On this day in history….17th December 1849

On this day in history : 17th December 1849 – Thomas and William Bowler, makers of felt hats, sell their first Bowler hat to Edward Coke – after being commissioned by James Lock & Co of London….

Coke had approached hat shop James Lock & Co looking for a hat that could protect the gamekeepers of his family’s estate, Holkham Hall, in Norfolk, whilst they were on horseback…. Up until that point they had always worn top hats – but these kept getting knocked off by low hanging branches…. A hat was needed that was low crowned, close fitting and hard…. When Coke arrived to collect his new hat he reputedly placed it on the floor and twice stamped on it to check its suitability before handing over his 12 shillings….

The Wright brothers, pioneers of aviation wearing Bowler hats in 1910 – Public domain

During the 19th century the Bowler hat became popular among the working classes – and its popularity soon spread to other parts of the world…. In the American West, where it was known as the Derby, it was favoured by cowboys, as it did not blow off in the wind…. Even the outlaws, such as Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy wore one….

Butch Cassidy – Public domain

From the early 20th century the Bowler became associated with businessmen, especially City Gents…. It also became the trademark of certain famous personalities, such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, PatrickMacnee’s John Steed in The Avengers – and John Cleese….

Laurel and Hardy – Image credit : Insomnia Cured Here via Flickr

On this day in history….6th November 1942

On this day in history : 6th November 1942 – The Church of England relaxes the rule that women must wear a hat when in Church….

Image credit : Kaye on Flickr – Public domain

Britain used to be a nation of hat wearers – it was almost considered indecent to be seen out and about without one…. Head coverings in one form or another have had a place throughout human history…. Crowns, head-dresses, wigs, veils, fascinators, tiaras, hats….whether for ceremonial purposes, professional attire, etiquette or fashion…. Head coverings are essential in many religious practices – a hat may be a compulsory part of a uniform – or it might define a profession…. It could be worn for safety – or perhaps the wearer may simply wish to keep his or her head warm…. In days gone by the type of hat worn would define class….

Public domain

Gone are the days when we would automatically don a hat to nip to the corner shop – unless its as fashion statement or freezing brass monkeys outside…. As hairstyles changed throughout the twentieth century so began the demise of the hat (but undoubtedly quickly pulled out of the closet many a time on a bad hair day)…. Sunglasses were launched in 1929 and by the 1940s nearly everyone was wearing them – eliminating the need of a hat brim to shade the eyes…. Lifestyles had altered, people worked indoors more with fewer toiling in the fields…. Less people used public transport as more and more families owned a car – hats had become a hinderance….

Millinery department of Bourne & Hollingsworth, Oxford Street, London, 1942

The decline in hat wearing became a real concern for milliners and hat makers…. In a 1947 survey, undertaken for the Hat Research Foundation, 19% of men said they chose not to wear a hat “because I had to in the army!”…. The Hat Research Foundation had attempted to halt the decline of the hat’s popularity with a promotional campaign…. In towns that had once thrived on the hat making industry workers were sometimes known to shout abuse at those who went bare-headed – as they were seeing their livelihoods threatened….

Sometimes it might still be necessary to wear a hat, whether for work, safety, part of a uniform or for etiquette…. And it’s nice to be able to dress up for a formal occasion, such as a wedding – and have the choice of adding a hat to complete an outfit…. Me, I’m just glad it’s not compulsory – as I look ridiculous in a hat!