History of Bowler Hat

Bowler hat is a hard felt hat with a narrow brim and a rounded crown. It was also known as bob hat, billy coke, billycock, bombin and derby. It was first made in 1849 for Edward Coke, British soldier and politician and the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester. He ordered it from the hatters Lock & Co. of St James's as a sort of hard hat, to be close-fitting and to have a low crown so it can protect heads of Coke’s gamekeepers so when they ride they don’t hit their heads in braches of the trees that hang low. Before bowler hat, gamekeepers wore top hats that were too high, got knocked off a lot and used to damage when they hit the ground. Bowler hat was designed to solve these problems. Lock & Co. gave job to its chief hatters Thomas and William Bowler (hence the name). Story says that when bowler hat was finished, Coke came to London on 17 December 1849, placed it on the floor and stomped on it two times. When he saw that it withstood the test he was pleased and paid 12 shillings for it. Until recently, it was believed that it was William Coke who ordered and designed the bowler hat but a nephew of the 1st Earl of Leicester presented research that proves otherwise. It is now common belief that it was Edward Coke who designed and commissioned the hat. Lock & Co. called it “Coke” hate (it reads as “cook”) after its common practice to name hats after the one who ordered a custom hat. That explains why after that, the hat was called “billy coke” and “billycock”. In years after that it was call bowler hat after the Bowler Brothers who produced it.

Man with Bowler Hat

Working class loved it in Victorian times, only later to become popular with middle and upper class in United Kingdom especially civil servants, clerks and bankers. Officers of the Queen's Guards wear them as a part of work dress. In United States, it was the most popular hat in the West, more popular that cowboy hat or sombrero. It was favored among cowboys and railroad workers, criminals and lawman alike, because it was close-fitting and stayed firmly on the head even when the strong wind blows and it is very practical. It was worn by Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Black Bart, Billy the Kid, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard, Roscoe Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

In 1920, British railroad workers introduced bowler hat to Quechua and Aymara women of Bolivia, where they call it called a bombín in Spanish, and it is worn there ever since. Bowler hats for Bolivian market were not made locally but in a factory in Italy. Niger Delta in Nigeria is one more place where bowler hat is worn as a part of a regional costume, with a walking stick as well. British colonials introduced these apparel in the 1900s. Britain stopped wearing it somewhere in the 1960s because the fashion shifted to more informal wardrobe.