These days, the thirst for iconic garments from “back then” seems to be unquenchable. One of these is the beret: The jaunty hat has made a comeback on this season’s runway of Dior, Marc Jacobs and Prada, and is simultaneously finding its way back to the streets.
But the beret is more than just a fashion trend, so let’s face history: The silhouette of the beret we know today was already around in ancient Greece and Rome. It is said that Basque shepherds were the first to manufacture and wear it as protection against harsh sun and cold winters. In the 15th and 16th century the felt hat had been adopted not only by farmers, but artists (as seen on Rembrandt’s self-portrait, for instance).
Since the felt fabric for the floppy hat was easy to produce–you only need wool, water and pressure for its production–and available to purchase at a favorable price, it found many wearers.
In the 18th century, the military began to appreciate its qualities so that over time, various armies in WWI and WWII as well as revolutionists including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in the ’60s or the Black Panthers in the early ’70s wore berets.
But besides its “militant” qualities, the beret has always had a career among artists and free thinkers such as Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
In the ’90s the beret had another “political” moment, when young intern Monica Lewinsky and then-President Bill Clinton met at a White House lawn party and were captured in an iconic photograph. In this decade it also made a few cinematic appearances, when worn by Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, Eva Green in The Dreamers and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.
For the Super Bowl halftime show in 2016, Beyoncé wore the most political outfit of her career. Fifty years after the formation of the Black Panthers, which had its roots in Oakland, less than 50 miles from the stadium where the Super Bowl took place, Beyoncé paid homage to the movement with her dancer’s outfit: black leather jacket and beret.
Trends like power suits, statement shirts or berets serve more than a garment’s elemental purpose of covering one’s body. They are used to make expressions: On social status, political beliefs, and of course: current fashions.
And even though you might think the hat belongs to the hard-to-wear category, there are many ways to don it: pulled-back and worn with hip hop–inspired streetwear, fluffed up and paired with jeans and a T-shirt or slanted to the side in a nod to the “military” look. Whether corduroy, leather or felt, there’s a whole variety of different berets and they suit every type of hairstyle.