In A Clockwork Orange, a bowler was the hat of choice for the main character, Alex de Large and brought the bowler back to the attention of 1970s Glam Rock. Today, bowlers, like top hats, are rarely seen but that does not mean that they should be forgotten!
The bowler was originally made for Sir William Coke in 1850 by the Bowler family who worked for the hatmakers, James Lock and Co. of 6 St James’s Street, London. Their original purpose was to provide protection to Coke’s game wardens while riding their horses on patrol. It is claimed that when he was presented with the new hat, he threw it on the floor and stood on it before slamming it down on his head to leave. Thus, this hat was originally designed and worn as protective gear – a trait that earned it favors by various groups beyond game wardens. Additionally, unlike many previous styles of hats, the bowler became popular across a wide range of socio-economic classes. For a variety of reasons, they became part of the standard uniform of many tradesmen … well beyond the classic image of a bowler-wearing and umbrella-toting banker/business man!
More than that, they also came to sybolize a certain type of entertainer … the comic … Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and numerous other vaudeville acts got millions of laughs out of the use of the bowler as a prop. Bowlers are probably the second funniest hats every (with straw hats easily being the funniest)!
In the USA, the Bowler became so popular with individuals, especially those that attended horse racing, that they became known as Derby hats. By the early part of the 20th century, the bowler had fallen from favor and had given way to more soft felt hats … the fedora and the trilby.
Oddly, there is one other place where bowlers became very popular … the Aymara women of the Bolivian and Peruvian highlands. Since the early 20th century, bowlers have become part of their iconic dress.
By the way, 13 Feb is Bring Back the Bowler Day.