Bowler hat, mid-20th century (PFF collection).

The bowler hat, also known as a Coke hat, billycock, bob hat, bombín (Spanish) or derby (United States),[1] is a hard felt hat with a rounded crown, originally created by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler in 1849.[2] It has traditionally been worn with semi-formal and informal attire. The bowler, a protective and durable hat style, was popular with the British, Irish, and American working classes during the second half of the 19th century, and later with the middle and upper classes in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the east coast of the United States.[3]


The bowler hat was designed in 1849 by the London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler to fulfill an order placed by the company of hatters James Lock & Co. of St James's,[4] which had been commissioned by a customer to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect gamekeepers from low-hanging branches while on horseback. The keepers had previously worn top hats, which were knocked off easily and damaged.[4]

The identity of the customer is less certain, with some suggesting it was Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester who had estate at Holkham Hall, in Norfolk.[5] However, research performed by a younger relation of the 1st Earl casts doubt[vague] on this story, and it is claimed by James Lock & Co. that the bowler was invented for Edward Coke, the younger brother of Thomas Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester.[6][3] When Edward Coke arrived in London on 17 December 1849 to collect his hat he reputedly 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.[7]

Cultural significance in the British Isles

Members of the Orange Order wearing bowler hats while celebrating The Twelfth, Belfast 2011

The bowler has had varying degrees of significance in British culture. They were popular among the working classes in the 19th century. From the early 20th century, bowler hats were more commonly associated with financial workers and businessmen working in the financial districts, also known as "City gents". The traditional wearing of bowler hats with City business attire declined during the 1970s.[2] In modern times bowlers are not common, although the so-called City gent wearing a bowler and carrying a rolled umbrella remains a representation of Englishmen. For this reason, two bowler-hatted men were used in the logo of the British building society (subsequently bank), Bradford & Bingley.[8]

In Scotland and Northern Ireland the bowler hat is worn traditionally 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.[9]

Female officers of many British police forces also wear bowler hats as part of their uniforms. This includes a cap badge and generally has a black-and-white chequered band (called Sillitoe tartan) around the hat. Bowlers worn by female traffic police officers have white crowns or covers. These hats are not worn in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

They are also part of the uniforms of female police community support officers (PCSOs).

Outside the British Isles

The aviation-pioneering Wright brothers wearing their bowlers in 1910

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".[10] 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 the United States the hat came to be known commonly as the derby,[5] and American outlaw Marion Hedgepeth was commonly referred to as "the Derby Kid".

The bowler hat was introduced as part of womenswear among the Quechua and Aymara peoples of South America in the 1920s.

In South America, the bowler, known as 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 such hats for the Bolivian market, but they are now made locally.[11]

Band of His Majesty The King's Royal Guard, in Oslo

In Norway, Hans Majestet Kongens Garde (the royal guards) wear plumed bowler hats as part of their uniform. It was copied from the hats of the Italian Bersaglieri troops; a regiment that so impressed the Swedish princess Louise that she insisted the Norwegian guards be similarly hatted in 1860.[12]

In the Philippines, bowler hats were known by its Spanish name sombrero hongo. Along with the native buntal hats, they were a common part of the traditional men's ensemble of the barong tagalog during the second half of the 19th century.[13]

The bowler hat was worn by the national hero of the Philippines, José Rizal, during his execution on 30 December 1896, and it is still seen as symbolic of the history of the Philippine Revolution.

In popular culture

Laurel and Hardy, 1938.
Stan Laurel took his standard comic devices from the British music hall: the bowler hat, the deep comic gravity, and nonsensical understatement.[14]

The bowler hat was famously used by actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Shemp Howard and Curly Howard; and by the fictional character John Steed of The Avengers, played by Patrick Macnee.[4]

In the 1964 film Mary Poppins, set in Edwardian London, 1910, the London banker George Banks (played by David Tomlinson) wears a bowler.[15]

The British bank Bradford & Bingley owns more than 100 separate trademarks featuring the bowler hat, its long-running logo.[16] In 1995 the bank purchased, for £2000, a bowler hat which had once belonged to Stan Laurel.[16]

The bowler is part of the Droog outfit that main character Alex wears in the film version of A Clockwork Orange to the extent that contemporary fancy dress costumes for this character refer to the bowler hat.[17][18]

There was a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, California known as Brown Derby. The first and most famous of these was shaped like a derby.[19] A chain of Brown Derby restaurants in Ohio is still in business today.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Lego of a classic London banker (with bowler and umbrella) at the Lego store in Leicester Square, London

Choreographer Bob Fosse frequently incorporated bowler hats into his dance routines. This use of hats as props, as seen in the 1972 movie Cabaret, would become one of his trademarks.[20]

In the 2007 Disney animated film Meet the Robinsons, the main antagonist is known as the Bowler Hat Guy.[citation needed]

Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter series is frequently mentioned as wearing a bowler hat.[citation needed]

Roman Torchwick, a recurring villain in the web animated series RWBY wears a bowler hat. It is later worn by his henchwoman Neopolitan after Roman's death.[citation needed]

The third album by British rock group Stackridge, released in 1974, is called The Man in the Bowler Hat.[21]

In The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends cartoon series, the legendary "Kerwood Derby" was worn by such world conquerors as Alexander the Great and Elvis Presley.

