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).
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.