Boys' Caps: Styles

HBC has just begun collecting information on this subject. We have acquired some information on basic cap types, but our understanding of these caps is still quite limited. In many case we do not fully understand the origins of these caps, when they were made, what the caps were used for. We incourage HBC readers to conrribute what they know about these caps. Four cap styles emerge as the most important over time, sailor caps, peaked school caps, flat caps, and baseball caps. There were, however, many other types of caps worn by boys. The information that we have acquired on boys caps include the following:

Aviator Caps

Aviator-style caps with flaps were popular with American boys during the 1920s and 30s, especially for winter wear. Aviation was a craze after World War I and this was fueled by the Lindberg flight (1927). I am not entirely sure when they first appeared, but it was the Linfbergh flight that made them popular for boys. Some boys remember pestering their parents for one of these caps. Much like another generation insisted on coon-skin caps. Some boys found that once they got these aviator caps that while they were the in thing--they weren't very comfortable. They were mostly worn by boys in knickers during the 20s and 30s. A good example is a boy at an air show about 1930. We see them into the 1940s, but without the goggles. A good example is a 1947 family snapshot. They were some times called helmets. I believe aviator caps were primarily an American cap style.

Baby Caps and Bonnets

Caps and bonnets were a common part of a baby's outfit through the 1920s. They were worn throughtout the day, inside and outside. Some children wore two caps. The first might be a plain cap made out of cotton and wool. The second was usually more ornamental--sometimes lavishly trimmed with ruffles and lace, quilted, emroidered, or decorated with other decorative embelishments. Especially elaborate caps were worn for christenings. They were most commonly white, but like the outer cloak could be colored and cembroidered. Padded caps during the 18th and early 19th Century were sometimes used to help shape a baby's head, especially if it was judged to be pointed. These paded caps were used even longer to protect a baby's head from injury as a result of a fall. These caps were known as pudding caps. (Pudding at the time not only had the modern connotation, but also meant a stuffed sausage. It was also another word for dumb.) A common expression at the time was that you wore a pudding cap so your brains wouldn't turn into pudding.


Figure 1.--These boys are preparing to play baseball in the 1920s. Note that nearly all are wearing knickers and long stockings with tweed hats. Note the absence of baseball acps. Baseball caps had not yet been marketed to the general public.

Baseball

Button on top The original baseball caps looked like British school caps, a clue to their origin--presumably caps worn by British schoolboys playing cricket. Thus the modern baseball cap in a continuing reminder of baseball's origins in cricket. Baseball caps were worn almost exclusively for playing baseball and in the United States. As recently as the 1950s it was not common to see Amerivan boys wearing baseball caps except for actual play. Since the 1960s baseball caps have become virtually the only headgear worn by American boys and in the 1990s worn backwards. Beginning in the mid-1980s baseball caps have spread virtually all over the world and are worn by boys who have never played baseball and who would object to waring a school cap. American Scouts and Cubs adopted baseball caps in 1980 and Scouts in several countries who have never played baseball have followed suit.

Beanies

The beanie was a destinctly American cap. It was a small, round skull-cap, cut in gores to make it fit the head. American boys wore beanies in the 1920s and 30s. Often pins and badges of various sort adorned them as well as novelty propellers. Often the beanies came with multi-colored wedges. Boys with beanies would often be wearing knickers. Beanies were also used at American colleges as part of freshman initition.

Bellboy

The bellboy or bellhop cap is a small, stiff cap in pillbox shape, usually trimmed with braid or buttons, sometimes with a chin strap. Copy of a cap worn by hotel bellboys.

Balmoral Bonnet

The Balmoral bonnet is one of the two principal types of Higland headwear. In Scotland the term "bonnet" is used for men's and boys' headwear and not the usual English sence as headwear for women and children enveloping the hair and tied in place with strings. The other principal Highland headwear is the Glengarry bonnet. Tartan balmorals, like tartan bow ties, should never be worn with a kilt. The Balmoral, unlike the Glengarry, is of ancient heritage. It is the old broad bonnet common to Highlands and Lowlands for many centuries. It may be black, blue, or fawn, with or without diced band, and may have loose flowing ribbons behind, or a knotted bow. The Balmoral bonnet should not be wiorn with the ribbons trailing behind, rather they should be worn at the centre of the back. The average person shoukd not wear eagle feathers in his bonnet. The use of feathers is strictly limited to those whose right to wear them has been established by the Lord Lyon of Scotland. The Balmoral is similar to a Tam O'Shanter. We have noted some caps that appear similar to Balmorals, but do not have floppy beret like tops and instead flat tops. We are not sure what to call this style.


Figure 2.--Berets were commonly used in America during the 1930s-40s as part of dressup outfits for small boys. They are still occasionally used. Click on image for full view.

