The Discreet Magic of Berets and Caps

Hat-averse? No problem. Easy-to-wear berets with subtle details are in style this fall, as are all manner of caps.

By Linda Dyett

 

Jane Fonda in a tweed newsboy cap, Marlene Dietrich in a classic beret and Tilda Swinton in a Fidel Castro-style military cap

Jane Fonda in a tweed newsboy cap, Marlene Dietrich in a classic beret and Tilda Swinton in a Fidel Castro-style military cap.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

Growing up in Bayside, Queens, I vividly recall passing by St. Robert’s, the local Catholic church, on Sunday mornings, noticing more than a few hatless ladies reaching into their handbags as they entered—in order to snatch up a Kleenex that they promptly placed on top of their head. A bizarre practice, you might think—though everyone knew what it was about: The Vatican required women to wear headgear in church. But back then, in the early 1960s, Big Hair had momentously emerged, causing even the most devout churchgoers—and women everywhere—to disavow hats, which would flatten their beehive’d, bouffant or otherwise teased and sprayed hair.

Hats of one sort or another had routinely been worn by women (as well as men) for centuries. But in those latter postwar years, they rapidly become passé, viewed as quaint relics of a decorous past. Even today, most women in our culture avoid any headgear whatsoever, aside from baseball caps, maybe, as well as wintertime woolen beanies and summer sunhats.

But hats as fashion statements? Even style-savvy women are wary. They shy away from them, some even cowering at the very thought—as I learned querying a number of acquaintances:

“They look pretentious,” says a boutique-owner friend, echoing the views of many.

“With my frizzy hair? You must be kidding,” says an interior designer.

“There’s one hat in my front hall closet, and I haven’t worn it in 20 years,” says a third, a beauty industry executive.

But here’s the good news for the fashion-minded: Easy-to-wear, non-officious berets and caps with brims are showing up this fall in checks, plaids, velvets, tweeds and animal prints, as well as trusty neutral and vividly colored solids. Some are bejeweled, and a few are even worn with netting or a veil, or a kerchief underneath. The look confers instant chic; it magically transforms whatever else you’re wearing.

Berets and caps make perfect sense right now. Not only are they in tune with the androgyny trend so popular today, but—almost defying logic—they add a needed punch of style for those of us who are shopping less and reverting to our closets for classics we can count on.

A word about prices: Berets and caps currently retail starting at $10 from street vendors and reaching into the mid-three figures and even higher. The less expensive ones are generally made of wool felt; the higher priced ones are made of rabbit fur felt, which is more durable and retains its shape far longer. Keep in mind that a good hat will last for many years.

 

Isabelle Huppert in a leather beret, Catherine Deneuve in a Captain’s-style cap, and Faye Dunaway in a cashmere beret.

Isabelle Huppert in a leather beret, Catherine Deneuve in a captain’s-style cap, and Faye Dunaway in a classic beret.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

BERETS

Far and away the most popular hats this fall are berets—no-brainers that look great on everyone, with a jaunty, informal edge that works with tailored suits as well as bulky sweaters, sweats and jeans.

In the 17th century, berets were worn by shepherds in the French and Spanish Pyrenees. Laborers in various fields later appropriated them, as did artists, musicians, revolutionaries, rebels, schoolgirls, soldiers, Black Panthers and Green Berets. Even some Frenchmen still wear them. Today, they transcend categorizing. And in wintertime, felted wool berets keep your head and ears warm.

Brimless, round and flat-crowned, berets have a fold to create height and a cuff for snugness, But differences abound. Many have a tiny stem, tab or button at the top, defining the center and making for easy removal. Some are soft and slouchy, some are structured and blocked, some are lined. They may come with a sweat band, or an elastic band or internal drawstring to adjust the fit. Inexpensive cool-weather berets are typically made of finely knitted wool or acrylic. Better ones are made of felted rabbit fur, or leather, suede or fur pelts, and some are knitted or crocheted.

The hat designer Lola Ehrlich notes three ways of wearing a beret: French style, with the cuff inside and one ear covered; pulled over the ears and forehead, with the cuff out; or pulled back, with some hair showing. If you welcome extra height at the front of your beret, try inserting a rolled-up silk scarf.

If, like me, you find yourself fascinated with berets, check out South Pacific Berets, a New Zealand e-tailer specializing in berets not just from France and Spain, but from artisanal workshops around the world.

