Berets: Uses

The beret has to be the most versital headwar ever. Children wore it for many diverse purposes and events. But it was not just worn by children. It has been worn by little boys and girls as well as old men. But even more versital than who wore it was the special conventions or groups whivh used the beret as part of a unifirm. We note boy and girl scouts wearing berets along with such diverse groups as shepards, soldiers including Green Berets and paratroopers, Cuban revolutionaries, and many more. Few headwear styles have proven acceptable to such diverse groups from free thinking Bohemians and very individualist artists to regimented soldiers. And along with this diversity were not only individual boys, but schools and youth groups. WE note boys wearing berets casually for play. Others boys used the beret when dressing up.


French artists liked to wear berets and because of their importance, the custom was followed by some artists in many other countries.

Figure 2.--Many Boy Scouts in various countries after World War II began wearing berets instead of the traditiinal Scout hat. This photograph shows a Canadian Scout.

Boy Scouts

French Scours wore berets early on, but it was not until after World War II that Scouts in many other countries began wearing them. Some Scout groups such as the British Scouts and individual American Scout units also wear berets. The British, Canadian, and Dutch Scouts have worn black berets, Irish Scouts light blue berets, the American Scout red berets, and other Scouts a variety of other colors.

Cuban and Other Revolutionaries

Berets became associated with hippies and anarchic resistance to the establishment in the 1950s and 60s. The classic picture of Che Guevarra shows hin in a beret. The American Black Panthers took to wearing black berets.

Figure 3.--Berets were commonly used in America during the 1930s-40s as part of dressup outfits for small boys. They are still occasionally used. Click on image for full view.

Dressy Headgear for American Boys

The Beret was worn by small boys in America during the 1920s-40s as part of a dressy outtfit and was occasionally seen as late as the 1980s. It was generally in America, however, as a girls cap in America. Girls wore them extensively in the 1920s-30s, calling them "tams".

Military Uniforms

Strangely, the various militaries found berets to be perfect for ceremonies or other non-physical military activities. They would wear the beret for decoration, and still do. Non-French military groups began wearing berets in the 1930s before World War II. The British tank course may have been the first non-French group. Several elite formatiins adoopted them during the War--such as British paratroopetrs. This was somewhat incongrous given their wear by small boys and girls. This trend continued after the War with more elite groups like paratroopers and special forces adopting the beret. In 2001 a major dispute has arisen among the U.S. military as to the color and image of the beret. An English fashion historian writes, when the English during World War II went "... into the Forces to save their country they had a proper respect for hats and knew that the regulation beret had to be one inch above the eyebrows and parallel to the ground. Given those proper dimensions you could be a hero with an easy conscience. Those who wore berets slopped over the side of the head like errant sponges ended up peeling potatoes in base camps. They were poor beings indeed and not fit to die in the front line for King and bowler." [Mather]


Berets were worn to school by both boys and girls, but this varied from country to country. Boys from quite a number of countries wore berets to school. They are of course most commonly associated with French boys. French boys commonly wore berets. The beret is traditionally associated with French schooboys and smocks. Actually it was not just schoolboys who wore berets. It was in the first half of the 20th Century the trademark of the working class and during World War II, the Resistance. The beret is now not commonly worn in France by boys or men. This was very common in the first half of the 20th century, but for some reason declined sharply after World war II (1939-45). We note that girls began wearing berets after the War. This may have been a factor. n We're not sure why. Belgian boys also wore berets, I think more in Walonia than Flanders. We do note Dutcg boys wearing them as well. Surprisingly, German boys wore them to school, mostly younger boys. Berets were also worn in Spain, but I think more in the Baque country and Catalonia than the rest of Spain. A few schools used them as part of uniforms. Here they were much more common at girls' than boy's schools. We note a number of English schools where the girls wore berets. English boys, unlike continental boys did not wear berets to school. The peaked school cap was almost universal. Many European boys wore berets to school, but not as part of a uniform. They were not very common in America. Some younger American boys wore berets, bit not to school. We rarely see American boys wearing berets to school. This was probably because so many girls wore them.

Teenage Girls and Women

The beret has become so popular that it has spread to high schools where girls use them as fashionable headgear, and certain guys use them to be different. Americans will not soon forget Monica Lewinski and her black beret.

Urban Crime Fighters

Groups like the Guardian Angels took to wearing red berets in their efforts to fight crime in urban America.


Kilgour, Ruth. Pageant of Hats Ancient and Modern. This book provides an interesting history of headwear. It is a lovely book, but very old, not always easy to find.

Mather, Geoffrey. "Capped for England" BBC Radio 4, 2001.

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Created: 3:37 AM 8/2/2008
Last edited: 3:37 AM 8/2/2008