What Are Bowlers, Bonnets, Beanies & Berets?

by Simon Fuller

Hats such as the bowler and beret have regained popularity.

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People like inventing different styles of hats. As if historically popular varieties such as the top hat and fedora weren’t enough, hat designers over the ages have come up with such things as the beret and the bonnet, too. Some of these types of hat — such as the bowler — have made a comeback in the 21st century, while others, including the beanie, have never completely fallen out of fashion.

Bowlers

Sturdy and round, this type of hat was adapted from the top hats popular with British gentlemen in the 1800s. Bowlers tend to be manufactured from felt and feature a narrow brim. According to the Telegraph newspaper website, bowler hats were invented in the mid-1800s at the request of an English nobleman, Edward Coke, who wished for a strong hat to protect a man’s head against obstacles such as tree branches. The designers of the hat were William and Thomas Bowler. The bowler hat has since become associated with businessmen and bankers in London, as well as becoming an emblem of British design.

Beanie

A brimless hat usually made from synthetic materials or fleece, the beanie tends to rest over the wearer’s ears. The origin of the beanie extends back to the early 20th century, when "beanie" referred to a wool felt cap without a brim worn by British school boys, "bean" being slang for "head." The modern-day knitted beanie is a favorite of the extreme sports community, with groups such as skaters and snowboarders valuing the beanie for its warmth.

Bonnets

Bonnets were designed for women, girls and babies and have been worn for centuries. They are generally made of cloth that covers the entire head and tied under the chin with ribbons. They could be practical -- to keep the hair clean and protected -- or fashionable, with feathers, flowers and other ornaments, and made of expensive fabrics or straw. "Easter bonnets" or "spring bonnets" were popular in the early 20th century, especially the 1930s; they were pretty new hats to celebrate spring's arrival. Some wearers decorated their hats to wear them in Easter parades, while others used the brim of the bonnet to hold Easter eggs.

Berets

The beret is a round cap without a visor. It is manufactured from a range of materials, but most commonly from wool or felt, and has been worn by many social groups and workers throughout history. It probably originated in ancient Greek or Roman culture. Shepherds centuries ago wore a hat very similar to the beret. The beret has been popular in France for decades, was favored by American girls in the '20s and beatniks in the '50s, and was famously worn by South American revolutionary Che Guevara.

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About the Author

Simon Fuller has been a freelance writer since 2008. His work has appeared in "Record Collector," "OPEN" and the online publication, brand-e. Fuller has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Reading and a postgraduate diploma from the London School of Journalism.