Hardly any other hat symbolizes a country more clearly than the beret. A man with this headgear, striped shirt, Monbijou beard and baguette under his arm would be recognized as French even in the most remote corner of the world. The flat woolen hat is at least as good a Spaniard, because the Basque country has a French part as well as a Spanish part, which is even larger in terms of area.
From the old French province of Béarn in the Pyrenees, on the border with the Basque Country, the flat wool cap spread in the 15th century. The peasants wore it against the cold in winter and against the heat in summer. According to legend, the name of the hat with the little tail, as the Basques call the tip, comes from an error made by Napoleon III, who in 1855 admired the "béret basque" of the workers during a visit to the construction site of his summer palace in Biarritz.
Fulling mills, simple wooden mills that used pressure to press wool into felt, have existed in Europe since the High Middle Ages. This is how the raw material for the hats was produced back then. The Laulhère company, founded in 1830 and the last major beret producer in France, is based in the small town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie. There are also small manufacturers, such as Après La Pluie in the seaside resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, which make the hat next to Laulhère.
The military is a major buyer, but there are also school uniforms with the cap. The beret (French: béret) has another playground: the fashion industry. In 2017, for example, there was a black leather model by Dior. Gucci currently has a beret made of shiny logo fabric in its range for 310 euros and Acne one made of a snakeskin print. A simple, classic wool beret without fanfare costs less, around 50 euros.
Let's move on to another aspect of the hat: its straps. Even before the hype about the cap in intellectual and artistic circles in the 19th and 20th In the 19th century, she was found in self-portraits by the Dutch masters Vermeer and Rembrandt. The beret was worn by Rodin, Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, Hemingway and Richard Wagner. In the 1920s it became a symbol for the modern woman, worn by stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Coco Chanel.
During the Second World War, the beret was the headgear of the French resistance. She became a symbol of revolution. There are few pictures of Che Guevara without a beret. In 1967, Faye Dunaway wore it in "Bonnie and Clyde", around the same time the cap became a symbol of political resistance in the US for the Black Panther movement.
The "béret basque" has achieved what only a few items of clothing in the world can: Be a "sign of revolution", part of a uniform, a fashion statement and a national symbol at the same time. In France they would say: Oh, là, là!