Here are a dozen berets to consider, each with its own cunning details:

 

Béret-Boule. Merino wool, with an internal leather drawstring for size adjustments. A made-for-women style, roomy enough for complex hairdos. Handmade in Basque Country by Boneteria Auloronesa, perhaps the greatest of the remaining small-batch beret workshops. $87.50. South Pacific Berets

Lola Leopard Frenchie. Long-hair rabbit fur felt. hair, Blocked, with a rounded crown that stays in shape and cigarette stem. This one’s meant to be tilted. $315. Lola Hats

 

Callanan Netting Wool Beret. A special-occasion beret, covered with mesh netting displaying tiny pom poms. $34. Village Hat Shop

Moschino Pink Wool-Blend Beret. Long-stemmed and slouchy, with elasticized trim. $275. Farfetch

 

Free People Lolita Leather Beret. Unstructured, with side grommets. $168. Free People

Lauren Manogian Beret. Long-hair Suri alpaca. Soft and floppy. $150. Maryam Nassir Zadeh

 

Adelaide Beret. Wool felt, strewn with faux pearls. $38. Anthropologie

Eric Javits Bachi Beret. Naval-inspired. Heavy wool twill with grosgrain band and metal star ornaments. $325. Eric Javits

 

Loopy Mango DIY Mohair So Soft Beret kit. Knittable in 1-2 hours. $58. Loopy Mango

Eugenia Kim Cher in Cream/Black Houndstooth. Wool, with adjustable grosgrain band. $195. Eugenia Kim

 

Lynn Paik Millinery Suede Beret. Lambskin braid; hardware detail. $355. Can be custom made in other materials. 220 East 10th Street. Lynn Paik

San Diego Hat Company Women’s Angora Beret. Ultra-soft, ultra-slouchy. $39. San Diego Hat

 

CAPS

Almost as big-time as berets this season are caps, which in our age of informal attire have almost replaced fedoras and homburgs as daily male headgear. Caps make perfect sense in our currently splintered culture. More than any other clothing item, they’re adept at displaying allegiances, front and center, in written words and logos—whether to a political ideology, a sports team, a fashion designer, a brand, or even an expletive or a mood. Cap shapes also announce occupations—from baseball player to fisherman, newsboy, baker boy, majorette, trucker, engineer, hunter, etc. In other words, they’re communicators.

And even more than berets, caps vary—both in the size and shape of the crown and in the brim or visor—modest or protruding, hard or soft. Some (especially baseball caps) have snaps, tuck straps or buckles—which permit size adjustment and also provide an opening for ponytails.

Sure, there’s nothing more informal than a cap, worn with a T-shirt, sweats and jeans. But if you seek an ultra-contemporary dissonant look, wear one with a sheath or chemise.

These are standouts this fall:

 

Isabel Marant Evie Wool-Felt Cap. Newsboy-style, with a full, round body. $175. Moda Operandi

Gigi Burris Ana Velour Finish Felt Cap. High, rounded crown, shallow brim. $340. Moda Operandi

Lola Doorknob Redux. Rabbit fur with faux fox fur pom-pom ear flaps. $445. Available in late October. Lola Hats

Eugenia Kim Elyse. Velvet engineer cap with white pearl Swarovski band. $245. Eugenia Kim

Adidas by Stella McCartney Run Cap. Polyester. Curved peak, snakeskin patterning, rear buckle adjuster. Intended for running, but the shape is sophisticated enough to wear around town. $59. Farfetch

Draped Cap in Blue Grey. Fur felt. Hand-shaped and hand-creased, with a leather band. Elegant as a regular hat. $295. East Village Hats

Lola Classic Chauffeur. Greek captain-style. Wool flannel with cowhide strap and visor, menswear sleeve lining. $200. Lola Hats

Goorin Bros. Coastal Town. Acrylic-wool duckbill, cotton-lined. $60. Goorin Bros.

Brixton Barrel Snap Cap. Polyester-wool tweed, lined with a contrasting color. $39. Brixton

Ruslan Baginskiy Leather Baker Boy Cap. $350. Moda Operandi

Eric Javits Night Porter. Buttery-soft lamb leather, downturned brim, grommets and adjustable back buckle. Recalls the military cap worn by Charlotte Rampling in the controversial 1974 film this hat is named after. $440. Eric Javits

Rag & Bone Marilyn Baseball Cap. Calf suede, adjustable back strap. $150. Rag & Bone

 

Linda Dyett’s articles on fashion, beauty, health, home design, and architecture have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Monocle, Afar, New York magazine, Allure, Travel & Leisure, and many other publications.

You may enjoy other NYCitywoman articles by Linda Dyett:

New York Seniors and the Clutter Dilemma

Hair Style News: Isn’t it Time for an Update?

End-of-Winter Skin Soothers and Rechargers

The Latest in Makeup: Think Little or None

Turning Antique Lace into Silver and Gold

Tips from a Top NYC Hair Colorist

A Makeup Update for Mature Faces

Share Button

Three Days With Gregory Peck

Guerrilla Girls

Activist Artists Focus on Politics Past and Present

Six Books to Read in October

Zumba! The Worldwide Dance/Fitness Craze

The Discreet Magic of Berets and Caps

Best Fall 2018 Fashion Trends

Five Books to Read in September

Murphy the Schnauzer and Me

Six Books to Read in August

Snoring

Is Snoring Compromising Your Health?

Elder Wisdom Circle

How Seniors Share Experience and Wisdom

Wilburton Inn in Fall

Solo Getaway: Unique East Coast Inns

City of Water Day

The Attachment Effect