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

36 thoughts on “Bolivia’s Bowler Hats

Add yours

    1. 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.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 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. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 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? 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    1. 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.


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