It’s part of a fantasy London of umbrellas and cockneys, but I have only ever seen a handful of people wearing these, usually ironically. The idea of showing England as a country of bowler-hatted bankers is as absurdly anachronistic as imagining Americans riding through towns on horses – but the image persists. Why?
Well, it wasn’t called a bowler hat originally. It was a Coke (pronounced Cook) hat, after a man called Coke entered James Lock & Co, the St James St hatters, and asked them to design a hat that his gamekeepers would not get snagged on branches. It needed to be strong, too, and Coke jumped on the finished hat to test its strength. But it was a company called Bowler that produced the hat in large numbers and gave it the name that stuck. Soon, the City of London businessmen were all wearing them. But at Lockes, to this day, you must never call it a Bowler,
The Lewis Carroll idea of the ‘mad hatter’ comes from the fact that vbrain-damaging mercury was used in the hat’s felting process. The hats are once again undergoing a resurgence – as lights inspired by the iconic Magritte painting ‘Son of Man’.