Authored by Michael Pollick and can also be found here:
A beret, a name that comes from a word meaning "cap," is a brimless, loose-fitting hat, usually made of hand-knitted or felted wool. This hat — or caps that were very similar — can be traced back to ancient times, but modern versions are often associated with the Basque region of Europe. To this day, the Basque beret design is considered to be the standard by which all others are compared. This cap is closely associated with military headgear.
As the beret became popular in the 19th century, French hat designers modified the style a bit. In a typical Basque or French beret, a leatherette band is measured against the wearer's head for a proper fit. The wool felt can be dyed in a variety of colors, from the traditional black to burgundy to white. The hat itself is a loose fitting oblong cap. The beret wearer usually sweeps the cap to one side, creating a chic, informal line.
The beret became a trademark of sorts for the Bohemian French culture of the mid-20th century. French artists, poets and other free-spirited denizens adopted it as a symbol of counter-cultural identification. During the 1960s, the hat enjoyed a resurgence as a fashion item, featured prominently as Faye Dunaway's hat of choice in the film Bonnie and Clyde.
The association of the beret with military uniforms has a very long history, but modern use can be traced to the Carlist Wars in Spain in the 1830s and Chasseurs Alpins of the French arm in the 1880s. The British Army commissioned a modified beret for use by specialized forces in 1918. Even guerrilla fighters such as Che Guevara adopted the beret as their headgear of choice.
The largest beret customers in the world today are most likely military organizations. The United States Army still has an elite Special Forces unit known worldwide as the Green Berets. Indeed, many international militaries use different beret colors to distinguish themselves on the battlefield.
A decision by the US Army in the 1990s to replace the standard issue "ballcap" head covers with a form of beret initially met with some resistance, but it has now become an accepted practice. According to the official Army training manual, each recruit should spend an average of two days preparing his or her beret for proper military duty. This means using a cigarette lighter to burn off extraneous wool fibers, a disposable razor to shave off all "fuzzies" and a warm water soak to customize the fit of the beret.
Brooklyn based milliner Tracy Watts creates handmade and unique designs for both men and women. Since her emergence in 1993, she has stayed true to the craft and the intricate details that set her hats apart from all the rest.
Each finishing touch is all done by hand and vintage machinery through artisinal methods. Utilizing both traditional cut and sew and hand blocking methods, her hats are sought after around the world from New York and Paris to Tokyo.
As an artist and mould maker, it was inevitable that Tracy would find her niche in the sculptural world of hat design. She studied at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and under the tutelage Mme XXXX from Balenciaga, and found an outlet for the many ideas that have formed her collection of men and women’s hats. Tracy Watts Hats designs, manufactures and distributes a full contemporary line of women and men’s designer hats from our studio and showroom in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, New York.
Zindigo Fashion Director, Kareen Mallet, recently interviewed Tracy Watts:
Check out the latest Tracy Watts hats here: Tracy Watts Hats
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