On asking friends and family their opinions on the flat cap the general consensus was along the lines of ‘Well, it used to be reserved for posh country folk, but now all the chavs wear them and with that ghastly fake Burberry print.’ So, for me, this sort of statement makes the history of this simple item all the more fascinating.
Naturally the purpose of many items of clothing has changed over the centuries. From the Aquascutum trench coat to the Wellington boot, the transition from a specialised necessity to a style statement can be seen in many ‘classic’ garments. The flat cap, perhaps unsurprisingly, is no different. It is a style of hat steeped in social history.
Originating from the 14th century in Northern England and some areas of Southern Italy, a 1571 Act of Parliament attempted to stimulate domestic wool production by stating that males over six years old had to wear a flat cap, or bonnet as it was known at the time, on all Sundays or holidays, or face a fine. However, nobles and people of a certain rank in society were exempt. By the time the act was repealed in 1597 it had become a recognised symbol of a non-noble person.
Immigration from Britain to America in the following centuries saw the style become popular across the Atlantic. By the 19th century it had once again become a universal symbol of the industrial working class. However, for the working class it was a town garment, whereas for the upper-classes it became an emblem of laid-back, countryside living. Versions made from finer wool, with a silk lining, became popular amongst the upper-class English men, hence the association with golf.
During the 1920s, the fashionable young men wore them during times of relaxation, but for the upper classes it was strictly an item of the countryside and was not suitable for town wear.
Today it remains an item that is prevalent across the social spectrum and both sides of the pond. Celebrities and mortals alike don the flat cap to bring an air of casual grace to an outfit. Prince Charles can often be seen wearing the tweed variety on his trips to the country estates. David Beckham and David Gandy are often seen complementing chiselled jaw-lines with a ‘cheesecutter cap’, whilst George Clooney and Brad Pitt pair theirs with blindingly white teeth and A-list charm. Guy Ritchie is rarely without one, and the same goes for his films. A true fan.
On the runway Dolce and Gabbana rarely send their men out without the traditional Sicilian style cap. Prada played on the golf theme and had theirs at jaunty angles.
For a relatively simple item it’s come a long way from the heads of peasants to the social elite of our generation. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge an item by the person who wears it.
Image – Millicent Wilkinson