The difference between bowler and derby hats is only in the name. The hats are known as bowler hats in Britain and derby hats in America. The name ‘bowler’ came from its designers, Thomas and William Bowler. The term derby was used in America because it was popularized by people attending the Kentucky Derby.
History and Significance
A bowler or derby hat is a classic felt hat with a well-rounded crown, thin grosgrain band, and short curved brim.
This iconic hat traces its origin to London, believed to have been designed by London hat-makers in 1849. The bowler hat was designed to offer a more practical solution for gamekeepers’. The top hat was getting knocked off by low-lying branches while on horseback.
Edward Coke, a British soldier, commissioned the new design. For this reason the bowler hat is also known in some circles as a coke hat. The hat’s designers were Thomas and William Bowler.
Popularized by fashionable gentlemen at the Kentucky Derby, it became the most popular hat in the American West in the latter half of the 19th century. Well-known figures such as Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy wore them.
The hats initially designed for gamekeepers did not fall off the head and were ideal riding hats. Thomas and William Bowler designed the hat to have a well-rounded crown, allowing them to sit low on the head.
These classic headpieces attracted notable people such as Charlie Chaplain, Winston Churchill, and John Bonham.
Design and Shape
The well-rounded crown is about 5 inches (13 cm) high, sometimes extending to about 7 inches (18 cm).
The brim is short, narrow, and curled, giving the hat a neat appearance and a tight fit. Like other hats, bowler hats have a well-fitted grosgrain band that helps them retain their shape.
Bowler Hat Considerations
Like other pieces of accessories, bowlers are not designed for everybody. Hats rhyme with the wearer’s face shape.
The rounded shape of this iconic headwear is not well-suited for people with a round face. Bowlers look better on wearers with a more angular jawline, for example, a square, heart, or oval-shaped face.
You can create different looks depending on how you choose to position your bowler.
- For a classic look: carefully position the brim of your hat evenly on your head.
- For a more composed look: cock your bowler or derby cap to one side of your head.
- If you want to appear open and relaxed: Push your hat a little further towards the back of your head.
- For a mysterious look: Tilt your cap a little over your eyes.
Caring for Bowler or Derby Hats
The felt material used in making bowlers or derbies requires regular cleaning. Use a soft hat brush to remove any dust and dirt from the surface of your cap. You can also carefully run a tint roller over your bowler or derby to remove any hair strands, dirt, and dust that you can’t brush off.
The brim needs a little more attention as it is the part that’s likely to collect a lot of dirt. Wipe it using a soft piece of cloth and gently brush it to remove any remaining dirt particles.
When brushing your hat, follow one direction so that the material can retain its consistent appearance.
When not in use, store your bowler in a hatbox to maintain its shape or carefully hook it on a hat stand or closet.
Whether you know it as the derby or the bowler, the design was practical and dapper. This gave it a universal appeal. From rail workers to bankers, the style took the world by storm. Its popularity dwindled as wearing hats fell out of favor.