You have likely seen the image of a chic French woman strolling down the street, a sophisticated beret hat perfectly cocked atop her head. There may be nothing that’s as closely associated with French style as the beret. However, berets are also traditionally worn by people in Spain and Scotland. The cap has made its way to military uniforms in many countries, and it’s a stereotypical accessory for artists, filmmakers and intellectuals.
What is a Beret?A beret is a round hat with no visor. It’s usually made from a felt, but it can be knitted or woven out of many materials. The band around the crown may have elastic or a drawstring and fits snugly so that the hat stays put. The hat widens from the band, creating a distinctive flat shape.
The History of the BeretArcheologists have discovered that ancient civilizations wore beret-style hats. In modern history, the people of the Basque region adopted the beret as part of its folk uniform. The Basque beret is traditionally blue. The people of the neighboring Navarre region tend to wear red. In Spain and Southern France, people of the working class wore black berets to symbolize their unity. The Laulhere beret has been hand-crafted in the Pyrenees Mountains for more than 175 years.
The Scottish beret differs in style from the Frenchman's beret. Some versions have a contrasting stripe that surrounds a pompom at the top. Clans identify themselves by adding accessories like feathers and tassels. A Scottish cap may have a tartan plaid pattern, whereas most French berets have solid colors. Rastafarians cover their dreadlocks with colorful knitted berets. The beret cap was even part of the American Girl Scouts’ uniform until 1994.
How to Wear a BeretYou can wear the beret in different ways, depending on your hairstyle and preference. Some people tip the beret to the side, while others wear it slanted toward the back. In South and Central America, older men tend to wear it flat on top of the head. If you’re wearing it for warmth, you might want to pull it down over your ears.
Although many people believe that they need to style their berets after French fashion, you can take it in whatever direction you’d like. Wear it with a Breton-striped shirt, or pair it with something more unexpected. Don a pink beret with a sundress or an elegant suit and pearls. A brown or tan beret can be worn with jeans and a T-shirt, a leather jacket or a crisp white button-down shirt.