You’ve probably seen the painting at some point (or at least an image of the painting). A man and a suit and hat stands before a seawall, his face obscured by a green apple. The hat’s crown, high and round, is indicative of is style: a bowler hat. The famous painting (Son of Man) by René Magritte is also referenced multiple times in The Thomas Crown affair. The painting is shown throughout the film, and during one of the final scenes Pierce Brosnan’s character and his doubles are able to confuse museum security by all wearing bowler hats and trench coats.
The bowler hat’s history is perhaps surprising. The hats are rumored to have been designed for horseback-riding gamekeepers. Bowler hats’ low-fitting hard round crowns were built to protect riders’ heads from low-hanging branches and other occupational hazards. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what the difference between a bowler hat vs a derby hat is, there isn’t much of one. Bowler hat is essentially the British term and derby hat is the U.S. word for hats of the same make.
From those beginnings the hat became popular among the British working class. Eventually, the style would find its way to London’s financial district, where businessmen embraced the style. In the United States, the bowler hat (or its derby hat twin) was quite possibly the most popular hat style of the wild west. The style was a favorite of railroad workers, cowboys, and outlaws alike, most likely due to the fact it would not leave the rider’s head as winds blew down upon horseback riders in the desert.
In popular culture, the bowler hat made its way onto the heads of figures, such as the Wright brothers and actors from Charlie Chaplin to John Cleese. Those who came of age during a certain era may remember the original Marry Poppins movie, in which Mr. Banks dons a bowler hat throughout (at least until he punches holes in his during the bizarre flying-in-the-bank scene).
Bowler hats today best serve to accentuate more formal dress. The style isn’t as ubiquitous now as it was in earlier centuries, but the distinct look and sleek curve of a well-fitting bowler can do wonders for an evening wardrobe in need of a little “pop.” The hats, durable and fashionable, epitomize what the ideal hat should represent: a blend of function and fashion that, despite changes in fashion over time can entertain the idea of a classic era without feeling out of place today.