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. . . . . . . . . . . . .
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 classic beret. . . . . . . . . . . . .
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. $22. 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
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. Out of stock, see more berets at 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. Out of stock, see more berets at 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
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
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. $112. 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.
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