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What is a Cocked Hat?

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  • Written By: Amy Raubenolt
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A cocked hat is a silk, felt, or plush, brimless, triangular, or two-pointed hat that was fashionable in the 18th century, and lasted roughly 100 years. It appeared in history first as a black, gray, or tan hat with the brim pinned up to create three points – also known as a tricorne. It commonly appears in 17th or 18th century portraits of gentlemen, military officials, or pirates.

This style of hat was popular in England from 1680-1780 because the tipped-up brim allowed the gentry to display their elaborate wig styles. These tricornes were often worn with feathers from exotic birds, braiding, ribbons, embroidery, or military insignia to demonstrate political allegiances, and were worn tilted to one side or another, up or down, depending on the fashion of the day. The hat became a standard part of full-dress navy uniforms around the world from 1790, when the British military adopted them, to the end of World War II. This hat was worn by military during the French and Indian War, and by civilians during the American Revolution. Famous portraits of George Washington and Blackbeard the Pirate show them wearing this distinctive cocked hat.

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Generally, the cocked hat evolved into a two-pointed hat with a hump in the middle – also known as a bicorne. The French became known for wearing their cocked hats so that the points angled out to the sides instead of from nose to neck, as was the British navy’s style. Napoleon, for example, is often depicted wearing his signature bicorne.

Some of these cocked hats were designed to be folded flat and tucked away easily. This unique variety was called chapeau-bras. The bicorne cocked hat became a symbol of the American Revolution because it gave colonists a chance to show off their wig-less heads, a physical and symbolic contrast with the British. Quakers also adopted a version of the tricorne, but they kept the brims flared and wide to provide more shade from the sun.

In modern times, the cocked hat generally has vanished from fashion. It generally survives only in the official ceremonial dress of high-ranking ambassadors and of some schools, such as the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Though once universally popular, the popularity of cocked hats now lives on only in the costume trade for historical re-enactors, where genuine or handmade bicornes and tricornes can be costly and are highly prized costume elements.

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orangey03
Post 3

I worked at a pirate-themed restaurant by the sea for about a year. My uniform had a hat that was cocked like the ones pirates wore long ago.

It was rather wide and short. The part above my forehead was cocked upward, as were the sides. I believe that the back just rolled up slightly.

I got a lot of stares and giggles while in this uniform. It was all part of the job, and the manager thought that the cocked hats made the whole theme more authentic.

kylee07drg
Post 2

@wavy58 - I think that since the cocked hat was more of an army hat, women didn’t wear it. I can’t remember ever seeing a depiction of a colonial women in a cocked hat.

Women usually wore bigger hats with wider brims, although they didn’t necessarily outdo the men's cocked hats in terms of fanciness. If a politician or a soldier were to wear an embellished cocked hat today, he would likely be ridiculed.

Since women didn’t have very many rights back then, I’m assuming that they were not allowed to wear cocked hats. These were for more important people.

wavy58
Post 1

This hat was really diverse. In one form, it was a military hat, but in another, it could have embellishments like ribbons and braids, and that is something you don’t see on any politician’s hat these days!

I recall seeing these hats in my history books. Back in the days before photos, artists painted men of importance wearing cocked hats. Often, they did have fancy white wigs to display, and since the hat didn’t hide much, it was ideal for them.

I saw a cocked hat in an antique store that was rather feminine and had a ribbon flower attached to one side. This makes me wonder if women also wore cocked hats. Were they exclusive to males back then?

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