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What Is a Deerstalker Hat?

Sherlock Holmes is typically portrayed with a deerstalker hat.
A twill weave.
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  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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A deerstalker hat, also sometimes called a "fore and aft," is a style of close-fitting cloth hat with pronounced brims at the front and back. Deerstalkers are usually made of tweed or twill fabric. Perhaps the most notable feature of the deerstalker hat, however, are the two side flaps that can be pulled down to cover the ears, tied beneath the chin, or tied together on the crown of the hat. As its name implies, the deerstalker was first worn by hunters engaged in the activity of deer stalking, a British term that describes covertly tailing a deer.

The construction of a deerstalker hat is designed with the wearer's warmth and comfort in mind. A pair of brims at the fore and aft of the hat protect the neck and face from sunburn and glare. When the side flaps are worn down, they keep the ears warm and covered, and when they are tied beneath the chin they provide an added layer of warmth for both sides of the wearer's face. The side flaps can also be tied up on top of the deerstalker to keep them out of the way when they are not needed.

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Usually, a deerstalker hat is made from twill, a woven fabric with diagonal ribbing, or from tweed fabric with a twill weave. The choice of twill for making deerstalkers reflects the hat's background as a rugged sporting cap, as twill fabric is very heavy and durable. Twill is woven by passing the weft thread over several warp threads at once, resulting in the diagonal rib pattern. A deerstalker hat is usually made from checked or houndstooth twill, because the light and dark shapes in these patterns provide a sort of camouflage for the hunter. Many modern deerstalkers are made with orange checked twill as a consideration for the safety of the hunters wearing them.

The deerstalker style first became popular in 19th century England, where it was worn by sportsmen and hunters. In the later part of the Victorian era, sportswear became more fashionable, and the deerstalker hat became an important part of a country gentleman's hunting ensemble. During this period of men's fashion, other garments that had once been considered appropriate only as sportswear began to emerge as popular elements of day dress, such as knickerbocker trousers and blazer style jackets.

Perhaps the most famous wearer of the deerstalker style of hat is the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Interestingly, Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Holmes, never specifically stated that Holmes wore a deerstalker hat. The original illustrators of Conan Doyle's works were the ones who put Holmes in a deerstalker, usually when he was traveling or in the countryside. Later depictions of Holmes wearing his deerstalker in the city are inaccurate: the stylish Holmes would never wear a sportsman's cap in an urban setting. Another fictional character who is known for wearing a deerstalker, in this case an all-red version, is Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

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