Hat Types: The Beret

Characteristics: a beret is a soft, round hat with a flat crown which is worn tilted to one side of the head. Usually made from from wool, felt, knitted/crocheted cotton, leather or acrylic, the base of a beret snuggly hugs the wearer’s head. While a traditional beret is round, soft and flexible, we also see rigid versions blocked in felt or straw. These blocked versions often follow more oval, teardrop, or triangular shapes which give them that characteristic “tilted to one side” beret look.

History: Hats similar to the beret have been found in Bronze Age (3200-600 B.C.) tombs and on paintings and sculptures across Western Europe from 400 B.C. through the 13th century, a longevity sustained over the centuries by the availability and cheap cost of wool and the simple style of the hat. By the by the 14th and 15th century, wool berets were commonly worn by the lower classes of society, particularly farmers and artists. Rembrandt was known to often wear a beret hat, which features in most of his self portraits.

The French word “beret” was first documented in 1835 referring to a flat, woolen cap worn by Basque peasants. During the Second Carlist War in Spain (1846-1849), the beret was first politicised when Carlist leader Tomas Zumalacarregui took to wearing one in red. In France, the hat’s military association grew when elite members of the French Army began a long-held tradition of wearing a blue beret. In the 1950s, the U.S. Army’s Special Forces adopted green berets, for which the group is now referred. Today, we see berets the military uniforms of numerous nations.

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The beret first became fashionable during the roaring 1920s, becoming the epitome of Parisienne bohemian chic; by 1928, factories in France, Spain and Italy were manufacturing millions. New wave French film brought a revival in the 1960s, a revival that took a revolutionary turn, first on the heads of Cuban leaders Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, then through the 1970s on on members of the Black Panthers, Brown Berets Young Lords Party and Guardian Angels.

The beret came back into fashion popularity in the 1990s free of its former statements of social class, art, political ideology, black pride, revolution or vigilante organization. The past decade, embellished beret percher designs have dominated millinery fashion, topping heads at racing and royal events around the world.

Royals Associated with this Hat Style: No surprise, this long-standing hat style is among the most widely worn across all royal households. Click on the photos below to link back to feature posts and original photo sources for each hat.

Traditional Soft Berets:

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

Hats by unknown, Stephen Jones, unknown, Stephen Jones, Dior, Fabienne Delvigne, unknown, unknown

Blocked Berets:

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images  
 
Hats by Stephen Jones, unknown, Stephen Jones, Whiteley, Frederick Fox, Dior, Gina Foster,
Philip Treacy, unknown, Fabienne Delvigne, Philip Treacy and Emily London

Embellished Beret Perchers:

 
Hats by by Philip Treacy, Philip Treacy, Philip Treacy, Juliette Botterill, Jane Taylor, unknown, Philip Treacy
   
Hats by Rosie Olivia, Whitely, Amy Morris-Adams, Philip Treacy, Philip Treacy, Rosie Olivia, Jane Taylor
   
Hats by Philip Treacy, Philip Treacy, Juliette Botterill, Susanne Juul, Eudia, William Chambers and Juliette Botterill

What do you think of the once lowly beret hat? What is your favourite beret hat to don a royal head?

Images from Getty as indicated and:
Soft berets images from: Pascal Le Segretain, Patrick van Katwijk, The Asahi Shimbun and Photonews via Getty Images
Blocked berets images from: Tim Graham Photo Library, Valery Hache/AFP, Pool/Max Mumby, Patrick van Katwijk, Rune Hellestad – Corbis/Corbis, Photonews, Samir Hussein/WireImage and Mark Cuthbert via Getty Images
Embellished beret perchers images: Freek van den Bergh/Pool, Chris Jackson, Mark Cuthbert, Andrew Matthews/PA Images, Max Mumby/Indigo, Ragnar Singsaas, Max Mumby/Indigo, Max Mumby/Indigo via Getty Images; Corbis; Gareth Fuller/WPA Pool, Chris Jackson, Chris Jackson, Samir Hussein/Wire Image, Chris Jackson, Max Mumby/Indigo, Julian Parker, Samir Hussein, Julian Parker/UK Press, Patrick van Katwijk/Wire Image, Max Mumby/Indigo, and Andrew Matthews/PA Images 

27 thoughts on “Hat Types: The Beret

  1. Question: What’s the difference between a beret and a tam o’shanter? Is it merely the country/region of origin?
    Is it the little stem instead of the pom pom? These earth-shaking questions are perfect reflections for this dreary, overcast Sunday afternoon.
    BTW, I have a navy blue beret, but don’t wear it often, because I feel very conspicuous in it. My friends always say “ooh la la” to me.

  2. It’s an amazing evolution: from peasant to military to Bohemian chic and then high fashion. And how striking to see this style on so many royals, including some (like Masako) we don’t usually associate with it. Splendid post, HQ!

  3. Another fantastic and informative post Hat Queen. Thank you!
    My favorite soft berets are the ones shown on Princess Charlene and Empress Masako (I’ve never seen this photo of her in a beret and she looks wonderful in it).
    Blocked berets – I love Lady Helen’s, Princess Beatrice’s, Duchess of Cornwall’s, and Duchess of Cambridge
    Embellished beret perchers – since I like all that you featured as well as the ones people have posted in the comments, I can determine that this is my favorite hat style! It suits everyone.

