1st Bowler Hats go on sale
Has any other item of clothing more cultural resonance in Britain? The Bowler hat has since it first saw the light of day in 1849 been the emblem of several awfully British activities, and become one of our great fashion exports and statements.
The first of these was shooting parties. The story goes that either William or Edward Coke, relatives of the Earl of Leicester , wanted more appropriate headgear for gamekeepers at Holkham Hall in Norfolk , the top hat they then sported offering poor protection against falling pheasants, beaters’ (or poachers’) sticks, or tree branches. James Lock & Co , a hatters established in the reign of Charles II , was given the order, and that company commissioned hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler to design and make a hat matching Coke’s requirements. When Coke visited the St James’s shop on December 17 1849 to view the product, he tested it by stamping on the sample. The hard felt and rounded top resisted his boot, and a legend was launched.
Financiers soon took up the Bowler, the hat and a rolled umbrella symbolising banking to such an extent that Bradford and Bingley still use it as their logo. In the century following its creation Britons working overseas introduced the Bowler to many overseas markets: it was not the Stetson but the Bowler that most cowboys wore; and in Peru Quechua women took to it.
The protection the tough Bowler offered to riders means a version is still popular with those engaged in hunting, and with show-jumpers and their like.
The symbolism of the Bowler has equally been exploited in the cinema: the predicament of Charlie Chaplin ’s tramp demonstrated by his battered example, perhaps a reminder of better times; likewise Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, their Bowlers suggesting aspirations to gentility. In Goldfinger Odd Job’s deadly Bowler stresses the baddy’s corrupting influence. And in A Clockwork Orange the Bowlers Alex and his droogs wear suggest mockery of the level of society that would wear them without irony.
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