Thursday, October 28, 2010

Now for the Gentleman: A Cocked Hat, c. 1777

Thursday, October 28, 2010
Susan reporting:

While ladies' feathered hats and towering calashes (not to mention the big hair) garner the most attention in 18th c. caricatures like The Spruce Sportsman, the hat of that same Sportsman seems almost tame by comparison.

Perhaps that's fitting, considering that the main style in men's hats was virtually unchanged from the late 17th c. until the early 19th c. A moderate crown with a wide, flat brim, made from dark felt was worn by men of every rank. The personal style came from the quality of the felt (gentlemen's hats were made from beaver fur felt, while more inexpensive hats were made from wool), the embellishment (braid, lace, buttons, cockades, plumes, and badges), and how the brim was cocked, or bent upwards. Most men worn their hats cocked on three sides in a triangular shape, a style so popular that it has become the ubiquitous hat of the 18th c. European man. From kings to peddlers, military officers to fops, dukes to footmen – hey, even Captain Jack Sparrow – all wore cocked hats.

(And let us take a moment to put to rest the term "tricorne" or "tricorned hat." Yes, that was what such hats were called in your Bicentennial History Pageant in third grade, but it's not right for the real George Washington. "Tricorned" doesn't come into usage until 1819, and "tricorne" doesn't appear until even later, in 1857.)

Although our Sportsman sits in a lady's parlor, he is dressed for hunting (doubtless for hearts instead of foxes), and his clothes have the stylish military air popular at the time for outdoor activities. The skillful tailors of Colonial Williamsburg have replicated his handsome black beaver hat, above, along with the rest of his clothing. The cocked brim is edged with a metallic gold braid and held in place with loops of more gold braid. Centering the crown is a button wrapped with gold thread, in a pattern known as death-head.

Now we've seen plenty of hats like this in prints and paintings, but we'd never seen the inside of one. Here it is, lined in pale blue silk. Over the forehead is a patch of suede to protect the hat from sweat (shudder), and in the center of the crown is the hatter's paper label, proclaiming the admirable taste of the wearer every time he bows and removes his hat.

But just because our Sportsman's hat is elegant in its restraint, we feel we must offer a balanced view with another 18th c. print, right, to prove that, without a brain beneath it, even a cocked hat could go tragically wrong. (Also see this young macaroni.)

Right: detail of "What, Is This my Son Tom?" published by R. Sayer, London, 1774

6 comments:

Richard Foster said...

About time you had something for the gentleman. Well done, though I doubt you'll put "the tricorn" to rest so easily as that.

Monica Burns said...

Susan, Is there an explanation for the name of the Cocked hat? Isn't the ribbon piece called a cockade? Not trying to be naughty funny here, truly curious. I've heard it also called a tricorn too, is there a difference?

Lady Burgley said...

Oh, how those Georgian dandies make me laugh! That little hat sitting on top of all that wig is positively clownish. Who knew the Coneheads were alive back then?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Richard, I'm glad you approve. I have more for the gentleman coming tonight, with a blog about his buckskin breeches.

Monica, alas, no significant double-entendres about cocked hats! "Cock" in this sense is simply an older word for turn, tip, bend, or stick up. Think of other expressions like "cocking his head" or cocking the trigger on a gun. So a cocked hat is one that has the brim folded up.

As for tricorn - that term doesn't come into usage for describing these hats until long past the fashion for them - not until the 1850s. But it does often get (mis)used in secondary costume sources, so it's easy to get confused....

Lady Burgley, YOU made me laugh, too, imaging "Lord Beldar of Cone-on-the-Head." *g*

Oliveblossom said...

Is the button in the center of the hat made of polished brass? What is the pattern?

Anonymous said...

The button is metel thread wrapped over a wooden form in an X wrap.it is known as a deatheshead button they are often seen in silk on mens upper garments.BTW the leather in the hat lining is basil(tanned sheepskin)

 
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