It’s a bowler…. no, it’s a derby…

It’s Uncle Will, not Uncle Bill

posed for the camera with flair.

On his head was a bowler, or is it a derby

that covered his full head of hair?


According to Wikipedia, the Bowler (a hard felt hat with narrow brim) was invented in 1849 by London hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler. It seems that the firm of Locke and Company had been commissioned by one of their customers to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect the gamekeepers’ heads from low-hanging branches while on horseback. The keepers had previously worn top hats, which were easily knocked off and damaged. It was also hoped that the new style of hat would protect the keepers if they were attacked by poachers. Lock & Co. (which has been continuously in business since 1676) hired the Bowler brothers to solve the problem.

When the customer arrived to collect his hat he reportedly placed it on the floor and stamped hard on it twice to test its strength; the hat withstood this test and he paid 12 shillings for it.

Peaking in popularity towards the end of the 19th century the bowler hat offered a middle ground between the formality of the top hat, which was associated with the upper classes, and the casual soft flat caps worn by the working classes. In England the bowler hat was often associated with professional servants such as a butler or valet, the so called “gentleman’s gentleman.”

The Derby, which is the American version of the bowler was named after Edward Smith-Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, founder of the Epsom Derby. In the U.S. the derby tended to be associated with urban culture, and particularly with well-to-do people who had risen from the working class. Hence, it was often seen on the heads of “machine politicians”, urban Irish-descended “ward heelers” and others. Al Smith, who exemplified the urban Tammany politician of the 1920s, was often seen in his distinctive derby; while typically, men’s full-sized derbies are black, Al Smith always wore a brown derby.

Uncle Will (William Henry) Walker sans his Derby!

SOURCE: Wikipedia, accessed 8/26/2009

Photographs are personal property of Susan J. Edminster, Granite Falls, Washington


Written for “Smile for the Camera” Carnival, August 27, 2008

Copyright 2009, Susan J. Edminster

This entry was posted in Pictures, Smile for the Camera, Walker. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to It’s a bowler…. no, it’s a derby…

  1. Brett Payne says:

    Thanks for this photo and article, Sue. I have many old photos with men wearing such hats, and am interested in the way the styles of the bowlers/derbys varied over the course of the Victorian and Edwardian era. Some day I’ll get around to doing a better study of it on Photo-Sleuth.

    Regards, Brett

  2. Carol says:

    Wonderful pictures. This means I am going to have to dig out my picture of my dad in his stovepipe hat…wherever it might be. 😉

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