Life Skills

My grandfather’s blog – Permanent Style

  • Jan 18, 2024
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My grandfather’s blog – Permanent Style

When we cleared out my grandparents’ house last year, we discovered an article my grandfather had written about bowler hats in the late 1950s. 

I’ve written about him before, publishing an interview in 2012 that talked about what it was like to dress during his life. The ‘black alpaca’ jacket that everyone had for the office stays with me (an ancestor of the shirt-jacket?) as does the practice of trailing new shirt collars in the sea to fade them when he was in the Navy (old hands and Old Money clearly have much in common). 

I never knew he had written about menswear though. He published poetry, but I hadn’t seen any prose other than the emails we exchanged over the years (which we also found he had printed out and kept). 

The article is basically a blog post. Around the same length, it gives advice for the novice on wearing a bowler hat, spelling out all the social niceties that I can imagine him absorbing as an employee at Barclays Bank after the War. 

Except that having a good deal of self awareness, there is humour lurking behind every sentence. His tongue is firmly in his cheek. 

I hope you enjoy it. And I still have his last bowler hat by the way. Dating from the late 1960s and made by Lock & Co, it sits on the top shelf in my office, gazing benevolently down at me. 

By John Francis (above right)

If you are thinking of buying a bowler hat today, there are one or two things I think you should know. 

You will, of course, be joining an ever increasing number of men who have responded to the blandishments of the hatters, and there is no doubt that you will look all the better for it. But in buying a bowler, do you quite realise what you will be taking on? I mean, you don’t just go into a shop, ask for a bowler hat, put it on and walk out – there is far more to it than that. 

There is, for instance, in some shops a certain amount of phrenological ritual in getting the thing to fit your bumps, the bowler being a hard hat and unlikely to adapt itself automatically to your cranial irregularities. 

But the mere buying is the simplest part of the operation. It is the responsibilities that go with it that get some people down. You see, it isn’t really a case of you getting a hat, but rather of the bowler hat getting you. And it imposes some pretty severe conditions of service. 

How do you propose wearing it, for example? At a jaunty angle, to give that raffish look? Tut, tut. That will never do. The set must be horizontal, the only possibly tilt being a very slight one forward over the forehead. Very slight. 

And what are you going to wear with it? A raincoat won’t do, you know. It will have to be an overcoat, though if you must have something for a rainy day, then you could get by with one of those stiff, military-looking riding mackintoshes. 

But it would be much better to unroll your umbrella – you have got an umbrella, haven’t you? That is an absolute must – otherwise you might as well give up the whole idea altogether. And you’ll have to carry it all the year round, although in very hot weather, some bowlers don’t mind if you leave the brolly at home and simply carry the hat to town. 

Some trilby and homburg wearers, alas, have few qualms about burying their faces into newspapers as they sit in crowded trains. It’s the sort of thing you can get away with in that sort of hat. But not in a bowler. You just cannot let it down by such behaviour, and if yours is a busy railway line, you had better resign yourself to standing more or less permanently. 

And while on that theme, I might mention that while one doesn’t carry one’s suitcase or parcels in a bowler hat, it is OK to carry other people’s. It may not look right, but it would be even worse to be seen averting your eyes from the old lady struggling with her portmanteau. 

Do you buy fish and chips? Not in a bowler hat you don’t. And you won’t be wearing it when you are doing the shopping – remember the rule about parcels? It applies even more to shopping baskets. 

Do you still want one? Well, jolly good luck to you. You will get used to it. My third bowler is starting to get tired of me now, but I shall very cheerfully go along to see if I can get another one to take me on. 

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