Beret much so

If you want to get ahead, get a Basque hat


This article is taken from the March 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I’ve been worrying about the vibe shift. LOLS, I am the vibe shift. As earnest Millennial moaners give way to breaking Gen Z nihilists, it is more apparent than ever that the former are basically ’boomers, Gen Z a re-hashed Gen X. Accordingly, as Millennials themselves would put it: “I got this.”

For a one-stop shop means of expressing this sartorially, I give you the beret

Still, others may be fretting about their ability to get with the scene, and I am nothing if not charitable. In her editor’s letter in March’s Elle magazine, Kenya Hunt notes that, where the Guardian has described the current
fashion moment as “chaotic”, “messy”, and “falling apart”, the Wall Street Journal as “weird”, so she would argue that “the general vibe is one of rebellion”. To which I say, “The sane are never not rebelling.”

For a one-stop shop means of expressing this sartorially, I give you the beret. Berets have been happening for a while now. Viz., the Bronze Age, when they were a big Minoan thing. Etruscans and Romans followed suit, as did anyone who fancied themselves a bit (artists, poshos) across the millennia that followed.

Berets Laulhere, factory of traditional berets

The commercial production of pastoral, Basque-style berets (above) began in the seventeenth century in the commune of Oloron-Sainte-Marie in southern France; its first factory, Beatex-Laulhère, boasting records going back to 1810. By 1928, there were more than twenty French factories producing hats for the working classes, plus sundry hangers-on.

Military berets were taken up by the French Chasseurs Alpins in 1889. Going Gallic was the obvious solution for the Royal Tank Regiment which required headgear that would protect its soldiers’ hair from oil without taking up space, remaining in situ while their wearers clambered in and out of minuscule hatches. The look then went Second World War viral thanks to Field Marshal Montgomery.

Last big in the 1990s, berets have been back for a few seasons. Dior did leather numbers pre-pandemic, Gucci’s were pure Margot Tenenbaum, while Marc Jacobs offered studded, Nineties sleaze. Most gloriously, for its 2018-19 cruise show, Chanel gave us an aching chic nautical-cum-Bonnie and Clyde incarnation in almost all its 90 looks.

Bazaar deemed this the “woke beret”, less military than blending beatnik Hemingway / Picasso / Piaf / Dietrich / leanings with Che Guevara / Blank Panther edge. It was worn dragged down over the head French Resistance-style, rather than angled jauntily aloft it, and embraced by Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lupita Nyong’o, and Cara Delevingne (right), whose red beret bore the legend “Anarchy”, lest we missed the point.

Lily Collins’s star turn as the heroine of Netflix’s human cartoon, Emily in Paris, from 2020 onwards, might have
been expected to finish this guise off . However, the deliberately “ringarde” (basic) embrace of the beret by “La plouc” (the hick) actually served to make it still more radical — a glad-to-be-gauche two-fingered salute to those fashion bitches who imagine they’re better than the rest of us. And so the beret clung on. Armani put it on many of the models in his spring/summer 2023 collection, as did Kenzo.

Accordingly, berets are extremely now, without ever being not now; subversive to the point of divisive (regular wearers will be aware that the hate is real). They’re also rather March, a moment desperate for a refresh that remains resolutely inclement. Berets thus qualify as transitional, a modish finisher that is no less a fuck you, and as such I’m all over them.

A speedy fact-check confirms that I possess seventeen berets in black, navy, grey, fuchsia, hot pink, rhubarb, evergreen, Klein, ice and baby blue

A speedy fact-check confirms that I possess seventeen berets in black (plain, velvet, sequinned, banded Basque), navy, grey, fuchsia, hot pink, rhubarb, evergreen, Klein, ice and baby blue, two in bouclé, plus three that are technically more of a Railway Children tam-o’-shanter. (See Reserved’s Wool Beret in cream bouclé for similar, £25.99, And Other Stories gives great beret, while my most recent additions were from Kettlewell (now £29.40, and all very heaven.

If we’re talking “it” berets, Gucci has multi-coloured, lamé-flecked, tweed pink and yellow, or orange and green versions that are a means of doing rad while indicating that spring has sprung; ditto its fuchsia and royal blue mohair variants (£325). Maison Michel’s handmade Billy Fil Coupé velvet beret is now £252 (from £360) and a plush, dotted jet. While Vestiaire Collective harbours a wealth of pre-loved Chanel, Dior, Prada and Gucci examples.

Still, itness isn’t really the point. Almost two hundred years on, Laulhère is France’s sole remaining artisan beret maker. Why not secure one of its dense, merino originals (€49,, available in 18 shades, for far less dosh and a lot more cred .

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