Berets

he beret is soft round, visorless headgear. As there is no partial brim, it is not precisely a cap--but is included here for organizational simplicity. cap. The beret is so old no one can be sure of its basic hi story, but it seems to have originated in France, "beret" being a French word. Yet, like many words, beret actually comes from a Latin word, in this case "birretum", which means "cap". And basically, "cap" is exactly what a beret is. A floppy cap. It is traditionally associated with French schooboys and school smocks. It was worn by small boys in America during the 1920s-40s as part of a dressy outtfit and was occasionally seen as late as the 1980s. It was generally in Ame rica, however, as a girls cap in America. Girls wore them extensively in the 1920s-30s, calling them "tams". Berets became associated with hippies and anarchic resistance to the establishment in the 1950s and 60s. The classic picture of Che Guevarra shows hin in a beret. Strangely, the various militaries found berets to be perfect for ceremonies or other non-physical military activities. They would wear them for decoration, and still do. The beret has become so popular that it has spread to high schools where girls use them as fashionable headgear, and some boys use them to be different. Military groups began wearing berets in the Second World War. Some one incongrous given their wear by small boys and girls, it was often elite groups like paratroopers and special forces who adopted the beret. Some Scout groups such as the British Scouts and individual American Scout units also wear berets. The British Scouts wear black berets and the American Scout berets are red.

Campaign Caps

I'm not sure how this style developed. Given the similarity to the Scottish Glengarry bonnet, that may have been the origins. The major difference was the checl or plaid trim and the back streamers. We are not positive when soldiers first began wearing campaign caps. Spanish soldiers wore it in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. We note American, British, German, and Italian soldiers wearing it in World War II during the 1940s. The Italians and Spanish wore it with a front fringe. American soldiers wore it from the 1940s-80s. The first youth group we have noted wearing it was the Hitler Youth. It was the main cap worn by American Boy Scouts until the baseball cap was adopted in the 1980s. We note that some pipe bandwear campaign caps rather than more traditional Glengarrys.

Coon-skin Caps

Mountainmen wore fur caps in the early 19th century. I'm not sure that boys wore them to any extent. Walt Disney produced a TV mini-series called Davey Crocket for television in the 1950s. It was enormously popular with young people. The TV show caused an enormous fad for coon-skin caps. Boys were soon appearing in every corner of America sporting their new coon-skin caps. The caps were generally circular in shape without a brim, but with a tail hanging down at the back. HBC at this time has little information in the Davey Crocket fad. Steve Watts' book on Disney, The Magic Kingdom, has some fascinating informatiion on the Crockett craze. The edition of The Narrative in the Life of David Crockett by Himself (or whatever it's called) had a very good introduction that also talks about the Crockett craze. Perhaps the best source is Margaret King's essay, "The Recycled Hero: Walt Disney's Davy Crockett," in Davy Crockett: The Man, the Legend, the Legacy 1786-1986, edited by Michael A Lofaro (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennnessee Press, 1985). Also try Leonard Maltin's The Disney Films. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has an excellent essay in her collection, Disorderly Conduct.

Fez

The fez was a cap without a visor that was popular in the Middle East. They first appeared about the turn of the 19th cenury, presumably in Fez, Morocco. It was essentially a Middle-Eastern style. The fez was a kind of cylindrical form, but wider at the bottom than the top, rather like a truncated cone. It was felt and usually red. There was often a tassle for decorative purposes. While namwd after Fez, Morocco and worn in North Africa , it was most commonly worn in the Ottoman Empire (especially Turkey and Egypt). It was also worn by culturally Turkish peoples in central Asia. It was more of a man's style, but in the Middle East, there were no juvenile headwear styles as was the case in Europe. Eventually the fez was adopted by a few Europeans and Americans. This reflected an interested in the Middle East within Europe, also reflected in styles like the Zouave suits which were sometimes worn with fezes. Mostly European and American men wore the fez at home with smoking jackets. The fez was a man's cap, but we have noted some boys wearing them. We note some American boys wearing them in the late 19th century. While we only have an American page at this time, we suspect this reflects our larger American archive than any particular popularity in America. The fez was part of some early Boy Scout uniforms in the 20th century. The fez eventually began to be seen as representative of the old Ottoman era. It was prohibited in Turkey in 1926 and in Iran in 1928 as part of modernizing efforts. We note Algerian boys still wearing them even after World War II.


Figure 3.--This post card of a boy wearing a flat cap was printed in Switzerland.

Flat Caps

I'm not quite sure what these peaked caps are calledm but the most common term is "flat topped" cap. Some are referred to as golf or sgooting caps. They were often made out of tweedy materials. The forerunners of this cap were widely worn by the 16th century. From the beginning there were class conotations associated with this style. They were commonly worn by American boys in the 1920s-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 golf and country wear.

