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The bowler hat, also known as a coke hat, derby (US) or billycock, is a hard felt hat with a rounded crown originally created in 1849 for Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester.
The bowler hat was devised in 1849 by the London hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler to fulfil an order placed by the firm of hatters Lock & Co. of St. James's, a company established in 1676 which is still in business. Lock & Co. had been commissioned by a customer to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect his 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. then commissioned the Bowler brothers to solve the problem. While most accounts state that the customer was William Coke, a nephew of the 1st Earl of Leicester, recent research has cast some doubt on this, and it is now believed that it was instead Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester.
When Coke arrived in London on 17 December 1849 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 Coke paid 12 shillings for it. In accordance with Locks & Company's usual practice, the hat was called the "Coke" (pronounced ˇ°cookˇ±) hat after the customer who had ordered it, and this is most likely why the hat became became known as the "Billy Coke" or "Billycock" hat in Norfolk.
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.
The bowler hat - called a bombin - has also been worn by Quechua and Aymara women in Peru and Bolivia since the 1920s when it was introduced to Bolivia by British railway workers. For many years a factory in Italy manufactured the hats for the Bolivian market, but they are now produced locally.