Many people have asked us for information regarding the history of the "bowler hat". If you are planning on buying a bowler hat, you may find this information interesting. By the way, our logo is based on the bowler hat as it is an easily recognizable hat icon.
The Hat House, hat shop in SoHo, New York, has done some extensive research in order to produce this fact filled article. I hope you enjoy it. This is the first of a concise two part series on "The Bowler Hat"
Part 1 The Bowler Hat
The bowler hat is a rigid hat of felt with a low, round crown. It was known by several names, derby, coke (pronounced cook) hat, billycock, billy coke and bombin. It was designed in 1849 and made for the British politician and soldier Edward Coke, the 2nd Earl of Leicester's younger brother. During Queen Victoria's reign. The bowler was popular with the working class. However, in time it became the bankers working uniform and eventually even the Queen's Guards wore it as work dress.
Bowler Hat circa 1900
At one time if you wore a bowler in England you were recognized as a banker or civil servant. It was made by the hatters Thomas and William Bowler for Lock & Co., a firm of retail hatters in St. James. They had been asked by a customer to design a hat that had a low crown and fit closely on the head. This was to protect the heads of his gameskeepers from tree branches as they rode on horseback. A gameskeeper's previous head-wear was a top hat--easily bumped off and ruined. Locke & Co. asked the Bowler's to make a hat that would fix the dilemma.
In Great Britain, particularly, most sources thought that William Bowler designed and made the hat for himself.
At a later date the 1st Earl of Leicester's nephew did research that disputed this story. It is now thought that the 2nd earl of Leicester's younger brother, Edward Coke, was not just the customer but the actual inventor of the bowler.
Edward Coke went to London December 17, 1849 to pick up his hat. it was said that he set it on the floor and twice vigorously stomped on it. The hat passed the test. It cost Coke 10 shillings. Locke and Co. usually named a new design after the customer who gave the order. The hat became the Coke hat. In Norfolk it was called the Billy Coke or Billycock. Billy was probably after William Bowler.
Bankers wearing Bowler Hats with their ubiquitous umbrella circa 1910