Hat Types: The Bowler

Bowler | Royal Hats

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 V, 1923 | The Royal Hats Blog Prince William and Prince Harry, May 13, 2007 | The Royal Hats Blog Prince Charles, May 9, 2010 | The Royal Hats Blog

King George VI in 1923; Princes William & Harry in May 2007; Prince Charles in May 2010

Queen Silvia, 1980s | The Royal Hats Blog Queen Elizabeth 1984 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Marilène, December 2004 | The Royal Hats Blog

Queen Silvia during the 1980s; Queen Elizabeth in 1984, Princess Marilène in 2004

Crown Princess Mette Marit, Feb 2, 2002 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Martha Louise, April 12, 2001 | The Royal Hats blog Queen Sonja, Sep 9, 2004 | The Royal Hats Blog

Crown Princess Mette Marit, Feb 2, 2002; Princess Martha Louise, April 12, 2001;
Queen Sonja, Sep 9, 2004

Princess Kiko, April 25, 2006 | The Royal Hats Blog Queen Sonja,Oct. 3, 2011 | The Royal Hats Blog Crown Princess Masako, Oct. 13, 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog

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; PurePeopleAntony Jones/Julian Parker/Mark Cuthbert/ via Getty; UK Press via Getty; Antony Jones via Getty; Pool via Corbis; Ragnar Singsaas via ZimbioAsahi Shimbun via Asahi Digital

22 thoughts on “Hat Types: The Bowler

  1. Tried in vain to find a photo to share to no avail, bu Princess Diana’s going away peach hat is one of my favourite bowlers – as well as the range of bowlers worn by her in Australia 1983, she deserves a place in the examples!!

    The going away hat in Australia 1983

    Embed from Getty Images

    Embed from Getty Images

    Embed from Getty Images

    Indeed, bowlers and variations on bowlers were one of the most popular hat styles for wedding guests in the early 1980s UK. I think for this reason, you should include some of these pictures of Diana to the examples. The hat glossary is fantastic, learned loads!

    • The first two hats are not bowlers- they are tricorn hats. The third hat (navy with large feather) is a picture hat and the last hat (blue with white dots) is a bumper.

      • Sorry, I have got a bit mixed up, how many different types of hats are there then?!! Are th blue velvet, lemon, aquamarine, and red hats bowlers?

        • I think the red one is more of a calot headpiece than a hat. The others could be considered variations on bowler hats- they are smaller than true bowler hats (which cover the crown of the head). The large feather plums also take these hats out of traditional bowler territory!

  2. This is very interesting, as always. I must say, I don’t think of bowlers as just a shape. To me, the rigidity of a bowler is as much part of the definition as the shape – they can almost be stood upon (at least by a small child), so very few women’s hats (except for lady riders who choose to wear a traditional one) are bowlers. Of course it’s difficult to tell in photos, but none of the examples on the ladies above look rigid enough. However, having said that, I will allow you have come up with a wonderful selection that are bowler-shaped!

  3. I am enjoying these tutorials. It is not a favourite shape of mine, but as always it depends on the interpretation.My No.here is the one Sonja is wearing, 2004, which doesn’t have an up-turned brim. Is thid hat nick-named a pork pie?

    • It’s not a pork pie but we’ll be looking at the pork pie in a few weeks! I included this hat to show how many hats are variations on the bowler, simply by changing the brim.

  4. I think this is one of those hats that looks really cute when it works but is a disaster when it doesn’t. Queen Silvia’s hat here looks really bad.

  5. I like all of these hats except for the ones worn in the 80’s by Queen Silvia and Queen Elizabeth and that hideous hat worn by Princess Martha Louise. The hat is much too small for her! My favorites are (male) King George VI in 1923 and (female) Crown Princess Mette-Marit in 2002.

    • Martha Louise’s hat was worn on a trip to Bolivia. I have a feeling it was part of a local folk costume and not specifically made for her. I included it here because it’s such a great example of a bowler!

      • Thanks HatQueen. That makes more sense. I know the royals are wealthy, but I hated to think she wasted her money on a hat that was too small for her! 🙂

  6. These hats are quire wearable especially for anyone who is not comfortable in a large hat. I think they are most flattering on those who do not have a very round face.

  7. Finally, a hat type worn by the royal blokes. I think this is one of the few hat types better left for the men than worn by the lovely ladies.

  8. Isn’t it George VI in the first photo (then still a prince)? George V was 58 in 1923 and the gentleman in the photo looks younger.

  9. Now this is real interesting. I never thought of these ladie’s hats as bowler hats but your right. They are bowler hats with a little tweak to the brim. I don’t like this style myself although the one winter hat I do wear I’ve just now realized is a bowler!!

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