Beret-er than Ever
Splashing around the cold, wet streets of Paris, a young trendy twenty something, donning the the city’s namesake hat--the beret--checks her makeup in her compact mirror in the light of the street lamp and is off on her way. Smartphones, selfie lenses, and light up cases weren’t even within the realm of possibility.
Berets were worn by fashionable trendsetters starting in the 1920s. They were a popular choice for those that wanted to make a statement. With its sleek, yet slouchy look, and topped with a little fabric nib, there was something a bit whimsical and youthful that intrigued its wearers. Not only was this staple accessory more comfortable, made from shapeable material like wool, felt, or cotton, but it was a stark shift from the stiff and structured hats that had been in style just a decade or two before.
Most often thought to be worn by budding artists and hip Parisian youth, the beret has had its moments in the spotlight throughout its long history. Historically, this unique hat has been a catalyst for social commentary and political activism. The beret has been used by the likes of Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary, as well as the Black Panther Party, an organization made up of African Americans that wanted to defend and protect civilians from police brutality in the streets. These hats have also seen their share of military days. Worn by all troops in the United States army, the beret acts as a symbol for strength and perseverance in all facets of the word.
Perhaps it is a look that when crafted and styled in the right way can, evoke a strong feeling. Back when it was first coming into its own, the beret was styled in a way that ballooned out. The hat was pulled further down the forehead, but the excess fabric was left propped up a bit. During the beret’s use during the communist era, the hat took on a new severity. The hat was worn on more of an angle than it ever had previously, and now adornments could be added to the hats proclaiming their cause. The off kilter look added an edge to the hat that had since been associated with youthful Parisians. In the United States Army, the berets have an incredible forty five degree angle on one side of the front, while the other side pushes forward as if it were a wave. A layer of sharpness adds to the beret’s strength, especially since it is a hat traditionally made of softer, moldable materials.
In recent years, berets have been making a comeback. Most notably, in Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl 50 halftime show, in which she and her dancers referenced the Black Panther Movement in their performance of ‘Formation.’ The song had come out just one day prior to game day. In the show, the dancers were dressed in all black and sported afros and berets, nodding to the styles of the original members of the movement. Her portion of the show was also in support of the more recent Black Lives Matter Movement that has been making incredible strides in recent years.
Berets are on their way back, especially seeing their resurgence in the world of fashion. Even in the 2017 season, berets have been seen on models, celebrities, and fashion icons alike. Style gurus like Rihanna, and sisters Bella and Gigi Hadid have adorned variations of the classic beret.
Hats, historically, have been used for a variety of different reasons, varying from culture to culture and place to place. They’ve been used for protection, warmth, style, and political and social commentary. Back in the days of Vikings, warriors, and knights, hats were made of metal and other hard substances to protect the wearer and one of their most vital body parts--the brain. The same goes for warm wool hats that insulate the head and ensure that we don’t let our cranium freeze.
Regardless of their form or function, hats, from berets to baker boys are always changing with the times. The baker boy, with its peak in the 1960s and 70s has also creeped its way back into mainstream fashion as an autumn staple. Wide brim fedoras, with their ties to the 20s and gangster era fashion, evoke the mystery of a time when speakeasies were all the rage. Even straw is up and coming being made into floppy hats and basket bags, enabling the country bumpkin in all of us.
Photo by: Amaia Rioseco