Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Easter Parade

A broad brimmed tricorne - well worn!

The famed New York fashion  procession has little to do with this bog other than timing...but I thought I would spend some time discussing headgear worn during the times of the Yankee Doodle Spies. So what actually made Yankee Doodle Dandy...a dandy?  For one thing, his hat!

Conical hat with shield
Until recent times, hats were a universal part of any one's wardrobe, rich or poor.  They kept the head warm and the elements in check.  In the days before umbrella's and the like became affordable, a hat or hood was the only thing to protect a person who had to be out in the weather - rain, snow, sleet...or burning sun. Hats were much more common and played an important role in the culture of the 18th century.  Its adornment with braid, cockade, and feather (or not) could make a social or political statement. And how the hat was used could make an equally important statement.  For example,taking off (doffing) one's hat could evoke respect. A hat thrown in the air evinced joy and a hat brought to one's chest, reverence.

Hats could be broad brimmed, short brimmed or conical.  Farmers often wore the simple broad brimmed hat, which looks a little like a floppy version of today's cowboy hat. Many of the American militias can be seen in broad brimmed hats but sometimes they wore conical headgear. For military usage, the conical hat often had a large shield affixed to the front, giving it a more martial appearance.  The shield could bear an emblem distinguishing the unit or bearing a numeral or motto.  Some light infantry affected this type of hat, especially among British troops.

Cavalry helmet 
Some infantry  and most cavalry wore helmets, usually of leather.  The helmet was practical but it cost much more than a simple felt hat or even the finely crafted "beaver." However, the helmet displayed a martial look and provided maximum protection from blows to the head from saber, sword, musket butt or bayonet. Helmets sometimes had a tail or tassel or plume made from cloth or even feathers.
Bearskins were worn by British grenadiers and sometimes highland infantry wore the floppy beret-like bonnet adorned with plumes. German grenadiers wore the impressive looking miter hats.  Sometimes light infantry wore smaller versions.

Traditional working man or farmer's tricorne

The most famous hat of the American Revolution was, of course, the three cornered hat...the tricorne. At the peak of its popularity, the tricorne was worn as civilian dress and as part of military and naval uniforms. As I stated above, its distinguishing characteristic was  practical : the turned-up portions of the brim formed gutters that directed rainwater away from the wearer's face, depositing most of it over his shoulders. Before the invention of specialized rain gear, this was a distinct advantage.

The tricornes were broad brimmed, with the brim pinned up on either side of the head and at the back.  This  triangular shape gave the hat its name.Normally  it was  worn with the point facing forward, but often times soldiers wore the tricorne pointed to the left to allow better clearance when firing their musket.

Light infantry in broad brim, civilian in traditional tricorne,
dragoon in helmet, British grenadier in bearskin

Tricornes ranged from the very simple and cheap to the extravagant, occasionally incorporating gold or silver lace trimming and feathers. In addition, military and naval versions usually bore a cockade or other national
emblem at the front or on the side.

An officer's or more wealthy man's tricorne

By the 1790s the tricorne fell out of use and a new bicorne style hat evolved. The bicorne offered less protection from the elements but its flatter shape made for easier handling when "doffed." However, over the course of history, few hats were so closely associated with a Cause, a Nation or a Sentiment like the famed three cornered hat of the American Revolution.

The late 18th century bicorne was certainly no tricorne!

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