A Brief History of the Flat Cap

Written by: Jodie Lindop

Stars put flat caps in the limelight now and then—think David Beckham, and Brad Pitt, to name just a few—but the low-profile hat rises well above the fashion whims of famous blokes. The flat cap, a.k.a. driving cap, is a classic that rests on its own many merits. It works just as handsomely with jeans and a T-shirt as with a casual suit, it’s more formal than a baseball cap whilst remaining appealingly laid back and sporty, and it’s a natty way to keep your noggin warm on crisp days.

Though it can sometimes seem so, the flat cap hasn’t been around forever. Let’s take a closer look at the history and style of this familiar and fashionable headgear.

What is a Flat Cap?

A flat cap is a compact, rounded hat that sits close to your head and has a small, hard brim over the forehead. Traditionally, the cap is made from wool and tweed, though it can be made of cotton, linen, corduroy, or even leather. The inside of the cap is generally lined with a comfortable fabric to give the hat a finished look and provide an extra layer of warmth, as well as to offer comfort if it’s constructed of itchy wool.

Beyond flat caps and driving caps , this is a hat of many names, including duffer cap, golf cap, scally cap, and cabbie cap. It’s also sometimes called a newsboy cap, but a true newsboy is crafted of more panels than a flat cap and has a puffier silhouette.

The Origins of the Flat Cap

The flat cap has its roots in British law. In 1571, Parliament decreed that all non-noblemen and boys over the age of six must cover their heads with wool caps on Sundays and holidays. Anyone found walking about without a wool cap on Sunday would be slapped with a three farthing fine. The law was established to generate domestic wool sales, which were the bedrock of the English economy at the time.

The law was repealed after 26 years, but by then people already liked the look and feel of their wool caps and kept right on wearing them. For centuries afterwards, the flat cap would be linked with working men and tradesmen in England and Ireland. At the turn of the century, immigrants brought the hat to the United States where it gained popularity among young boys. Today, the style is warmly embraced around the world and by every strata of society.

How to Wear a Flat Cap

Fit is most important when wearing a flat cap. The hat should feel snug but not too tight at the sweatband—the part of the hat that runs from your forehead to the back of your head. With the right fit, it’ll be comfortable, easy to put on and remove, and won’t fly off when you bend over to tie your shoe or when it’s a blustery day out.

Next up you’ll decide on the material and the pattern. A wool flat cap in a check or plaid is the traditional combo, but you can opt for a solid in cotton, or even waxed cotton for extra protection from the elements.

As for what to wear with your flat cap—truly anything. Pair a flat cap with your favourite jeans and a relaxed button-down shirt for an easy weekend look. A tartan flat cap with trousers and a casual blazer is a handsome, laid-back look for a West End show, followed by a Night Tube ride for some after-hours eats.

The hat always has and always will be ruggedly fine looking with a fisherman’s jumper or a peacoat. Add a waxed cotton jacket and a scarf for a country attire ensemble that’s sophisticated and stately. Finally, flip the brim of your flat cap to the back to give your style an edge of street chic.

The flat cap, at its best, is a true grab-and-go hat you’ll be glad to have on hand. Don it whether you’re in the city or the country and your flat cap will have you stylishly covered.

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