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The History of Bowler Hats

The bowler hat was designed by Thomas Bowler of London’s royal hatmaker, Lock & Co., in 1849. It was commissioned by Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester. The brothers wanted a hat that would better protect the gamekeepers on the family’s estate in Norfolk. (Top hats were too easily knocked off their heads.) Bowler created a hat with a low-domed crown made of stiffened and reinforced fur felt. Coke was pleased with the hat and even today, keepers on the Earl of Leicester's estate are still presented with one of these hats upon completing their first year of service. While it was originally known as the Coke (and still is at Lock & Co.), over time the hat became better known as the bowler, named after its maker. By the mid-20th century, the bowler hat had become a favorite of British bankers and stockbrokers. Today, it is no longer an especially popular item in mainstream fashion, but it remains a hallmark of the sophisticated British gentleman and often appears in period dramas on TV.

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