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Early bicorne from France, c. 1790

The bicorne or bicorn (two-cornered) is a historical form of hat widely adopted in the 1790s as an item of uniform by European and American army and naval officers. Most generals and staff officers of the Napoleonic period wore bicornes, which survived as widely-worn full-dress headdress until the 20th century.

Historic use[edit]

Napoléon Bonaparte in his characteristic bicorne hat; Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz wearing a bicorne

Descended from the tricorne, the black-coloured bicorne originally had a rather broad brim, with the front and the rear halves turned up and pinned together forming a semi-circular fan shape; there was usually a cockade in the national colours at the front. Later, the hat became more triangular in shape, with its two ends becoming more pointed, and it was worn with the cockade at the right side. That kind of bicorne eventually became known in English as the cocked hat, but it is still known in French as the bicorne.

Worn in the side-to-side athwart style during the 1790s, the bicorne became normally seen fore-and-aft in most armies and navies from 1800. The change in style coincided with the flattening out of the pronounced front peak of the original headdress. The French gendarmerie continued to wear their bicornes in the classic side-to-side fashion until about 1904, and the Italian Carabinieri still do so in their modern full dress.

Some forms of bicorne were designed to be folded flat so that they could be conveniently tucked under the arm when they were not being worn. A bicorne of such a style is also known as a chapeau-bras or chapeau-de-bras.

The bicorne was widely worn until World War I as part of the full dress of officers of most of the world's navies. It survived to a more limited extent between the wars for wear by senior officers in the British, French, US, Japanese and other navies until World War II but has now almost disappeared in that context.

In addition to its military/naval uses, the bicorne was widely worn during the 19th and the early 20th centuries by civilian officials in European monarchies and Japan when it was required to wear uniforms on formal occasions. The practice generally ceased after World War I except in the context of diplomatic uniform. However, British colonial governors in temperate climates and governors general in some countries of the Commonwealth (notably Australia, Canada and New Zealand) continued to wear bicornes with ceremonial dress until the second half of the 20th century.

Cocked hat[edit]

British Army cocked hat with General officer's plume, worn by Lord Dannatt, (Constable of the Tower).

By the 20th century, the term cocked hat had come to be used more often than not in official British usage (uniform regulations etc.) with reference to that shape of hat (particularly when worn as part of a uniform),[1] but in the rare instances that hats were directed to be worn side-to-side ('athwarts') rather than front-to-back, such as by footmen in full state livery, the term bicorn tended to be preferred.

In its most commonly-seen form at the time, the cocked hat was pinned up at two sides to form a hump-back bridge shape and was worn perpendicular to the shoulders, with the front end above the face and the back end over the nape. A cockade in the national colours might be worn at the right side (French tradition), and a plume might be attached to the top (British military c. 1800). Cocked hats were often trimmed with gold or silver bullion lace and tassels. Naval officers wore them without further decorations, but those worn by military and civilian officials might be lavishly decorated with coloured ostrich or swan feathers.

The cocked hat still remains the "Full Dress headdress of General and Staff Officers and certain others" and is worn in public by certain office-holders such as the Major-General commanding the Household Division, Gold Stick and Silver Stick and the Constable of the Tower.[2]

Current use[edit]

The full-dress uniform of École Polytechnique of France comprises black trousers with a red stripe, a coat with golden buttons and a belt, and a cocked hat (officially called a bicorne).
Veterinary Officer of the UK Household Cavalry wearing her distinctive red-plumed cocked hat in place of the usual helmet (2010).

Members of the Académie française wear the habit vert (green habit) at the Académie's ceremonies. The habit includes a black jacket and a bicorne in the cocked-hat style, each embroidered in green.

Students at the École Polytechnique wear a bicorne as part of their Grand Uniforme (GU). Female students used to wear a tricorne hat but now also wear a bicorne. The bicorne also formed part of the historic black and red full dress of cadets at the French Military Medical School (École de Santé des Armées) until this uniform was withdrawn in 1971, except for limited use on special occasions. The bicorne is still worn by the members of the Cadre Noir in full dress uniform.

The uniform of the horsemen of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna includes a bicorne.

Diplomatic uniforms, worn on such occasions as the presentation of credentials by ambassadors, normally included bicornes worn with feathers and gold or silver braiding. Until World War II such uniforms were worn by even junior embassy staff but now survive only for ambassadors in a few long-established diplomatic services such as those of Britain, France, Sweden, Belgium and Spain.

In the United Kingdom cocked hats continue to be worn by certain office-holders on special occasions:

In the Knights of Columbus, Fourth Degree Knights of the Color Corps may wear regalia which includes a chivalric chapeau. The color of the plume denotes the office held by the wearer.

The Italian Carabinieri wear a bicorn with points sideways with their full dress uniform. The large tricolor cockade in front has given it the popular name of la "lucerna", the "lamp".

In Java, a cocked hat is still in use in the parade uniform of the Dhaeng and Ketanggung brigades; both are from Yogyakarta Sultanate. Since the end of the Java War, they no longer function as combat troops. This cocked hat is known in Javanese as mancungan hat, because of its shape like a pointed nose, mancung. Only used on special occasions, such as Grebeg and other cultural or ceremonial events held by the kraton (palace), the headgear came as a part of Western influence in Yogyakarta, during the reign of Sultan Hamengkubuwono IV.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ E.g. Dress worn at Court, 1898ff, Lord Chamberlain's Office.
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2021-05-17.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Mansfield, Alan D (1980). Ceremonial Costume: Court, Civil, and Civic Costume from 1660 to the Present Day. Barnes & Noble Books. p. 232. ISBN 978-0389201243.
  4. ^ "The Governor's Hat". Saint Helena Info. Retrieved 12 March 2018.

External links[edit]