From Charlie Chaplin’s slap sticking on the silent screen, the outlaws and lawmen riding the Wild West, and to its iconic presence in the city of London, the Bowler hat's unmistakable silhouette has made it as recognisable as any of its famous wearers. It is, most probably, Lock & Co.'s most famous invention to this day, and it has been a staple of their range for over 170 years.
The distinctive dome of the Coke (pronounced “cook”), otherwise known as the Bowler hat, was first made in 1849 for nobleman Edward Coke, younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester. He ordered it from Lock & Co. as a type of hard, protective hat, to be close-fitting and with a low, rounded crown. This was to protect the heads of Coke’s gamekeepers at Holkham Hall, Norfolk so when they rode the horses and carts, their heads were shielded from the branches of any low-hanging or thorny trees.
Before, Coke’s gamekeepers (and most estate groundsmen) wore top hats that have high, square crowns - and would often get knocked off and damaged when they hit the ground. The Bowler hat was designed to solve these problems. A prototype was swiftly made by Lock & Co.'s chief hat maker, Thomas Bowler, hence why it is more commonly known as the Bowler hat.
It is said that when the “Bowler” hat was finished, Coke came to London on the 17th of December 1849, placed it on the floor and firmly stamped on it. When he saw that it withstood the test, he was most pleased and paid 12 shillings for it.
Lock & Co. called it the “Coke”, as it is their common practice to name the hat after the client who commissioned it.
The Coke initially gained popularity during Queen Victoria’s reign, especially amongst the working-classes of the day. Only later did it become synonymous with business-wear (usually matched with a suit, umbrella and briefcase) in the United Kingdom, especially for civil servants, clerks and bankers.
The Coke’s popularity did not stop on these shores. British railroad workers in western America wore the wind-resistant and sturdy hat – the equivalent of the bright-yellow hard-hats workmen wear today. Thus, it was adopted by Wild West outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid, because it was close-fitting and stayed firmly on the head, even when ranching.
In the 1920s, the Coke hat was chosen as the official headdress for the South American women of Aymara and Quechua, thanks again to the railroad men following available work further south, in Bolivia.
In 1999, the Coke hat celebrated its 150th anniversary. Seventeen celebrity customers were invited to customise their own Coke hat, including Peter O’Toole, Vivienne Westwood, Jimmy Choo, Nigella Lawson and Joan Rivers.