Boys' Flat Caps


Figure 1.--This flat cap often done in tweed was the most popular type of hat worn by American boys in the 1910s and 20s.

We are not entirely sure what term to use for these peaked caps. Because there were and still are so many different terms, we need to settle on a consisted term we can use in HBC. We believe the besrt term is "flat cap". It is not only a good description of the cap, but we have noted several references to this term. Other terms commonly used are: golf, shooting newsboy caps as well as many others. They are often made out of tweedy materials. There were strong social class conotations associated with these caps. They were commonly worn by American boys in the 1910s-30s before baseball caps took over. Boys at the time did not generally wear baseball caps as they were not commonly available in stores and Little League where boys played ball as part of organized, uniformed teams had not yet developed. Most boys wore these tweedy hats or beanies, except during the winter when warmer styles were needed. They were rarely worn by British boys who wore school caps. But they were worn by British men and are generally associated with country wear.

Terminology

I'm not quite sure what these peaked caps are called. Quite a few names are associated with these caps. One of the most common is "cloth" cap. HBC is unsure to what extent these names reflect actual stylistic differences. Some are referred to as golf or shooting caps. We are not entirely sure what term to use for these peaked caps. Because there were and still are so many different terms, we need to settle on a consisted term we can use in HBC. We believe the besrt term is "flat cap". It is not only a good description of the cap, but we have noted several references to this term. Other terms commonly used are: golf, shooting newsboy caps as well as many others. Other contemporary souces refere to the "rattin (h)at". They were also called windsor caps. HBC is not the only group having difficulty with the name for this type of cap. A HBC reader writes,"I'm having some difficulty pinning down the name of the kind of caps worn by boys and men in the 1930s, the ones with only a very short brim in the front, kind of peaked in the back, the hat I associate with boys hawking papers "Extra extra ... read all about it!" Do you know what I mean? These boys would have on suspenders or vests. What do you call this kind of cap?" HBC has noted the term "flat cap" in several sources and believes that this is the most appropriate term as well as the most commonly used in contemprary sources. HBC is not sure if the different terms to describe this cap, actually described different styles or if they were simply different names for the same hat. There were other names as well. An American reader writes, "Three of us were talking about these caps at lunch today. One man from Chicago called it a "traveller's cap" (he was wearing one he had bought in Ireland.) The Brit said they called it a "flat hat." In Massachusetts I remember as a child hearing it called a "shally cap," but I haven't heard that term used in years." [Orlen] And of course, these are only the American terms. We do not know at this time what these caps were called in other countries.

Specific Terms

There are several different terms for flat caps. And there are stylistic differences. We are not sure, however, to what extent the different names reflected these stylistic differences. We are at this time still trying to determine these different names for flat caps are actual different styles of the caps. The two most popular terms are golf and newsie caps. These appear to be modern terms. We are not sure just what the contemporary terms were. Most catalogs at the time just called them caps. They were so ubiquitous at the time that no more specific term was needed. Most of the catalogs we have seen just use the term 'cap' with not more specific name. Most of these various terms were American.


Figure 2.--The flat cap was the dominate cap style worn by American boys for nearly a half century.

Styles

There were many stylistic minor differences between flat caps. There are differences the bill and the crown that give many different looks. Some with high crowns did not look very flat. The bills (peaks) often look different in available photographs, but this is usually because of the way boys worked them rather than how they were made.

Short peak

An Act of the English Parliament in 1571 that on Sundays and holidays that all males over 6 years of age, except for the nobility and persons of degree, were to wear caps of wool manufacture on force of a fine (3/4d perday). This bill was designed to stimulate trade. It was not repealed until 1597 by which time the flat cap in England had become recognized as the mark of a citizen, tradesman, or aprentice. Thus the wearing of such caps had become accepted social conventions, as well as carrying spcail class conventions. Note also that the age chosen was about the same age at which boys were being breeched. Some laws know as sumtory laws made it illegal for commoners to wear fancy clothes worn by the nobility. In this case the pourpose appears to have been to promote the woolen garment industry. The early styles had short peaks.

Long peak

Country genntlen in the 19th centuty adopted the long peaked flat. Country gentlemen adopted a long peaked flat cap--the golf or shooing cap. It is the long peak style commonly called "rattin (h)at" or "Windsor" cap.

