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HATVENT DAY 1 - The History of the Bowler hat

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

A Bowler Hat conjures up one solid image. This is a rigid hat with a small brim. Worn straight on the head and cutting a stylish formal look the Bowler hat has been around for over 200 years.

It all started in 1849, Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl-of Leicester, wanted a hat that would protect the heads of his gamekeepers at Holkham Hall from low branches while riding horses around his estate. He commissioned Lock and Co. to make a hat for this purpose.

Highly skilled Hatters, Thomas and William Bowlers were tasked to make the hat.

When Coke came to London to view the finished hat, he threw it to the ground and stamped on it, not once but twice. It was strong enough to withstand this beating. More bowler hats were ordered for all the gamekeepers.

In Victorian times, the bowler hat was popular with lower working class men. However soon everyone wanted a bowler and demand grew in the middle and upper classes. Bowler hats had to fit well, so heads were measured and increasing numbers sold. The nature of the bowler hat meant it could be worn in place of a top hat that was often knocked off the head, due to its height. The defined crown was solid. A narrow brim made the bowler hat easy to wear. This strong felt hat took its place in history.

Its name varied from place to place. As a highly sought after hat in America, it was known as

the derby hat. Coke was a regular name in UK while mingled with a billycock, bob hat, bombín

(Spanish) or derby (USA) Military organisations began to choose it for parades. Celebrities used

the bower hat in their movies. Comedic acts used a bowler hat prop, like Charlie Chaplin in his Silent Films. There was no end to the viewing in famous movies like ‘Gold Finger’ to ‘Clockwork

Orange’ and many more. Politicians were beginning to choose the bowler. Winston Churchill gave some famous speeches in his bowler hat in the war years.

Bolivia seemed an unlikely destination for these hats to be popular. A shipment originally acquired for railway workers, were all found to be too small. The company decided to offer them to the Bolivian men in local communities but again they were too small. The only people who could wear the hats were in fact the women and to this day this has remained their custom.

Do you want to know more about the Bowler Hat? Give the August issue of The Hat Channel Mag and learn about Roy Smoothe and his famous red bowler!


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