The real origin of the bowler hats: A Cholitas legend

After Evo Morales reached the presidency in Peru, bowler hats came back to the view. But where do they come from after all?

After Evo Morales reached the presidency in Peru, bowler hats came back to the view. But where do they come from after all?

Cholitas have had a controversial history in Bolivia, since being rejected in public places because of the way they dress like, until being an emblematic national tradition figure.

No matter what, they have always been proud of their culture, and currently they fight to defend their roots. Since 2005 they are recognized as a national icon that represents the Bolivian culture. This change started with the election of the first indigenous president and the increase of farmer’s popular movements.

Women and indigenous communities have been center of new politics and laws directed to end with the long ago elitism Bolivia lived.

Nowadays we see this Aymara women studying at the university, working for government ministries, banks, lawyer’s bureaus and a longer list keep going on showing the growing respect for these strong women and the empowerment of the Bolivian culture.

With all of this said, whenever we mention Cholitas it is inevitable not to have the bowler Cholitas hat and their colorful outfits as a first image. Two items that have made them recognizable to Bolivia and the whole world.

The outfits change depending on the region, however the bowler hat is a constant. A curious constant due to the contrast with the rest of the clothing and the fact that the hat does not even fit on their heads.

So, where did this meaningful tradition came from?

There are multiple versions around the arrival of the bowler hat to the Bolivian Cholitas. One might think it has a very deep and complex beginning, however the most accepted one of these stories is actually kind of funny.

This version is about the bowler hat arriving to Bolivia through shipped hats that came from England specially made for English workers. Nonetheless they were too small for the English businessmen heads. So instead of throwing them they were given to the Bolivian women.

The hats were first created by Edward Coke in 1849 for the London businessman but ended up far away from home, being used by Cholitas.

After they started using them, it was highly believed between the Cholitas, that whoever used these hats was not going to experience any kind of infertility issue.

At the beginning, it also had another meaning, it was the marital status indicator for a married woman.

Then it became pretty popular among the Aymara indigenous community until today.

The bowler hat has also been iconic for celebrities or film characters that used them like The Riddler, Batman’s one of the best known villain, A Clockwork Orange lead character Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick's film, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Lou Costello and Charlie Chaplin.

Bowler Cholitas hats change from year to year, and it has become a very important trend for Aymara women that describe themselves as very proud indigenous Aymara women and more over it has become a Bolivian cultural icon.

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