Glengarry Bonnet

The Glengarry bonnet is a blue woolen cap creased through the crown, like today's overseas cap. It first appeared in 1805 in Glengarry, Invernesshire, Scotland. The cap has stiff sides and bound edges, finished with short ribbons hanging in back. The cap is of course associated with Scotland and worn with Highland kilt outfits. We have also noted boys in America, England, and France wearing them siring the 10th century. Presumably they were also worn in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and other British colonies. American boys would wear them with other outfits besides kilts. The Glengarry bonnet is still worn today, primarily as part of ceremonial uniforms like pipe bands.

Kepi

The kepi was of French origins. It translates as "small cap". It was first worn by French soldiers in North Africa about the 1830s. The French Foreign Legion wore them. It gradually was adopted as the main headwear for the French Army. The French Army after the Napoleonic Wars was considered the best run military in the world, depite Napoleon's defeat. Thus French styles influenced other countries, including America. The kepi became the primary military cap during the Civil war (1861-65). There were several stylistic variations. The basic cap had a flat circular top whih was often decorated. The Civil War caps had the top slanted forward. Itv has a small leather visor or peak. Calvalry soldiers might wear it with a chin strap. It was not a major style for boys, although we do occassionally see boys wear themas late as the 1890s.

Newsboy Cap

The newsboy cap is a style of flat cap. It is a soft fabric cap with full crown and visor that snaps to crown. Cap worn by children around 1920, who were also newsboys. Also Carnaby, style revived in 1970's. Adapted for women's wear in 1980s.

Newspaper Cap

We have noted images of boys wearing caps made out of newspaper during the late 19th century. We believe this was done for protection when involved in projects like painting or printing. Younger boys might have worn these papers hts, folded in different ways for play. A Russian reader tells us that this was done in the Soviet Union even in the 1970s.

Oliver Twist Cap

We do not yet have much information about these caps, in part because they were popular before family pohotography was common. We note these caps being worn in the mid-19th century. They appear most common in England during the 1820s-50s, but we see some examples as late as the turn of the 20th century. We are unsure about the proper name for these peaked caps. We chose this term because Oliver Twist is commonly depicted wearing them, as is David Coperfield. We would welcome any input from knowledgeable readers. These caps are often depicted as being worn with tassles. We are not sure about the origins of these caps, but they look similar to military caps at the time and the military was a common inspiration for boy's fashions.

Overseas Cap

The overseas cap was an olive drab cloth cap worn by soldiers in World War I and II. It was adopted by American Boy Scouts in the eraly 1940s. Similar in shape to the Glengarry and perhaps inspired by it.

Peaked Cap

The peaked cap with a rounded crown was an important cap style for boys. It first appeared in Britain during the mid-19th century. And it was commonly associated with Britain because it became a standard school style. Many private schools adopted it as part of the uniform. Other school boys began wearing it both to school as well as for casual wear, in part because limited income did not permit a variety of headwear. We notice boys on the Continent wearing it as well, but to a much lesser extent. In America the peaked cap became an important boy's cap style, both for dresswear and for casual wear at the turn-of-th 20th century. It did not have the same association with schoolwear in America, although some private schools did adopt it as part of the uniform. The basic style became the standard Cub cap in most countries. The peaked cap did continue as cap style for dressing up in a suit for several decades more, but most with affluent families. The peaked cap continued to be worn in Britain as schoolwear after World War II, but declined sharply in popularity during the 1960s. It was widely worn as a Cub cap around the world.


Figure 4.--These boys are proudly modeling their school caps. The younger boy wears the traditional peaked cap, the older boy the boater. Schools caps by the 1960s had become unpoular with the boys and are now rarely seen at British schools.

Peaked Military Caps

A kind of peaked military cap was worn with skeleton suits and tunics, among other outfits from about the 1820s-50s. Younger boys might wear tassles with them. The caps were worn in the American Army during the Mexican War (1846-48). Odly this rather modern looking style had gone out of fashion by the outbreak of the Civil War. The cap was also worn in early Victorian England, but I am less sure about the Continent. It may have well been the predecesor of the peaked school cap. The style was also known as the Oliver Twist cap.

Pill Box

The pillbox cap seems primarily a uniform cap. Caps based on the uniform caps worn by British soldiers during the mid and late 19th century. Adopted by some Boys' Brigade units. Some boys that were not Brigade members also wore the caps, but we are unsure about the conventions involved. The caps eventually became identified with pages at luxury hotels. There was also a brief period during the 1890s in which they were worn as baseball caps in America instead of the traditional peaked-cap style. This style, however, was never actually worn by American boys. The style of wear sport team clothes did no begin until the 1960s. Mothers in the 1890s had very different ideas about what properly dressed boys should wear. A good review of pill box caps as boys' wear is availble in the British Boys' Uniform Gallery.

