"During the 19th century, the top hat developed from a fashion into a symbol of urban respectability, and this was assured when Prince Albert started wearing them in 1850; the rise in popularity of the silk plush top hat possibly led to a decline in beaver hats, sharply reducing the size of the beaver trapping industry in North America, though it is also postulated that the beaver numbers were also reducing at the same time. Whether it directly affected or was coincidental to the decline of the beaver trade is debatable. James Laver once observed that an assemblage of 'toppers' resembled factory chimneys and thus added to the mood of the industrial era. In England, post-Brummel dandies went in for flared crowns and swooping brims. Their counterparts in France, known as the 'Incroyables,' wore top hats of such outlandish dimensions that there was no room for them in overcrowded cloakrooms until Antoine Gibus invented the collapsible top hat in 1812. A Gibus has springs inside allowing it to be folded flat by hand and stored conveniently, as for example in an Opera house cloak-room. For this reason they are often called opera hats, though the term can also refer to any tall formal men's hat. The characteristic snapping sound upon opening a Gibus suggested another name, the Chapeau Claque. Invented for convenience at the opera, collapsible top hats continue to be used as evening wear in the 21st century." [Source] A better view of Caruso's top hat is on display after the jump.