What is the Difference Between the Bowler Hat and Derby hat? It’s a good question with a simple answer: absolutely nothing, besides the name. Bowlers and derbies are actually the same hat, the only difference is “Bowler Hat” is the British name and “Derby Hat” is the American name.
Why different names for the same hat? It’s really just how things worked out as the hats became popular in both countries. People called them Bowlers in the UK, and Derby hats here in the US due to how they originated and were used.
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Bowler Hats Vs. Derby Hats: History and Significance
The bowler hat was first introduced in the 1850s by a London hat company owned by the Bowler brothers. It was commissioned, according to some research, for gameskeepers riding on horseback. The taller top hats were frequently knocked off by low-hanging branches, therefore a lower-sitting hat was necessary.
You can probably guess why these hats are interchangeably referred to as the Bowler or Derby hat now. The first name comes from the hat company that first launched the design. The second comes from its use. These hats were worn by derby riders because they were less-likely to be knocked off and just worked better when riding on horseback.
Bowler and Derby Hats: Design and Shape
So what is a bowler hat (or derby hat) made of and what is the design? The hats have a completely rounded crown that sits low on the head, usually about 5 inches high, however some can be as high as 7 inches or more. They also have a narrow brim curled on the sides. This gives them a tight-fitting, neat appearance, and it also makes them much more suitable for riding than a large top hat.
Like other hats, the derby or bowler also has a hat ribbon, a hat band and was usually fitted with soft silk underlining and accents like a feather. They also were given a very hard layer of shellac as a covering on the crown. This coating prevented the hats from crushing and helped them keep their shape—again ideal for riding horseback and ducking low branches.
Historical Perspectives: Derby vs. Bowler
From a historical perspective, these hats were important. They were made specifically for one type of activity—riding horseback. But they also became widely adopted by middle-class gentlemen who undoubtedly felt a connection with the horse riders who wore them. Functional, unique, and more down-to-earth than the upper class top hat, they resonated with the man who needed a practical hat that looked good and performed well in the real world—one that wasn’t just a social status symbol.
Today the bowler and derby hat is worn by real hat connoisseurs who value that same type of style and function. They have an aura of self-reliance, wit and charm that’s hard to reproduce with any other style of hat.