Tam o' shanter (cap)

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This article is about the tam o'shanter hat. For other uses, see Tam o' Shanter.
Tartan tam o' shanters.

A tam o' shanter (in the British military often abbreviated to TOS) is a name given to the traditional Scottish bonnet worn by men. The name derives from Tam o' Shanter, the eponymous hero of the 1790 Robert Burns poem.[1]


The tam o' shanter is a bonnet made of wool, originally hand-knitted in one piece, stretched on a wooden disc to give the distinctive flat shape, and subsequently felted.[2] These caps were made by bonnet-makers in Scotland, and by the year 1599 five bonnet-makers guilds had formed in cities around the country: Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Perth, Stirling and Glasgow.[3] At the end of sixteenth century it was said that the Scottish caps were the normal fashion of men and servants, and they remained so throughout the seventeenth century.[3] Similar in form to the various types of flat bonnet common in northwestern Europe during the 16th century, the Scottish bonnet or tam o' shanter is distinguished by the woolen ball or toorie decorating the centre of the crown. The name itself only entered common usage in the early 19th century.[4]

Before the introduction of inexpensive chemical dyes in the mid-19th century, the Scottish bonnet was made only in black, brown, or blue cloth, the blue kind dyed with woad or indigo ("blue bonnets").[1] Now it is available in a wide variety of colors, as well as tartan. Women have also adopted a form of this hat known as a “tammy” or “tam”. The original form of the Balmoral bonnet and the Glengarry in Highland dress, the term tam o' shanter is now most commonly used in reference to the headgear of Scottish infantry regiments and some with Scottish affiliations.[citation needed]

Military use[edit]

In the First World War, a khaki Balmoral bonnet was introduced in 1915 for wear in the trenches by Scottish infantry serving on the Western Front. This came to be known as the 'bonnet, tam o' shanter', later abbreviated among military personnel to 'ToS'. It replaced the Glengarry – which was the regulation bonnet worn by Scottish troops with khaki field dress at the start of the war. Originally knitted, the military tam o' shanter subsequently came to be constructed from separate pieces of khaki serge cloth.[5]

Today, the Royal Regiment of Scotland and some regiments of the Canadian Forces continue to wear the ToS as undress and working headgear. The various battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland identify themselves by wearing distinctive coloured hackles on their bonnets. The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland wear a red hackle in their ToS, as do soldiers of The Black Watch of Canada on both their duty ToS and dress balmorals.[citation needed]

Some regiments of the Canadian Army wear different coloured toories: the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada have traditionally worn dark green; The North Nova Scotia Highlanders wore red toories during the Second World War; and the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders wore blue. Most regiments, however, wear a khaki toorie, matching the bonnet. In many Canadian regiments it is traditional for soldiers to wear a ToS, while officers (and in some cases senior non-commissioned officers) wear the Glengarry or the Balmoral.[citation needed]

The tam o' shanter was traditionally worn by various regiments of the Australian Army which have a Scottish connection. B (Scottish) Company 5th/6th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment[6] wore both a khaki and blue bonnet at various stages. It appears this has now been superseded by the Glengarry.[7]

Academic tam[edit]

The velvet academic tam worn with a tassel is part of the ceremonial dress used at many universities to distinguish those holding a doctoral degree (e.g. Ph.D, Ed.D) from those holding other academic degrees. Although referred to as a "tam", the academic tam derives from the Tudor bonnet rather than the Scottish tam o' shanter, and the cap is constructed of two pieces of either six- or eight-pointed cuts of fabric attached to a headband rather than the pie segments used in a tam o' shanter.[8]

Fashion tam[edit]

Main article: Tam

The tam, or tam cap, became a fashionable women's accessory from the early 1920s and was derived from the tam o' shanter. It followed the trends for closer fitting hats and for borrowing from men's fashion.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b hatrevivalist (2008-12-16). "Many hat returns". Manyhattyreturns.com. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  2. ^ p.94 https://oatd.org/oatd/record?record=oai\:etheses.whiterose.ac.uk\:4001
  3. ^ a b Rutt, Richard (1987). A History of Hand Knitting. Interweave Press. p. 128. 
  4. ^ http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/tam_prop_n
  5. ^ Mike Chappell, "The British Soldier in the 20th Century Part 2, Field Service Head Dress 1902 to the present day", Wessex Publishing 1987
  6. ^ "picture". Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  7. ^ "What Is A Queen’s Tam?". 
  8. ^ Annette Lynch; Mitchell D. Strauss (30 October 2014). Ethnic Dress in the United States: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-7591-2150-8. 
  9. ^ Brooks Picken, Mary (2010). A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern (1999 ed.). United States: Dover Publications. p. 168. ISBN 0486402940. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "In the Fashion of Hampstead Heath: Hats Borrowed from Men". The Guardian. 24 September 1923.