As the oldest retail shop in London and the oldest hatters in the world, Lock & Co has been turning heads for over 330 years. Loyal customers have included Prime Ministers and poets, film stars and fashionistas – a roll call of distinguished names for whom a fine hat is the final touch.

In 1676, ten years after the Great Fire of London, a hatters set up shop on a newly paved road – formerly a dirt track – that lead to St James’s Palace. The hatters served the royal court and was one of the retail pioneers of what would become St James’s Street – today, one of the city’s most illustrious addresses. 

The Grade II-listed atelier brims with character and charm. ‘Things move slowly at Locks,’ says Roger Stephenson, deputy chairman and the seventh generation of his family to have shared ownership with the Lock family, ‘Our clients like the occasion of coming in and being fitted here, in a shop that is an oasis of calm near the frenzy of Piccadilly.’ 

Lock hats have woven their way into history on the heads of many of their celebrity clients: the homburg on Winston Churchill, the fedora on Oscar Wilde, and the bicorne on Admiral Lord Nelson, who died in his tailor-made hat at the Battle of Trafalgar. Modern day celebrities are just as devoted: ‘It’s surprising who walks over our threshold week to week,’ says Roger, discreetly.

The Cecil Wright offices are across the road from Lock & Co, and so when Chris Cecil-Wright was choosing a gift for charter clients to receive onboard their chosen yacht, a panama hat seemed fitting. 'Anyone can wear a panama – men, women and children – and Lock & Co panama hats are special. They are perfectly made, extremely comfortable, and timeless too.'

Panama hats are hand-woven in Ecuador using the native toquilla palm, and the best come from the town of Montecristi. ‘Each village weaves hats in their own style, with distinct patterns and banding,’ explains Roger, ‘It takes one week to weave a hat, and we buy those with the highest quality straw and finest weave. The patterns are intricate and the hats are soft to the touch.’ The hats are bought raw from Ecuador, in conical shaped hoods, and are hand-shaped and trimmed in Europe. They come in three crowns – trilby, rollable and planter style – and various brim widths, and all are trimmed with Lock & Co’s leather inner headband and finished with a grosgrain ribbon (traditionally black, but now offered in a range of colours as a bespoke service). 

Lock & Co employs two full time milliners and a designer, who all work up in the eaves of the building. ‘No other business can say that their goods are made on St James’s,’ says Roger, ‘but we are getting to bursting point. Our staff are inundated and our cellar is rammed full of hats!’ Stock includes top hats, trilbys and tweed hats, beanies, boaters and bakerboys caps, and for ladies there are whimsical couture creations and ready-to-wear pieces that can be altered and dyed to match an outfit.

The shop’s most famous style is the Coke (pronounced ‘cook’). When nobleman Edward Coke commissioned a hardwearing hat for his gamekeepers at Holkham Hall in Norfolk in 1849, Lock’s chief hatmaker, Thomas Bowler, set to work. The prototype passed muster when Coke stamped on it to test its durability, and the bowler hat was born. Its distinctive dome went on to define the silhouettes of Charlie Chaplin, Butch Cassidy, and secret agent John Steele in the television series The Avengers.

Lock & Co’s client base has been as eclectic as the hat styles they offer. One service that all customers – past, present and future – benefit from, is complimentary shaping and cleaning, whenever required. A Lock & Co hat should always look its best, Roger maintains:  ‘You own a Lock for life.’


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