Bolivia’s Bowler Hats

Unique bowler hats have been an intrinsic part of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua (‘Cholitas’) women’s attire in Bolivia, since the 1920s.

Travelling through South America for over 9 months in 2011 and spending a couple of months in Bolivia, you can’t but help fall in love with bowler hats. A little taste for you…

La Paz, Bolivia South America
La Paz

In the American West, the bowler hat was the most popular and famed as the “hat that won the West”.

Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, Bolivia, South America
Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca

Popular because this type of hat didn’t fly off mens heads like the wide-brimmed cowboy hat did, while horse riding or during strong winds.

Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, Bolivia, South America
Lake Titicaca

So how did the bowler hat get to Bolivia?


Although the bowler first appeared in 1849 in London, British railway workers and engineers introduced this hat in Bolivia in the 1920s.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America

Locally made now in Bolivia, previously, the bowler hat was made in Italy for many decades.

San Cristóbal

But why did the blower hat become so fashionable among women in Bolivia?

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America

The popularity was a pure mistake and not intentional because of a shipment of wrongly-sized hats arriving, which didn’t fit the male railway workers.


Unable to persuade Bolivian men to adopt the fashion and not wanting the shipment to be thrown out, the tradesman started to work on Bolivian women.

La Paz, Bolivia, South America
La Paz

After some persuasion with fabricated tales of the bowler a popular fashion item for women in Europe, the tradesman hawked the hats to the local women and so, began the fashion frenzy of the bowler hat in Bolivia.

Bolivian Cholitas, South America
Bolivian Cholitas

But that’s not all, the placement on the head of the bowler is important and gives a clear message to an onlooker – if you know what the signal means…


If the hat is placed on the side of the head, the woman is a widow or single, whereas placing the hat on top of the head signifies the woman is married.

And let’s not forget, famous people such as Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and comedians Laurel and Hardy are among the many that cemented the bowler hat as a fashion statement throughout history.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, South America
Salar de Uyuni

In Bolivia, the bowler hat is worn with style, pride, and pizazz, completing every outfit. Which photo of the bowler hat do you prefer?

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Bolivia at Image Earth Travel.

La Paz, Bolivia, South America
La Paz

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36 responses to “Bolivia’s Bowler Hats”

  1. Carolyn Avatar

    The hats in that second picture remind me of the one British Airways hat that I actually liked.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ah yes, they do look like the British Airways hat from a while back. Quite a stylish uniform.

  2. Len Kagami Avatar

    Really interesting! I didn’t know that the way Blovian women wear the hat will tell people about their marital status 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Len
      Neither did I until I travelled through Bolivia. Men and women in Peru also have a particular hat that’s worn, maybe I should write something on that… 😉
      Appreciate your comment.

      1. Len Kagami Avatar

        Please do 🙂

  3. gillmorris Avatar

    These are wonderful photos Nilla xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Gill!
      I mentioned in my previous comment here that I return to Oz with over 10,000 photos from the 9 months of travel through South America – incredible time!

  4. Dave Ply Avatar

    I’m bowled over.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, too funny Dave!

  5. Lookoom Avatar

    It’s true that bowler hats are eye-catching in Bolivia, there’s also the rainy version, with a plastic bag simply wrapped around the hat 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, I did see that fashion statement also during the rain!
      The bowler’s price can command up to US$1,000 so women are starting to wear a wider brimmed less-expensive hat and often made from straw.

  6. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    Ah, I just love these photo’s … the woman look so proud wearing these hats. And I never knew the ‘story behind the hat story’ – thanks for sharing this 👍🏻.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      The hats are definitely worn with pride and look amazing on women.
      Happy that you enjoyed this story and please feel free to share with friends and family. 🙂

  7. Brothers Campfire Avatar

    What kind of hats do the men wear?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Benjamin
      The traditional men seem to wear more of a Harrison Ford hat but with a much smaller brim. Others, wear baseball caps.
      The hats are quite different in Peru than in Bolivia.

      1. Brothers Campfire Avatar

        Way cool! I learned a lot today!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Excellent! Happy to help and please feel free to share this post. ☺️

      3. Brothers Campfire Avatar

        I shared it. Thank you again!

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you so much! You’re a gem! 🙂

  8. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    What a great post! The history of the bowler hats in Bolivia is interesting – it’s funny how a whoops became a big part of the Bolivian identity.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks! I have so many photos of women in bowler hats that it was difficult picking out only a few for this post.
      Crossing over to Peru, brought a different type of hat… 😉

  9. sheetalbravon Avatar

    A wonderful post and so informative too. Also the pictures were terrific!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank and it’s cool you enjoyed this post.
      Do you have a favourite photo from the post?

  10. karenincalabria Avatar

    Great post! I’ve always been fascinated by Bolivian bowlers but never having visited Bolivia, I never looked into it. What a great story and photos. They bring a smile to your face. If I had to pick a favorite, I would probably say the women walking to the lake with the sheep. They’re all excellent, though.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Karen
      Thank you for the great feedback and interesting choice for a favourite.
      I think I have hundreds of photos of women in bowler hats and then there’s Peru, which has a different style of hat…maybe another post? 😉

      1. karenincalabria Avatar


  11. Rebecca Cuningham Avatar

    Great article. Thanks for the information!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Rebecca! Do you have a favourite bowler hat photo?
      Hope you’re well?

      1. Rebecca Cuningham Avatar

        Of these beauties, La Paz is my favorite. : )

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        The 1st photo from La Paz?
        This is one of my favourite and had this one in an photographic exhibition in Italy. Looks good printed large!

      3. Rebecca Cuningham Avatar

        That’s so wonderful! Congratulations.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you!

      5. Rebecca Cuningham Avatar

        Wonderful exhibition space. Your photos look great there.

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you! It really was a space steeped in history.
        Would love to hold another exhibition in Brisbane again but with COVID, it’s so hit and miss at the moment.

      7. Rebecca Cuningham Avatar

        I’m sure that you could given your marvelous portfolio of photography.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Very kind words Rebecca, thank you! 🙂

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