Berets: the Quintessential French Hat

Is there anything more quintessential or perhaps cliché than the beret when it comes to French fashion?

While Emily seemed to think that wearing a bright red beret in Paris was a good idea, the truth is that French girls don’t actually wear berets very often!

Surprisingly, the older French population is still keeping this French fashion trend going strong. I regularly see French senior citizens wearing wool berets out on the streets and to be honest, it’s the cutest thing ever!

That being said, I did receive a black leather beret from the coolest French handbag brand, Polène last winter, so it seems like the French aren’t completely ready to let go of this historical fashion trend just yet…

So, how do you wear a beret in a chic, modern way?

First, let’s talk about the history of the French beret.

Beret History

Is there anything more cliché than a French person holding a baguette, wearing a striped shirt, puffing on a cigarette, and sporting a beret?

The beret has a long and storied history in greater Europe dating back centuries.

This quintessential French hat has been associated with everyone from artists to farmers to rebels. It has no gender association – many famous women and men have worn this hat.

Its earliest appearance was in the 1500s when it was worn by the European lower class since it could be made cheaply. Shepherds in the Béarn and Basque regions of France were the first people known to wear them.

The word “beret” is derived from the Latin “birretum” word which described a flat head covering made of wool, often worn by peasants.

In the late 1600s, Dutch artist Rembrandt painted a somber portrait titled “Man in a Beret” depicting a man wearing a black beret.

In 1835, the beret was embraced by French soldiers in the Army who wore navy blue berets, despite it still remaining a symbol of poverty in the rest of Europe.

At the same time, French artists like Monet and Cezanne adopted the beret.

In the 1920s, the tables turned and the beret became a fashion statement for chic Bohemian artists in Paris. French singer Edith Piaf wore a beret, and American writer Ernest Hemingway was known to wear a beret during his jaunts in Paris.

In the 1930s, French designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was often spotted wearing a beret, one of the first women to do so.

During World War II, the French resistance combatants were known to wear berets. It was also sported by the French military who sometimes clipped pins and medals to them.

In the 1960s, the Beatnik generation popularized wearing berets again as well as the Black Panthers, supposedly inspired by the French Resistance.

Ruthless dictators like Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe were both known to wear berets, further twisting the hat’s reputation.

In 1985, Prince wrote a song called “Raspberry Beret” making this hat a part of American music culture.

For Dior’s Fall 2017 runway show, every model strutted down the runway wearing a sleek black leather beret. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld did its own take on the beret for the Cruise collection of 2016-2017, sewn with black sequins and styled with brooches.

Today, everyone from Bella Hadid to Meghan Markle has expressed their take on how to wear a French beret.

What’s most interesting about the French beret is that it has been associated with such a wide variety of groups – from the innocent school girl to the violent rebel or freedom fighter. It’s nearly impossible to put this fashion accessory into just one box.

How to Wear the French Beret

Berets are most often worn during the colder months of fall and winter. French girls wear them in three ways:

  • Centered on the front of head, dipping down below the hair line
  • Centered on the back of the head, allowing the hairline to show
  • On one side, covering a portion of one ear

Best French Berets

Here are the best French berets if you want to buy an authentic beret from France. You can find berets in just about every color under the sun! They are most often made from wool.

Authentic Beret: Laulhère

Since 1840, Laulhère has made the best quality French berets in the southwestern town of Oloron Sainte Marie, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. Go with the classic Veritable Beret.

Classic Beret: Saint James

Saint James makes beautiful wool berets in the southwest of France.

Designer Beret: Maison Michel

The high-end French hatmaker Maison Michel designed this beautiful black and white sequined beret.

Luxury Beret: Dior

The Dior chic reversible beret is a luxury beret from France, designed by the haute couture house of Dior.

Budget Beret: Stories

& Other Stories makes a great wool beret if you’re looking for an affordable beret. There are also several brands from around the world that have created their own berets:

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