Bearskin Hats

  A number of readers have sent inquiries about the the bearskin hat Prince William (and Prince Charles and the Duke of Kent) wore during the recent Trooping the Colour. Are they really made of bearskin? How big are those things?! How do they stay on? Why do they wear them? Why do they have different coloured feathers in them?

Current and past members of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards as well as contacts at royal warrant holder Patey (London) Ltd, who make ceremonial hats for the British Royal Family, report that bearskin hats are now made from synthetic skins.

In the past, however, they were made from real bear skins. These real bearskin hats continue to be in service, diligently maintained so they last for decades (some are reportedly more than 100 years old). The tall hats weigh approximately seven pounds and were made from pelts of Canadian female brown bears (brown bears have thicker fur than black bears so these pelts were simply dyed black).

Embed from Getty Images

It all goes back to 1815 when the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards defeated Napoleon’s French Grenadier Guards at the Battle of Waterloo and celebrated their victory by stealing their imposing fur hats. When they returned to England, they were renamed the Grenadier Guards (the name they still have today) and their uniform was changed to include these tall fur hats as a permanent reminder of their victory. Today, there are 5 regiments and each one has a special coloured feather plume in their bearskin to distinguish their regiment. Prince William is part of the Irish regiment, whose bearskins have a blue plume (below, right). The Coldstream Guards have a red plume, the Grenadier Guards have a white plume (see the Duke of Edinburgh above), the Welsh Guards have a striped white-green-white plume (see the Prince of Wales, below right) and the Scottish Guards have no plume.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

There is excellent information about the Grenadier Guards and their Bearskins here and I also highly recommend the 4-part mini-series “Guarding the Queen” which is available on youtube (here is the first episode).
There is no doubt that the use of animal pelts for fashion is controversial. While this practice has been appropriately retired, it remains a fascinating part of royal and military history.
Photos from Getty as indicated

25 thoughts on “Bearskin Hats

  1. I was in the Scots Guards in the late 1950’s and it really was a bearskin in those days. there was a soft leather strap encircling the inside of the cap which is designed to hold the cap firmly in place. When you see a guardsman faint during a long stand at a big ceremonial parade it is because the strap has tightened on the guardsman’s temple and cut off the flow of blood to the brain causing the lad to fall down. If you watch carefully, whenever a guardsman is standing for a long time, you will see him flick his head slightly which is not really noticeable by the public but the flick has the effect of releasing the pressure of the headband on the temple. All the lads used to take great pride in shaping the “tail” of their bearskin caps with the judicious use of a drop of water and a small brush. The cap was then sat on the end of a broom and hung out of the dormitory window (in good weather of course), until it was dry.

  2. As an ex coldstream guard, I would like to point out to these people who really think that bears are slaughtered just so we can wear the bearskin on parade, Today almost all the bearskins are made of synthetic material, Yes in the early days bears were killed for the skin, but not any longer, They are made with the great skill required to make them look great,

    • Actually this is not correct Vern. The army trialled synthetic bearskins in the 90`s but the material just did not work. They were actually designed by Vivian westwood. Most of the skins in circulation within the battalions are 20-30 years old, some much older. The Canadians cull 2-300 hundred black bears every year, not specifically to provide the Guards with bearskin caps, but to keep their ever increasing numbers down. From this number, the MoD purchase around 50 pelts per year to replace damaged and worn skins

  3. The photos you comment about are actually the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) and it is not a Welsh Guards Uniform he is wearing it is the Irish Guards as you can tell from the plume in his hat is Blue and the Shamrock on his collar. Guards are easily identified by the number of buttons on their dress tunics as they are set in formation. Grenadier Single buttons,
    Coldstream Guards Buttons in pairs, Scots Guards Threes, Irish Guards Fours and the Welsh Guards Fives.

  4. Why is the “chin strap” never worn under the chin?
    I’ve only ever seen them worn between the bottom lip and the chin.

    • I am also interested in the chin strap being below the lips as opposed to under the chin. I can’t recall reading about this above?

  5. how pitiful and awful it is that a bear is killed so that it sits ridiculously on someones head serving no use other than ornament.

    • Leon,. can you not read? The bearskin caps are synthetic…..and not real. Some people think that when you eat meat, you are just killing an animal so that you can benefit from its death.

  6. As a citizen of the once Commonweath countries, I really thank you for hosting such a website to read more about the monarch and its belonging. So many things that we cant read from history books etc… So wonderful and keep it up!

  7. My great grandad was a grenadier guard and wore a bearskin 🙂
    They wouldn’t be something that a “standard” milliner makes or ever learns to make. The guards are all active soldiers and these bear skins can be seen every day in London when they are guard duties. If they were actually in combat they’d not wear these bad boys….I think they’d be pretty easy to spot by the enemy.
    The hats are hot & heavy; if you ever see a guard on duty on one you can see just how hot they get under them. But as with most guards they are not allowed to move at all! I couldn’t stand still that long!!

  8. And William looks uncomfortable with the Order of the Garter cap because he thinks IT looks silly? Ummm……..

  9. Hat Queen, you have taken this blog up a notch with the links to previous outings, videos, guest milliners and research. And before this you already had developed an excellent site. Thank you so much for the sterling effort, I find it most enjoyable and informative.

  10. It would be great to see how they are made , because there would not be too many milliners out there whom have the knowledge to make the Bear Hat

  11. I had never thought that the royals themselves would be wearing the bearskins. It was also fascinating to learn that these guards are active soldiers and not as ‘ceremonial’ as it may seem.

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