  4. I have always thought about berets as an informal hat because they are slouchy. This post shows how the blocked berets are so much more refined and elegant. I had not noticed this before. And of course, when milliners are able to add their creative touches, it takes the beret to a whole new level. What an informative post. Thank you.

    • So glad you highlighted this one, Beth. It is indeed lovely, but I overlooked it. Sometimes the Extras posts feature an embarrassment of riches — it’s easy to miss something special!

  5. This is such an interesting post! I hadn’t thought about the different kinds of berets and I had no idea they have been around for so many thousands of years! That’s astounding.

    My favourite beret is the dark pink one Kate wore to Eugenie’s wedding. Shear perfection!
    Embed from Getty Images

  6. Queen Elizabeth had TWO berets for the same coat; a traditional soft one, as well as the blocked example from HQ.
    (I know someone who has quite a number of berets, and they are her go-to hats when the mercury drops!)

    1993 Newbury:
    Embed from Getty Images

    1996 Cirencester:
    Embed from Getty Images

  7. Wasn’t Queen Elizabeth’s going-away outfit hat after her wedding a beret?

    Another interesting post. I hadn’t thought about the perchers as a reinvented beret. It makes me like them a bit more.

    • Yes, it was! Here’s Aage Thaarup’s original sketch.
      Embed from Getty Images

      • Wow. I love seeing the original sketch of a hat and comparing it to the finished product. Are there any photos of the hat?

    • You’re not wrong! They are definitely perchers, although if you look closely, the base is a smaller version of that distinct beret shape. I included them here because it’s an interesting look at how this shape has been adapted into a current millinery fashion trend.

      While a traditional soft beret is round, a rigid, formed beret is usually domed (instead of flat) and often more of an oval, teardrop, or triangular shape that allow the design to naturally be worn tilted to one side. Many milliners refer to perfectly round bases as “buttons” instead of berets, a term I’ve adopted here as well.
      Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

  8. March 31, 2019: Crown Princess Mary in another military green beret
    Embed from Getty Images

  9. This is really interesting. I had no idea the beret went back so far in history. I always thought of it as a chic little French hat!

    I love the black beret Kate wore for Remembrance day this year. The bow is gorgeous and I thought the hat looked fantastic with her jacket.
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    • Thank you, HatQueen, for this informative overview of the very versatile beret. The closeness of the beret and the percher is fascinating, and I was interested to see Kate’s Remembrance day hat here referred to as a beret — I’m not sure I agree, as the base does not appear to be completely round, so just to clarify, are all perchers actually berets, or does the shape of the base factor into it?

      (I went back to the original Remembrance Day post (https://royalhats.net/2020/11/08/remembrance-sunday-2020/) to see more views of Kate’s hat, and it was in that post referred to as a percher.)

      • Traditional, soft berets are indeed always round. If you look at the blocked ones above, you’ll notice that they look more oval, teardrop or even triangular and are usually domed instead of completely flat. Because blocked hats are rigid, making them in these different shapes gives the illusion that they are tilted to one side, just as a classic, soft beret is. Does that make sense? I hope so. Thanks for the request for clarification- I’ve updated the post to include this, hopefully more clearly.

        Percher hats cover a very wide array of styles worn on the side of the head. As they have been one of the most popular and fashionable style of millinery over the past decade, we’ve seen their format explored a lot. The bases of many percher hats reference traditional brimless millinery shapes- pillboxes (round with a flat top and straight sides), buttons (round with rounded sides) and berets- a small number I’ve shown in the last gallery above. You mentioned Kate’s most recent Remembrance Sunday hat, Matthew- I’ve included it below. As you said, it’s indeed a percher. Could it also be referred to as a beret percher? We find an answer with another question- does the base have that characteristic beret “tilted to one side” look? For me, it does, thanks to it’s curve (look under the bow) which is emphasized by a slight indent down the middle of the base. So, in my humble opinion here, this can be described both as a percher and a beret (or beret base) percher.

        Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

        • Hat styles and descriptions are not an exact science- and I say that after a decade of experience writing about hats! While there are distinct hat shapes, milliners don’t stick to them. That’s what makes following their work so exciting- the way they push boundaries and interpret traditional elements in new ways. That’s why I included beret perchers in this post- to show how, after thousands of years, the beret has been reinterpreted in our time.

          As I prepared this post, I asked myself, “How many times on Royal Hats have I incorrectly identified a beret hat?!” as it’s surely happened! These discussions are why I keep writing new posts here… because there’s more to learn and it’s much fun learning together with all of you.

          • This is why I keep coming back to this blog. I learn things here every day and I don’t like all the hats but everyone is respectful. I realized the other day Hat Queen that we haven’t seen any royals in hats for a long time but you’ve done such I good job with new posts and discussions that I almost didn’t notice!

        • Your explanation does make perfect sense, HatQueen, thanks for the clarification. As milliners push the bounds of each style that we now classify, there may be even more crossover between styles and it’s possible that new names for new styles may be needed in the future!

  10. That’s quite a lovely grouping, isn’t it? Hard to pick a favorite, though I think Harry looks particularly dashing in his military berets. I do like the embellished ones, there’s just something about a jaunty feather or a twist that works so well with this shape!

    • She did, indeed.
      Embed from Getty Images

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