A deerstalker is a type of cap that is typically worn in rural areas, often for hunting, especially deer stalking. Because of the cap's popular association with Sherlock Holmes, it has become stereotypical headgear for a detective, especially in comical drawings or cartoons along with farcical plays and films.
The deerstalker is most often made of cloth, often a light or heavy wool tweed, although deerstalkers made of suede, white cotton duck and even blue jeans denim are not unknown. The cap is made of six (or eight) triangular panels with rounded sides which are sewn together. The cap may be deep or shallow, barely touching the tops of the ears, according to the whim of the tailor. Either way it is usually lined with an inner cap of satin, polished cotton or similar fabrics. Occasionally one can find a deerstalker with a lightly quilted satin lining. The deerstalker's main features are a pair of bills or visors worn in front and rear. These are usually stiffened with cardboard or layers of heavy canvas.
Along with its visors a deerstalker has a pair of unstiffened cloth earflaps attached to either side of the cap. These are tied together by grosgrain ribbons or by laces or, very occasionally, held together by snaps or a button. The dual bills provide protection from the sun for the face and neck of the wearer during extended periods out of doors, such as for hunting or fishing. The earflaps, tied under the chin, provide protection in cold weather and high winds. They are otherwise tied together above the crown to keep them out of the way.
Deerstalkers may be made of solid-coloured material but are most often found with houndstooth check, herringbone, or plaid patterns in the twill of a fabric which serves as camouflage. Modern hunting clothes, including deerstalkers, are often made with either a red-and-black or an orange-and-black check pattern or tweed for both this purpose and hunter safety.
The crown of the "Irish deerstalker" sports a panel of material in front of the cap instead of the usual seam. The earflaps, instead of being wide and triangular, are narrow with straight sides. It may have short, wide rectangular bills rather than the usual semicircular bills found on most other deerstalkers.
The "sportsman's deerstalker" is made with a narrow brim attached to the cap instead of the usual double bills. The earflaps are eliminated as well. Some types of this cap sport a belt fashioned from the same material around the crown. This version is seldom worn by hunters. It is, however, much favoured by fishermen.
Another type is a cap made of heavy cloth with paired earflaps, sometimes lined with fur or lambskin, and a single visor in front. A cloth band turned up in the rear that can be lowered to protect the back of the neck takes the place of the rear visor. An exaggerated version of this type of deerstalker is often seen in cartoons, such that worn by Elmer Fudd when he's hunting "wabbits".
Yet another variety is the flat cap, newsboy cap or golf cap featuring paired earflaps snapped or buttoned together with, again, a single visor and a matching cloth band in the rear that can be turned down along with the earflaps.
There is also a reversible deerstalker. It looks like the standard, double-billed model but it can be turned inside out, revealing an entirely different fabric or even suede, with the contrasting earflaps of the original fabric turned backward and tied together.
The deerstalker cap is also known as a "fore-and-aft cap" in reference to its front and rear bills. This headgear is also called a "tweed helmet" because of its close similarity to the basic design of the Balaclava helmet, which also had front and rear visors. This was the distinctive helmet worn by soldiers in the British military during the Crimean War (1853–56) as opposed to the ski mask now known as a Balaklava helmet.
The most famous wearer of a deerstalker is undoubtedly the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, who is popularly depicted favouring this style of cap. It is of interest that Holmes is never actually described as wearing a deerstalker by name in Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. However, most notably in "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," the narrator, Doctor Watson, describes him as wearing "his ear-flapped travelling cap", and in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", as wearing a "close-fitting cloth cap". As the deerstalker is the most typical cap of the period matching both descriptions, it is not surprising that the original illustrations for the stories by Sidney Paget in Great Britain, and Frederic Dorr Steele in the United States, along with other illustrators of the period, depicted Holmes as a "deerstalker man", which then became the popular perception of him.
Later, less-informed depictions of Holmes have him wearing this cap in the city failing to take into account the fact that the fashion-conscious Holmes would be loath to commit such a sartorial faux pas; the deerstalker is traditionally a rural outdoorsman's cap. It is not appropriate headgear for the properly dressed urban gentleman. Still, while contemporaneous illustrators portrayed Holmes as wearing a deerstalker in the proper setting for such attire, travelling cross-country or operating in a rural outdoor setting, Sidney Paget chose to depict Holmes as wearing the deerstalker in London while keeping vigil for the appearance of the murderous Colonel Sebastian Moran in illustrations made for "The Empty House" when the story first appeared in Strand Magazine in 1904. This is uncharacteristic of Paget who most often depicts Holmes wearing a black top hat and frock coat in the city, as shown in the Regent Street scene in The Hound of the Baskervilles, or sporting a black bowler when wearing a black or plaid Inverness cape (or, more accurately, a macfarlane cape-coat) as seen in his illustrations for "The Blue Carbuncle" and "The Musgrave Ritual" respectively.
It has been supposed that Holmes' indiscriminate use of the deerstalker cap occurred because of the popularity of the two period films from 1939 in which Basil Rathbone starred as Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This is erroneous. In both of these films Holmes is shown properly wearing the deerstalker in the countryside or in a rural setting.
That Sherlock Holmes has been frequently depicted wearing a deerstalker regardless of setting, was popularised in the United States by the pastel and line drawings of Frederic Dorr Steele whose illustrations of Holmes wearing the deerstalker were created for Collier's Magazine and other periodicals. Steele based his concept of Holmes mainly on photographs of the actor William Gillette, who had become hugely popular as a portrayer of Holmes during the first third of the 20th century. Gillette had worn a deerstalker in his stage play which first ran in 1899. It was left to Steele's influential drawings to popularise Holmes as wearing a deerstalker so that the cap became synonymous with the detective.
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