History: The bowler (also known as a bob hat, derby, billycock or bombín) was originally created in 1849 for the Edward and William Coke, the younger brothers of the 2nd Earl of Leicester. The Coke brothers wanted a new style of hat for the gamekeepers on the family estate (Holkam Hall), whose top hats were easily knocked off and damaged during the course of their work. The Coke brothers came up with a new design and placed an order for these new hats from Lock & Co. who in turn, commissioned London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler to make them. In accordance with Lock & Co.’s usual practice, the hat was called the “Coke” hat after the customers who had ordered it. (Some of you might recognize Lock & Co., a company that remains in business today and is a favourite milliner of the Duchess of Cambridge).
This new hat, which turned out to be extremely strong and durable, soon became popular with the Victorian era English working class. It later gained popularity with the middle and upper classes and for many years, defined British civil servants and bankers. Bowlers are still worn by male members of the British Royal Family although the hat shape is also used for royal hats worn by the ladies.
Characteristics: Traditionally, a bowler is hard felt hat with a rounded crown. The narrow, rolled brim is typically curled up on the sides of the hat. Today, bowler hats for women are also made of straw or covered in fabric.
Royals Associated with this Hat Style: The British Royal Men wear bowler hats every May for the annual Cavalry Old Comrades Association Annual Parade in Hyde Park. Queen Sonja of Norway and the Princesses in the Imperial Royal Family of Japan also often choose variations on a bowler hat.
King George VI in 1923; Princes William & Harry in May 2007; Prince Charles in May 2010
Queen Silvia during the 1980s; Queen Elizabeth in 1984, Princess Marilène in 2004
Crown Princess Mette Marit, Feb 2, 2002; Princess Martha Louise, April 12, 2001;
Queen Sonja, Sep 9, 2004
Princess Kiko, April 25, 2006; Queen Sonja,Oct. 3, 2011;
Crown Princess Masako, Oct. 13, 2013
While the classic bowler is not a popular shape for female royal hats these days, you may notice that many smaller royal hats are a version of it simply with tweaks to the brim. Because not all occasions warrant a large hat, the bowler provides an option for a smaller profile hat that still looks very smart. I’m curious, dear readers, what you think about the bowler hat and it’s long, working history?
Photos from The Shoe Aristocrat Blog; Tim Graham/Getty via US Magazine; Christopher Pledger via the Telegraph; Stella Pictures via Svenskdam; David Levinson via Corbis; PurePeople; Antony Jones/Julian Parker/Mark Cuthbert/ via Getty; UK Press via Getty; Antony Jones via Getty; Pool via Corbis; Ragnar Singsaas via Zimbio; Asahi Shimbun via Asahi Digital