shall then continue the commercial chain and pass the product on through many hands till it finally reaches the consumer.

Since the hat does not require any special handling due to its floppy nature or even any such packaging for that matter, the manufacturers save on those costs. More hats can be packed together and transported off with minimum transportation costs.

Since the materials used for the hats are of cheaper quality, the associated costs are adjusted with those costs. The price per unit of the hat is rather low and the profit margin for every hand it changes going down the trade chain, only increases. Hence the principle of mass producing takes effect in full force.

The floppy top hat has become an urban icon of the tourist world. Its production, its availability and its nominal prices only stand to suggest that its one of the most economical products in terms of;

·         Functionality

·         Compactness

·         Symbolism

·         Effectiveness

With the changing times and faster changing lifestyles, people are wanting to own more personal items which are compact. People move cities and homes much more than their parents, or their parents parents ever did, or even thought of doing so. Hence the change in the living styles begs for compact, disposable, cheap designs. For example if tourist A were to buy a fragile bone china souvenir which was not only breakable, but also expensive. The souvenir is clearly meant for display and not for personal use. When person A moves house, he is torn between deciding whether to throw it away to make more room for his personal belongings in the house or to keep the bone china souvenir and pack it and face the risk of it breaking in the move.

Over the years, the trend of decorating the house with pieces of crystal, with elaborately carved treasure boxes, etc., has reduced considerably. An average homemaker now wants a smart home with the least amount of surface treatment. There is a renewed awareness when it comes to decorating homes now.

Hence the demand for arbitrary objects has gone down. The market for personal items has gone up. What better way of marketing a product than to actually see a person wear it. That’s what all the catwalk and modeling madness is all about! The London souvenir, Union Jack top hat is such a noticeable item that anyone can spot it miles away. It’s a walking talking advertisement on its own. One doesn’t have to go looking for it as it is available at practically every souvenir shop in central London where the density of the tourists is the greatest.

To summarize it all, the Union Jack top hat is so truly and essentially London and that it has been so for so long now that practically every tourist arriving in the city of London knows what it is. Since it being sold practically everywhere, it is easy to avail and its not one of the super expensive kind of souvenirs. It has a touch of history to it, it has a touch of humor to it, it is an attention grabber and all in all, it is the perfect London city souvenir. It is easily disposable, it is easy to handle and store, it is functional and provides sun protection. It is cheap to produce on the manufacturers part and it has a considerable profit margin for every middle man it changes hands all the way from the producer to the final retailer.

 

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