The bowler hat, also known as a bob hat, derby (US), or bombín, is a hard felt hat with a rounded crown originally created in 1849 for the British soldier and politician Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester. The bowler hat was popular with the working class during the Victorian era, and later on with the middle and upper classes in the United Kingdom and the eastern United States. Later in the United Kingdom, it would come to be worn as civilian work dress by former officers of the Queen's Guard. In Bolivia, women of Quechua people have worn bowler hats since the 1920s when British railway workers introduced them there.
Cultural significance in the United Kingdom and Ireland
From the early 20th century bowler hats were commonly associated with businessmen working in the financial districts, also known as "City Gents". The traditional wearing of bowler hats with City business attire died out in the 1980s. In modern times Bowlers are not common, although the City Gents remain in certain parts of England keeping the tradition alive. The City Gent is arguably the most iconic stereotyped view of an Englishman complete with Bowler and rolled umbrella. For this reason, two bowler-hatted men were used in the logo of the British building society (subsequently bank), Bradford & Bingley.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland the bowler hat is traditionally worn by members of the main Loyalist fraternities such as the Orange Order, the Independent Loyal Orange Institution, the Royal Black Preceptory and the Apprentice Boys of Derry for their parades and annual celebrations.
The bowler hat is said to have been designed in 1849 by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler to fulfill an order placed by the firm of hatters Lock & Co. of St James's. Lock & Co. had been commissioned by a customer to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect Coke's gamekeepers' heads from low-hanging branches while on horseback at Holkham Hall in Norfolk. The keepers had previously worn top hats, which were easily knocked off and damaged. Lock & Co. then commissioned the Bowler brothers to solve the problem. The identity of the customer is less certain, with many sources suggesting it was William Coke. However research carried out by a nephew of the 1st Earl of Leicester cast some doubt on this story, and it is now believed that the bowler was invented by Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester. When Coke arrived in London on 17 December 1849 to collect his hat he reportedly placed it on the floor and stamped hard on it twice to test its strength; the hat withstood this test and Coke paid 12 shillings for it.
Outside the United Kingdom
The bowler, not the cowboy hat or sombrero, was the most popular hat in the American West, prompting Lucius Beebe to call it "the hat that won the West". Both cowboys and railroad workers preferred the hat because it would not blow off easily in strong wind while riding a horse, or when sticking one's head out the window of a speeding train. It was worn by both lawmen and outlaws, including Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Black Bart, and Billy the Kid. In America the hat came to be commonly known as the derby, and Wild West outlaw Marion Hedgepeth was commonly referred to as "the Derby Kid".
The bowler, called a bombín in Spanish, has been worn by Quechua and Aymara women since the 1920s, when it was introduced to Bolivia by British railway workers. For many years, a factory in Italy manufactured the hats for the Bolivian market, but they are now made locally.
In popular culture
The bowler hat became a trademark of many comic actors and personalities, such as John Cleese, John Steed, Terry-Thomas, Stephen Fry, Dick Charlesworth, Norman Wisdom, Leslie Phillips, Mr Benn, Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin, who were all well known for wearing bowler hats.
There was a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, California known as The Brown Derby. The first and most famous of these was shaped like a derby, an iconic image that became synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood. A chain of Brown Derby restaurants in Ohio are still in business today.
Many paintings by the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte feature bowler hats.The Son of Man consists of a man in a bowler hat standing in front of a wall. The man's face is largely obscured by a hovering green apple. Golconda depicts "raining men" all wearing bowler hats.
The British bank Bradford and Bingley registered more than 100 separate trademarks featuring the bowler hat, its long-running logo. In 1995 the bank purchased, for £2,000, a bowler hat which had once belonged to Stan Laurel.
- Alex, the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, wears a bowler hat.
- Matthew "Stymie" Beard of The Little Rascals wore a bowler hat.
- John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, wore a bowler hat.
- "Bowler Hat Guy," antagonist of the movie Meet the Robinsons, is named for his choice of hat.
- Boy George often wore a bowler hat in the 1980s.
- Charlie Chaplin wore a bowler hat as part of his 'Little Tramp' costume.
- Edward Coke, for whom the first bowler hat was designed.
- Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello often wore a bowler hat.
- Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic from the Harry Potter series, wears a lime green bowler hat.
- Laurel and Hardy are known for wearing bowler hats.
- Seamus McFly in Back to the Future Part III wears a bowler hat.
- Mackie Messer in The Threepenny Opera wears a bowler hat.
- Charlie Morrow, avant-garde composer, commercial jingle writer and soundscape designer, almost always wears a bowler. He sometimes calls himself Mr. Bowler and even has an internet radio site called Mr. Bowler Radio.
- The Plug Uglies, a nineteenth-century American street gang, wore bowler hats stuffed with cloth or wool to protect their heads while fighting.
- John Steed of The Avengers wore a variety of bowler hats throughout the series.
- Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger's manservant, uses his razor-edged bowler hat as a weapon In the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.
- John D. Rockerduck possesses the distinctive character trait of eating his bowler hat whenever he is defeated by Scrooge McDuck.
- Suggs, lead singer of Madness, has worn a bowler hat.
- J. Wellington Wimpy wears a bowler hat.
- Notable comic book characters who wear bowler hats include Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan (Marvel Comics), Thomson and Thompson from The Adventures of Tintin series and The Riddler (DC Comics).
- Hat Glossary
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- Roetzel, Bernhard (1999). Gentleman's Guide to Grooming and Style. Barnes & Noble.
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- "Bowler hat makes a comeback". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- Swinnerton, Jo (2005). The History of Britain Companion. Robson. p. 42. ISBN 1-86105-914-0.
- The Hat That Won the West. Retrieved 2010-02-10.
- Eigo, Tim. "Bolivian Americans". Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
- Rubay, Donnell. "The Rogue and the Little Lady: The romance of Wilson Mizner and Anita Loos". The Bernica Herald. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
- "Who'll get custody of Bradford and Bingley's bowler hat?". BBC News. 30 September 2008. Retrieved 2 October 2008.
- Bob Fosse
- Bob Dylan
- Rettenmund, Matthew (1996). Totally Awesome 80s: A Lexicon of the Music, Videos, Movies, TV Shows, Stars, and Trends of That Decedent Decade. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 39. ISBN 0-31214-436-9.
- "Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat sold at auction". CBS News (New York). Retrieved 11 June 2016.
- "Charlie Morrow". NewMusicBox. Retrieved July 2, 2015.
- "Mr. Bowler Radio". Retrieved July 2, 2015.
- The Hat House
- John Steed's Fashion
- Fred Miller Robinson, The Man in the Bowler Hat: His History and Iconography (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
- "Whatever Became of the Derby Hat?" Lucius Beebe, Gourmet, May 1966.
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