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What is a Bicorne?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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A bicorne is a style of hat which experienced peak popularity in the 1700s and 1800s. This distinctive hat is characterized by having the broad brim turned up to create a fan-shaped hat with two corners. The name "bicorne" actually means "two cornered." Many people associate this type of hat with Napoleon Bonaparte, who routinely one as part of his uniform.

This hat design is believed to be descended from the tricorne, a three cornered hat which appears to be of Spanish origin, in which the brim of a hat is turned up to create a triangular hat with three sharp corners. The bicorne is made by creating a wide brimmed hat and turning the brim up on two sides. In some hats, the corners are also flared and shaped to add further to the ornamental design of the hat. Bicornes may be worn with insignia, braiding, and other ornamentation, or they may be left unadorned, depending on the setting.

Historically, bicornes were part of the uniform in many militaries, and they were also used by some high ranking civilian officials. The cocked hat, a relative of the bicorne, was also worn by some militaries; soldiers during the American Revolution, for example, wore such hats. The bicorne was also added to the formal uniforms of some colleges and academic organizations, and it is retained in formal uniforms in this context in some regions of the world.

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The bicorne can be made from a variety of materials, including leather and felt. The hat is usually stiff to ensure that it will hold its shape, although some designs historically were intended to be folded so that gentlemen could tuck their hats under their arms when it was necessary to remove them. When worn as part of a uniform, the hat must be in good condition and in proper shape, which may require brushing, steaming, and other maintenance activities, depending on how frequently the hat is worn.

Versions of the bicorne hat designed for costumes are available from costume suppliers and some hat stores. Formal uniform hats can usually be ordered through the organizations which require them as part of their uniforms, although some hatters may also supply them by request. Before adding insignia or ornaments to a uniform bicorne, people should confirm that these additions will be accepted as part of the uniform, as there may be penalties for unauthorized additions.

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