Ask the WDG Friday…
Robert Laird asks, “Are bowler hats for the eccentric, or anyone? Or is anyone that wears a bowler an eccentric?”
That is a very good question indeed, Mr. Laird! For my part, I have strong leanings to the classical style wardrobe, which isn’t eccentric, and yet…and yet I really like the Bowler hat, otherwise known as the “Derby.” I plan on obtaining one as soon as funds permit. But this doesn’t answer your question—for all I know I’m an eccentric; I should ask my wife about this, she would surely know. But I digress. Let’s stick to facts as best we can.
The Bowler was designed by Lock & Co Hatters at the request of one William Coke, who wanted a special hat for his gamekeepers—a hat that wouldn’t be smacked off by violent branches and forest undergrowth. The hat designed was (and is) a rigid, dome shaped number that does indeed stay on very well under those circs.
Originally, the hat was called (surprisingly) a Coke hat. It wasn’t until circa 1850 that it came to be called a “Bowler hat,” when the firm of Bowler & Son began making this style of hat.
So what happened to the Bowler? Into the late 1960’s even it was THE hat for London stockbrokers and bankers; and then…well, it’s hard to say. Could the French be responsible? One wonders, because who wants to wear a hat called, by an entire nation mind you, a “chapeau melon”? I think most fashion conspiracy theorists will agree this is pretty darn suspicious; after all, it’s one of those glaringly yet subtly rude comments the French are so good at—those who know the French know that what they are really saying when they say “chapeau melon,” is “Your head is shaped like a melon/you’re a melon head.” Cuts one to the quick, it does, with the result that nowadays you’ll see Bowler hats on the Queen’s Guards officers as part of their civilian dress, but on almost no one else.
Yet, I think everyone will agree or disagree that it is an elegant hat. It is also perhaps the most English of all English clothing. But on what occassion can a gentleman wear it these days? To solve this conundrum, consider that 1960’s spy show, The Avengers. Secret agent John Steed, as cool a secret agent as any of them, sported the Bowler. Why? Because he was working under cover as a game keeper? No, simply because the hat looks dashing, which means technically one can wear it anywhere, whatever the French may say—we just have to ignore their snide comments.
Now I’m not saying that every man in the world can or should wear a Bowler hat, but the more of us that do—and outside of our homes—the less eccentric and more acceptable will the Bowler once again become. I mean to say, when in the USA styles from the 1970’s are making a come back (a sure sign of society’s decay) then are we to suppose that the Bowler hat, head gear of choice of a real-life television-show secret agent, is eccentric? Faugh! I do not often employ such a strong turn of phrase, but there are times when it is necessary. I do not apologize.
So in answer to your question, practically any gentleman can wear a bowler hat and hold his dashing head high. Whether that means those who wear them are eccentric remains to be seen; but when lots of gentlemen start donning Bowlers those who began the trend anew will be considered not only fashionable, but fashion prophets! Whatever happens, I don’t think you can go wrong wearing this most English headgear, popular or not.
Yes, there is the chance people will stare—probably because you look awesome. But if it is a laughing, mocking stare, I think John Steed would say to them something like, “Not all gentleman can wear such a dashing hat; you’re certainly better off without one,” then smile an ironic smile and walk away, gentleman to the end. I should add that John Steed would have one hand on his umbrella, ready to smite the scornful fellow (who is probably a jealous Frenchman) in case the mocker becomes enraged at having received such a suave yet stinging reply.
It all boils down to this: Wear a Bowler hat if you desire, carry a sturdy umbrella, and say “Faugh” to eccentricity.
- I am only referring to the perceived eccentricity of the wearer of a Bowler hat when I write, “say faugh to eccentricity.” Eccentricity is sometimes, well, eccentric and generally to be avoided. Seemingly eccentric modes of style must be examined on a case by case basis. It is in this particular case, viz the Bowler hat, that saying “faugh” is, I believe, the proper, though perhaps shocking, reply.
- No actual Frenchmen were hurt in the writing of this column.]