Origins: Flat Caps


Newsboys smoking

Kids... What would their parents say?

Look to your left. Look to your right. How many men do you see wearing flatcaps? I can almost guarantee your answer is few to none. 

Hats nowadays aren't very popular and if you do see hats worn, they are usually in the form of baseball caps. This wasn't always the case though, and today we will explore where this stand out piece owes its birth to. 

The flatcap dates back to the its predecessor, the "bonnet" in the 14th century. The bonnet in menswear was a puffy head gear piece before the term "cap" replaced it. As for the flatcap, it did not gain traction as a mainstay item until the 16th century in England. 

Scottish Bonnet

A bonnet of the Scottish variety. Kinda looks like a pancake doesn't it?

During that time, the English Parliment wanted to stimulate the consumption of wool. In order to do so, all men of common birth were required to wear a woolen hat on Sundays. The consequence of non compliance would be a hefty fine! As you can imagine, these woolen caps, later to be known by flat caps, would become a common piece of head gear for the EveryMan. 

The legislation was not constituted over a long period of time, but it introduced men to a functional piece of headgear. Therefore, it stuck with the common man and many would continue to wear it. 

Men wearing flat caps 

Men wearing flatcaps. 

It went to the point where the aristocracy took notice of the up and coming trend. Men of more endowed birth began to adopt the flat cap as well, albeit made in higher quality and more expensive materials to distinguish their social stature. It soon became common for wealthy men to wear flatcaps during visits to country estates and during hunting expeditions. 

Despite this, the flat cap would continue to be associated with the working man. By the turn of the 20th century, the flat cap would develop a number of variations due largely to the popularity of the design. Amongst the most popular would be the variant commonly worn by boys selling newspapers. A style to later be known as "newsboys." 

Herringbone newsboy cap

A herringbone patterned newsboy cap. Characterized by its 8 panels and button located on the top. 

As the century progressed, styles changed. Even now, you will see far more men not wearing hats as a whole then those who choose to wear hats. This trend began during the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930's and starting then, hats (including flatcaps) declined in popularity. The younger generation in the mid 20th century generally did not favor wearing hats like their fathers and grandfathers before them. 

This was partly due to the youth rebellion of the time. And so the flatcap became known as an old man's hat by the late 20th century. It wasn't until the turn of the millenium that things began to swing in favor back to the flat cap. Just like jeans, it was the portrayal of famous actors that led to young men adopting the clothing item. 

David Beckham flat cap

Soccer star David Beckham sporting flatcaps. 

And that leads us to the modern day. Flatcaps are still fairly rare in terms of mens clothing choices, but therein lays its advantage. It is not as common as baseball caps, but every bit (and even more so) as functional. The rarity of this menswear piece gives you a polished look and shows that you put some thought into your clothing, without looking like you're trying too hard. 

The Takeaway: The flatcap, just like henleys and jeans, has humble origins that first gained favor with the EveryMan. It's form and function allowed the head gear to gain popularity that transcended social class during a time when hats were common. With the decline of hats, so too did the flatcap decline in favoribility. It wasn't until the turn of the 21st century that we see the design regain popularity due to the influence of famous actors. 

With the history of the flat cap discussed, feel free to learn how to style a flatcap correctly! 

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