A flat cap, or, in Scotland, bunnet is a rounded men's or women's cap with a small stiff brim in front. Cloths used to make the cap include wool, tweed (most common), and cotton. Less common materials may include leather, linen or corduroy. The inside of the cap is commonly lined for comfort and warmth.
The style can be traced back to the 14th century in Northern England and parts of Southern Italy, when it was more likely to be called a "bonnet", which term was replaced by "cap" before about 1700, except in Scotland, where it continues to be referred to as a "bunnet". When English and Irish immigrants went to the United States, they took the flat cap with them.
A 1571 Act of Parliament to stimulate domestic wool consumption and general trade decreed that on Sundays and holidays, all males over 6 years of age, except for the nobility and ""persons of degree", were to wear woollen caps on pain of a fine of three farthings (3/4 (pence) per day. The Bill was not repealed until 1597, though by this time, the flat cap had become firmly entrenched as a recognised mark of a non-noble subject, such as a burgher, a tradesman or an apprentice. The style gave rise to the Tudor bonnet still used in some styles of academic dress.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, when men predominantly wore some form of headgear, flat caps were commonly worn throughout Britain and Ireland. Versions in finer cloth were also considered to be suitable casual countryside wear for upper-class English men (hence the contemporary alternative name golf cap). Flat caps were worn by fashionable young men in the 1920s. Boys of all classes in the United Kingdom wore flat caps during this period.
In the United States the caps were worn from the 1890s. They cap grew in popularity at the turn of the 20th century and were at the time standard boys' wear. They were worn to school, for casual wear, and with suits. Flats caps were almost always worn with knicker suits in the 1910s and 20s. Both flat caps and knickers declined in popularity during the 1930s.
One of the flat hats worn in academia is known as a bonnet or Tudor bonnet and derives directly from medieval headgear of the period of the original 1571 Bill. It remains essential ceremonial wear by members of the academic community, in many countries around the world, usually as the headgear of doctoral graduates (PhD's). Commonly it has a soft round crown and a stiff flat brim. The bonnet is often made of black velvet and trimmed, between crown and brim with gold cord and tassels. Some universities opt to trim their bonnets with coloured cord and tassels.
Some stylistic varieties of this bonnet include:
- the Canterbury cap, a flat-topped soft cloth hat with a round headband deeper at the back than at the front;
- the Oxford bonnet, which has a black ribbon between crown and brim;
- the John Knox cap, a soft square cap made from black velvet and worn by the Doctors of certain Scottish Universities as well as Durham University in England, the University of Calgary and Queens' University in Canada. It is also worn by the holders of higher doctorates of the University of Liverpool;
The other main hat is the academic cap.
British popular culture
In British popular culture, the flat cap is typically associated with older working class men, especially those in northern England, and the west country, as personified by Fred Dibnah and comic strip anti-hero Andy Capp. The flat cap's strong connection with the working class and the East End of London is illustrated by Jim Branning of the television programme EastEnders and Del-Boy Trotter of the programme, Only Fools and Horses. Taxicab and bus drivers are often depicted wearing a flat cap, as comedically portrayed by Norman Hale and Gareth Pace's (Hale and Pace) "London cabbies" television sketches. AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson, a native of Newcastle, customarily wears a flat cap on stage and frequently off.
The flat cap hat is associated in North American popular culture with city newsboys (i.e., street-corner newspaper sellers), the style sometimes being called a newsboy or newsie cap. Possibly due to portrayal in movies and other media, the cap is commonly perceived as a badge of a cab driver in the United States; for this reason, it is sometimes referred to as a cab driver or cabbie hat.
The style has remained popular among certain groups of people in Europe and North America. The cap is sometimes associated with older men, significantly in South Korea, but has been popular (along with the newsboy cap) among some segments of younger people: for example, in cities such as Boston with a large Irish-American population. They are also associated with skinheads and the Oi! and punk subcultures. It has appeared in the hip hop subculture, worn back-to-front. It is also very common among men and women in San Francisco, California.
The black leather flat cap is often combined with a patched up sport coat or leather jacket and dark clothes (sometimes combined with a bee-striped convict’s shirt) in popular culture to depict a burglar, mugger, or robber, occasionally with a domino mask. The comic book character The Goon is based on this archetype of the flat-capped street tough from vintage cartoons and comics, as well as the Mexican sitcom characters, El Chompiras y El Botijas, the former interpreted by the famous Mexican comedian Chespirito
The Canadian team in the 1998 Winter Olympics wore red flat caps designed by Roots in the opening ceremony parade of nations. In addition, the United States team in the 2008 Summer Olympics also wore white flat caps designed by Polo Ralph Lauren during the parade of nations.
In 2011 the flat cap increased in popularity in Britain, possibly influenced by photographs of celebrities—men and women—wearing caps. Clothing sellers Marks and Spencer reported that flat cap sales significantly increased in 2011.
- OED, "Bonnet"
- Mairi Robinson (ed.). The Concise Scots Dictionary. Aberdeen University Press. p. 53. ISBN 0-08-028491-4.
- PORTER, CHARLIE. "If you want to get ahead, get a flat cap". Telegraph. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- Katie Wales (2006). Northern English: a cultural and social history. p.26. Cambridge University Press, 2006
- Anthony Bozza (2009). Why AC/DC Matters. p.54. HarperCollins, Retrieved 30 November 2011
- Mather, Geoffrey. "Capped for England" BBC Radio 4, 2001.
- Daily Mail newspaper: Granddads, lock up your hats! Sales of flat caps rocket by 75 per cent as stars adopt fusty headgear, 20 October 2011