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The Bowler Hat – Essay

The Bowler Hat – Essay

The Bowler Hat

This essay will cover and summarise where and how the famous bowler hat originated from and how its popularity grew in the 19th century. The essay will also explore how important figures in society wore the hat and catapulted it into the icon it is today.

Necessity is the mother of invention.”(Franck, 1658, p. 52)there is no other quote as relevant to the invention of the bowler hat, which was commissioned at the ‘Lock & Co Hatters’ on the 25thof August 1849.

 It was commonly thought be to be commissioned by William Coke (pronounced Cook) but in recent years more research was carried out and it is now known to have been commissioned by his younger brother Edward Coke instead.

The actual reason for its commission varies as well, whilst some sources cite the invention to assist gamekeepers, as their top hats would be knocked off by low branches and others claiming that the invention was to assist hunting party’s whose top hats would get knocked off when scourging for game in bushes.

Both theories of the hat’s usage have outdoor practicality at their centres and thus the creation of one of the first ever hard hat was invented, it is even said that Edward Coke put the commissioned accessory on the ground and stamped on it twice, testing out its durability before paying the twelve shillings owed.

Other people who have become known for their bowler hats are the comedic icons, Laurel and Hardy who gave the hat a more playful image, following their British contemporary: screen-legend Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplinm

Little did they know this invention for the outdoors would become a quintessential British icon and a symbol for British professionalism at large, literally miles away from the low branches the hat was supposed to avoid and instead reaching the tallest skyscrapers in London’s financial district.

From being a one off commission, the hat slowly grew in popularity, with others understanding the invention as a practical but stylish piece of headwear.

The bowler hat became symbiotic with the long thin ‘cane’ umbrella of business men all around the country, who settled upon this as their unofficial uniform.

As with lots of popular fashion pieces, the accessory’s popularity started to trickle down into the lower classes and men who didn’t have the luxury ofthe typical ‘bowler hat professions’ also started wearing it day to day. We can see evidence of this when Peter Kemp is talking about the launch of the ship QE2 in 1967   “One of the gaffers with a bowler hat jumped up and gave it a kiddy-on shove and then the thing moved off down the river.” Gaffer referring to a gaff rig sailor.

Of course, it wasn’t just the design that made the bowler hat grow in popularity, but the people who wore it. Charlie Chaplin had started taking over Europe with his popular and profound comedic movies, with his bowler hat becoming just as recognisable as his toothbrush moustache, and so he became a big influencer of the time.

Many businesses have also adorned the bowler hat in their branding: such as the bank Bradford and Bingley, whose famous bowler hat logo led the company to buy over 100 trademarks featuring bowler hats, including: – tipping a bowler hat and bowlers blowing in the wind.

In 1964, the hat slipped back into pop culture with ‘Oddjob’ the famous James Bond villain (another British institution) also donning the iconic hat; his version becoming a deadly, steel brimmed spinning weapon.

The bowler hat was also featured predominantly in the 1960s ITV series The Avengers, worn by the character ‘John Steed’ (Patrick Macnee), a secret agent who worked for the British intelligence agency. Steed epitomised the stylish and intelligent British gentleman and Patrick Macnee was known for his characters image alike Patrick Macnee was synonymous with his character’s trademark Savile Row suits, umbrella and, of course, his bowler hat”.

Avengers  The Steed

On the more glamorous side, woman wearing bowler hats eventually became fetishist, with the film Cabaret(1972, set in 1931) and the musical Chicago(1975, set in 1926), demonstrating the potential for sexiness in women wearing men’s clothing and switching into more dominant roles, against type. This has direct links to the woman’s rights movement in Britain between 1872 and 1928, and the role of androgyny in the fashion and culture of the 1970s and early 1980s (i.e., Annie Lennox, Grace Jones and David Bowie).

After a soaring popularity in 60s the bowler hat might have exhausted itself and become less prominent on British heads, but it still remained a traditional symbol, with logos and icons who wore it still recognisable and memorable.

In conclusion, the bowler hat as an object to wear may not be as popular now in 2017 as it was a century ago but it still represents and symbolises British values and culture, as illustrated in this quote: “What could be more English than the bowler hat?”.









FRANCK, R. (1658) Northern Memoirs, calculated for the meridian of Scotland, 2ndEdition (1821), Edinburgh, Archibald Constable & co.

SUDJIC, D. (2011) Fifty Hats that Changed the World, 1stEdition, Conran Octopus Ltd./The Design Museum


BROCKLEHURST, S.; BBC (2017) QE2: The 50-year journey of a British style icon[online video] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

BBC Archive (2017) 1971: Nationwide: Bowler Hats[online video] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

BBC (2015) Patrick Macnee: The last great bowler hat-wearer[online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

BBC News Magazine (2008) Who’ll get custody of Bradford and Bingley’s bowler hat? [online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

History of Hats (2017) History of Bowler Hat [online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

Lock &  Co. Hatters (2017) The Coke (or bowler)[online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

Lock & Co. Hatters (2017) Our Timeline[online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

ROBERTS, L.; The Telegraph(2010) History of the Bowler Hat [online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

Number Direct (2017) Bradford & Bingley History [online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]


DALLAS WATKINS, M.; KANDER, J.; EBB, F.; FOSSE, B. (1975) Chicago[Musical, June 3rd1975, Broadway]

Goldfinger(1964) [Film] Directed by Guy Hamilton. UK: United Artists (110 mins)

Cabaret(1972) [Film] Directed by Bob Fosse. USA: Allied Artists (124 mins)

The Avengers; The New Avengers[TV Programme], ABC/Thames/ITV, 1961-1969; 1976-1977



Figure 1:


Dell, Draycot M.; Brown, Bertie (illustrator); Swinnerton, Phillip (illustrator) (1915) The Charlie Chaplin scream book

Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, Victorian Popular Culture,

[Accessed December 06, 2017].


Figure 2:


BBC (2015) Patrick Macnee: The last great bowler hat-wearer[online] Avaliable at:
[Accessed: 30thNovember 2017]

[1]Lock & Co. Hatters (2017) The Coke (or bowler) [online]

[2]History of Hats (2017) History of Bowler Hat [online]

[3]Lock & Co. Hatters (2017) Our Timeline[online]

[4]BBC Archive (2017) 1971: Nationwide: Bowler Hats [online video]

[5]History of Hats (2017) History of Bowler Hat [online]

[6]ROBERTS, L.; The Telegraph (2010) History of the Bowler Hat[online]

[7]ROBERTS, L.; The Telegraph (2010) History of the Bowler Hat[online]

[8]ROBERTS, L.; The Telegraph (2010) History of the Bowler Hat[online]

[9]BROCKLEHURST, S.; BBC (2017) QE2: The 50-year journey of a British style icon[online video]

[10]BBC News Magazine (2008) Who’ll get custody of Bradford & Bingley’s bowler hat? [online]

[11]Goldfinger(1964) [Film]

[12]BBC (2015) Patrick Macnee: The last great bowler hat-wearer [online]


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