Pudding Cap

An English "Pudding cap" was a toddler's cap with a thick roll or cushion around the head. Sometimes the entire cap was padded, but most often the padding was only in a thick roll or cushion that circled the head. The caps were also worn in France where they were called a bourrelet. The name apparently comes from bourre'e, meaning to dance, because the movement of a toddler's first steps somewhat resembled dancing. Sometimes the entire cap was padded, but most often the padding was only in a thick roll or cushion that circled the head.


Figure 5.--After the turn of the 20th Century, boys began wearing sailor hats less and instead more commonly wore sailor caps.

Sailor Caps

One of the most enduring styles for boy's headgear were sailor hats and caps. At first the broad-brimmed hats worn by British sailors in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries were the most common. Gradually toward the end of the 19th Century, sailor caps appeared moddeled on the more current caps worn by sailors in the modern navies. The cap was generally worn with less formal suits or for less formal events than the sailor hat. While only sailir hats or caps were worn with sailor suits, the sailor headgear was worn with many other oufits such as Little Lord Fauntleroy suits or Buster Brown suits.

Stocking or Watch Cap

Sock caps are are inexpensive knitted woolen caps worn during the winter. Today in our better heated homes, schools, and cars, they are worn stylishly on top the head, by both boys and girls. Boys in cold areas recall pulling down their sock caps as far as possible over ears and forehead and down the back of their necks. The watch cap is a navy blue sock cap. It was worn by sailors on watch and as there was no bill or brim would not blow off, even in gales. The cap rolls down to keep forehead and neck warm. Formerly in worsted wool, now in synthetic fibers.

Sou'wester

The sou'wester is cap style woirn in Britain and thev Northeastern United States. It is a rubber or tarpaulin hat that is more associated with seamen. Some versions were incorporated into raincoats. Some British schools afdopted it as part of the school uniform.

Tam O'Shanter

The Tam O'Shanter is a variation of the Scottish bonnet named after a character in the poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Cap was made of heavy brushed wool with a center tassel. It is one of the most beloved Burns' poems. It was based on the popular belief that no evil spirits can pass the middle of a running stream. The hero is pursued by witches for disturbing their dance at Alloway Kirk, and suceeds in crossing the River Doon in saftey. I have first noticed the caps in mid-19th century paintings of boys wearing kilts. I'm not sure when the caps first appeared or why they were named after Burns' hero. They are, however, often worn by men and boys wearing kilts for formal occasions. One noticeable feature is the short black streamer worn at the back.

Winter Caps

Boys wore a wide range of winter caps. Many of these caps had peaks, made rather like baseball caps. Almost all had ear flaps, often with fur or imatation fur linings. American boys commonly wore flat caps in the early 20th century. Some of these caps had ear flaps. By the 1930s these peaked caps with ear flaps became increasingly popular. Some were done in flannel. There were also leather caps in this style. They were worn through the 1950s, but declined in popularity through the 1960s. We begin seeing a kind of helmet cap, also with ear flaps. We notice American boys wearing these caps being worn in the 1950s. I think that they were also worn in Russia. We see these caps being worn mostly in America and Canada. They were much less common in Europe--even northern Europe with hard winters. German boys beginning about the 1930s began wearing a kind of ski cap.

Yarmulke

A yarmulke is a scull cap worn by Jewish men and boys. We have no information on yarmulkes at this time. We have no information on the historical origins, but that would of course be very interesting. A reader asks us if a boy in a photograph of an American immigrant family about 1910. Modern-day yarmulkes are often plain black skull caps, sometimes made out of velveteen, but sometimes also with embrodiered patterns. I have observed them at Jewish funerals, often supplied by the funeral home.

Vertical-side Caps

We are not at all sure what to call thease caps. Actually they may even be hats with the brims folded up, but we never see the brims down. They may have ear covers. They look like fur, but may be made from buffalo hides. America after the Civil War was building wsrstern railways. The railroad companies paid hunters to destroy the bufalo heards. We mostly see these caps ikn America furing the late-19th century. They were a winter cap style. We have no idea what to call them. We see quite a number of boys wearing them. A good example is an American boy, Frank Bigelow in 1882.

Unidentified Caps

We have found some caps which we can no identify. Some caps we know nothing about. Some were destinctive to specific countries or regions. Here the images provide some context, especially the chronology. While we can not always identify the country, we can usually idntify the chronological period. In other instances we are familiar with the caps, but just do not know what they were called. Even available period catalogs do not provide destinctive names for the caps.









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Created: March 19, 1999
Last updated: 10:03 PM 10/2/2008