Flat crown


Voluminous crown


Accompanying Clothing

The answer to the question of what was worn with these caps, the answwe in America is simple--knicker suits. These caps were wirn in the 1900s, but they were not by any sence dominant. We see many other caps in the 1900s. Thiss changed in the 1910s, the flat cap became the primary headwear of American boys. We not only do not see a lot of other caps, butwe see fewer boys wearing hats. The flat capwas not universal, it was, however, very dominant--especially with school age boys. And yhr other major fashion shift was that American boys began wearing knickers rather than knee pants. We do no see any particular association of flat caps and knickers in the 1900s, but we cerainly do in the 1910s. We are not sure why these shifts both occurred in the late-1900s and early-1910s, but the photigraphic record shows that they certainly did. And as a result the two garmnents became associated with each other. Because suits were still commonly worn in the 1910s, thecassociation was with knicker suits. But we also see boys wearing flat caps with just knicker pants. We see fewer suits in the 1920sm but flar caps and knickers were still commonly worn together. And both flat caps and knickers declining in popularity during the 1930s. The situartion in Europe is muvch more complicated and varied from country to country. Basically because the flat cap was less pervasiselyvworn, we do not notice ant strong assoviartionwith particular garments. This was especially true of knickers because they were much less common than in America. We seem to see a number of Belgian boys wearing flar caps, often with short pants and knickers, but that is just a preliminary assessment.

Material

These caps were most often made out a woolen fabric. One particularly popular material was tweed. We notice tweed caps done both with and without patterns. We also see the caps done in suiting material that matched the boys suits. These matching suit caps seem especially popular in America during the 1910s.

Lining

We have very limited information on cap linings at this time. Good quality flat caps were commonly made in tweed. they were also lined with silk or satin material. We believe that it was very common to line these caps, but we have little information on this, in part because in the available phoographs, the linings are rarely showing.

Chronology

Flat caps were commonly noted in the historical record by the 16th century and were worn even earlier. HBC begins to see the modern style of these caps being commonly worn in the 1900s. I believe they began to be widely worn in the 1890s, perhaps somewhat earlier. They were clearly most commonly worn by boys in the 1920s. They were also widely worn in the early 1930s--but had declined in popularity by the 1940s. A HBC contributor reports, "The 1920s-30s cap in the photos on this page look a little fuller than the caps I saw when I was younger."


Figure 3.--The tweedy hat was almost a requirement for an American boy wearing a knicker suit. Note tge cap seems to match the suit. A younger boy might wear a peaked cap with a short pants suit, esoecially a boy from a well-to-do family.

Country Trends

Flat caps were widely worn in both America and Europe, but probably more commonly in America than any other country. By the late 19th and early 20th century they were being widely worn by working class men. In contrast they were also worn by the affluent class for country outings and golf--pften with kniclers. As a boys style they appear, by the turn of the 20th century, more popular in America than Britain and England as a style of hat for boys. In Britain flat caps had class connotations. They were tghe most popular cap style for boys in the early 20th century for more than three decades. They were also worn in manu other countries, but not nearly as commonly as in america, The one exception here may have been Canada..

Social Class

Flat caps were seen as not only a boys' cap, but also a working-class man. The actual situaltion was more complicated, especially when we look overseas. A Britisj reader writes, "Owing its status to early acts of parliament, the flat cap became seen as a working class cap--although the upper class wore them while in the country for sporting events--golf and shooting. Leir Hardie, the first Labour MP, wore one as a gesture of working class solidarity." That of course was before British coal miners began wearing baseball caps (1980s) Another British writer tells us, "A cloth cap is assumed in folk mythology to represent working class, but it also denotes upper class affecting casualness. So it is undoubtedly classless, and there lies its strength. A toff can be a bit of a chap as well without, as it were, losing face." [Mather] This also applied for boys. These caps were much more common for working-class boys rgan for boys from affluent families. We have, however noted them being worn from boys clarly from well yo do families. Age was a factor. Younger working-class boys wire than than well-to-do boys.

Film

One HBC contributor reports that he has seen a number of films from the 1930s that show boys wearing flat caps. Warner Brothers featured twin brothers, the Mauch twins (Billy and Bobby), in a couple of films based on the Penrod books of Booth Tarkington in which they (and their friends) wore flat caps.

Sources

Mather, Geoffrey. "Capped for England" BBC Radio 4, 2001.

Orlen, Steve. E-mail message, November 1, 2005.







HBC






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Created: March 12, 2000
Last updated: 5:20 PM 3/20/2012