Giant bowler hat as roadside art in south Dallas, Texas.

In the Series One episode "The Think Tank" of the program Are You Being Served?, the Grace Brothers store policy is revealed to include a hierarchical order for hats male personnel wear: bowlers for departmental heads and above, homburgs for senior floor staff and trilbys or caps for junior floor staff. The character of Captain Peacock is admonished for wearing a bowler when he is only entitled to a homburg, until Mr Grace, the store owner, insists that Peacock wear a bowler.

In the mid-1960s Batman TV series, the Penguin's band of "fine feathered finks" usually wear derby hats. The only exception was in Batman: The Movie, where his men donned pirate gear to crew his penguin-themed submarine.

There is a giant bowler hat along I-30 in south Dallas, Texas.[22]

Notable wearers

Winston Churchill in 1884
David Tomlinson as the London banker Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins. Set in early-20th-century London, bowlers were associated with City gents.[2]
Alex DeLarge in the dystopian film A Clockwork Orange (1971)


  1. ^ "Hat Glossary - Village Hat Shop". Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "History of the Bowler Hat". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "The history of the Bowler hat at Holkham" (PDF). Coke Estates Ltd. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Bowler hat makes a comeback". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  5. ^ a b Roetzel, Bernhard (1999). Gentleman's Guide to Grooming and Style. Barnes & Noble.
  6. ^ Hatters, Lock & Co. "The Coke". Lock & Co. Hatters.
  7. ^ Swinnerton, Jo (2005). The History of Britain Companion. Robson. p. 42. ISBN 1-86105-914-0.
  8. ^ "Who'll get custody of Bradford and Bingley's bowler hat?". BBC News. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  9. ^ "Bowler Hats, Sashes and Banners: the Orange Order in Northern Ireland". Demotix. Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  10. ^ The Hat That Won the West. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  11. ^ Eigo, Tim. "Bolivian Americans". Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved 13 August 2008.
  12. ^ "The Norwegian Royal Guards suffer under unusual heat wave". 5 June 2018.
  13. ^ Coo, Stéphanie Marie R. (2014). Clothing and the colonial culture of appearances in nineteenth century Spanish Philippines (1820-1896) (PhD). Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.
  14. ^ McCabe, John (2004). The Comedy World of Stan Laurel. Robson. p. 143.
  15. ^ Kellaway, Lucy (12 October 2008). "The supercalifragilistic answer". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022.
  16. ^ a b "Who'll get custody of Bradford and Bingley's bowler hat?". BBC News. 30 September 2008. Retrieved 2 October 2008.
  17. ^ "Clockwork Orange Fancy Dress Costume Men's Extra Large: Toys & Games". Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  18. ^ a b "A Clockwork Orange". 2 February 1972. Retrieved 22 November 2017 – via
  19. ^ Rubay, Donnell. "The Rogue and the Little Lady: The romance of Wilson Mizner and Anita Loos". The Bernica Herald. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  20. ^ "Fosse's Inspiration & Trademarks". Bob Fosse. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  21. ^ "The Man in the Bowler Hat - Stackridge | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic" – via
  22. ^ "Dallas Public Art: The Bowler Hat and Stanley's Umbrella". Booked Solid. 23 May 2020. Retrieved 20 September 2023.
  23. ^ "The History of the Bowler Hat or Derby Hat". Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  24. ^ "'Stairway to Heaven': Watch a Moving Tribute to Led Zeppelin at The Kennedy Center". Open Culture. 17 December 2017.
  25. ^ "Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat sold at auction". CBS News (New York). Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  26. ^ Limited, Alamy. "Stock Photo - ROAD TO UTOPIA, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, 1946.. Courtesy: CSU Archives / Everett Collection". Alamy. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  27. ^ "Laurel & Hardy - The Official Website". Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  28. ^ John Steed's Fashion. See also Herbert Johnson, who made the bowler for one of the series.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Hosted by Mike Loades and Chad Houseknecht (26 October 2008). "Chakram". Weapon Masters. Series 1.
  31. ^ "Riddler". 19 September 2014. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  32. ^ Linder, Zach & Melok, Bobby. "What a maneuver! 15 moves that really exist". WWE. Archived from the original on 14 August 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2013.

Further reading