What is a Liberty Cap?

Mandi R. Hall

The liberty cap — commonly referred to as the Phrygian cap — is a symbolic head accessory that has been worn since about 350 B.C., and is still worn in modern times. Phrygian caps — conically shaped and made out of a stiff material that bends slightly forward — were first worn by religious figures in ancient Greece. Freed slaves and revolutionists wore them to symbolize freedom from oppression in Phrygia — what is now known as Turkey — and from then on, the cap became a symbol of liberty.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

During the American Revolutionary War, the liberty cap was worn by men and was placed atop poles to symbolize freedom. France’s national emblem — Marianne — wears a liberty cap. The United States and Latin America even have symbolic liberty caps represented on coins.

The liberty cap is typically a brimless felt cap that is molded into a cone shape. Similar to the pileus — also wore in ancient Greece — but without a pointy tip, liberty caps look more like long, limp ski caps that bend forward over the head. As the liberty cap has historically been closely fitted on one’s head, the cap is generally made of a fairly unforgiving material, such as felt, wool, or leather. The material must be tight-knit enough to stay on the wearer’s head, but with a loose top that hangs forward a bit. Generally, the color of a liberty cap varies — it is said that red Phrygian caps represent revolution specifically, and the caps are traditionally a red hue when depicted in color.

Phrygian caps have also been seen in pop culture outlets for decades. People commonly recognize the liberty cap as having been worn by the seven dwarfs in the 1937 Disney® film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In this film, the seven dwarfs are mineworkers who live in a cottage in the forest. Phrygian caps are also the standard headgear of the Smurfs® — a comic-turned-television show that was popular in the 1980s. The Smurfs wore white liberty caps with the exception of Papa Smurf, who wore the only red liberty cap.

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