Thursday, April 30, 2009

"A sign of our Greatness...?"

This article comes from Stars and Stripes, by Ashley Rowland, with my comments in italics pasted in, in pink.

Soldiers Call for Army to Drop Berets


April 18, 2009

Stars and Stripes|by Ashley Rowland

They’re hot, sweaty and do nothing to keep the sun out of your eyes during a long formation. Quite the opposite: a good beret insulates the head and absorbs sweat. Many army berets though are not made of 100% (merino) wool and often have a synthetic lining which keeps the head warm. A true Basque beret can easily be pulled forward to keep the sun out of your eyes, but unfortunately, US Army berets are so small (in diameter) that you can't do this (compare this to the French Chasseurs Alpin!). Also, army berets have a synthetic, vinyl  –sometimes leather- drawstring, which makes the forehead more sweaty (compared to a no-headband wool rim.

Those are just a few of the reasons the Army should stop making soldiers wear wool berets outdoors, a group of delegates said Friday at the 8th Army’s annual Army Family Action Plan conference.

"Everyone is affected by the beret," said Sgt. Brad Stuckey, spokesman for a group that studied family-support issues. "This is an issue that your average soldier feels very strongly about."

The group recommended that soldiers be required to wear lighter, cotton-nylon blend patrol caps instead. They block the sun, absorb sweat and are somewhat water resistant, Stuckey said. Nylon does block the sun, like wool, but does not absorb any moisture. Most Spanish and French berets are Teflon treated and waterproof (impermeable).

Soldiers had a list of complaints about the black beret. Among them:

*It doesn’t match the Army Combat Uniform, which has no black in its pattern.

*It has to be shaved, washed and dried on a lampshade or hat stand to hold its shape.

*It can cost nearly twice as much as a patrol cap, and there’s no standard way to wear it.

"You have seven people wearing it seven different ways," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jon Butler.

He said people have complained about the beret since it became part of the uniform in 2001.

"It’s been brought up a lot, but it’s consistently shot down," he said. "If it’s an issue enough to keep being brought up, then there’s definitely something behind it."

8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil said at the end of the conference that all of the ideas presented were good ones.

"We’re going to have to think about the one on the beret," he said. "That’s a hard sell."

 Originally published January 8, 2009 at 4:10 PM | Page modified January 11, 2009 at 5:22 AM

Why is this such an issue in the army, or in the US Army, for that matter? Most grievances, like colour and regulations on how to wear the beret, can be easily addressed, but possibly there are other motives as well. Mr Rod Powers mentions in his article on Berets in the US Military: "In 1951, the Marine Corps experimented with green and blue berets, but dismissed them because they looked too “foreign” and “feminine.”

It is amazing how serious this matter is taken by grown up people with guns. Have a look at: for some fine debating. A bit of Googling on 'beret' and 'US Army' shows how many manuals have been issued on the issue. But, there is hope, as Army Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki said: 'The Beret is a sign of our Greatness!'.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

From the UK

Another, very British, response to the recent beret-sale-increase. Easy to forgive them...

They're back...but trust me, NO ONE looks good in a beret


Last updated at 1:11 PM on 20th April 2009

Those who like their hats flat are in for a treat this spring. 

Sales of berets have doubled, according to manufacturers in Orlon Sainte Marie, the beret-making region in south-west France, as bobos (French yuppies) buy them by the armful.

And as fashion dictates that anything happening in France is the last word in chic, the trend is crossing La Manche faster than a ferry. 

Oh dear. Why is there a rush to buy a hat that makes the wearer look like a mushroom?

Fashionistas are theorising that the credit crunch is driving us to revert to authentic garments: we are attracted to the beret as it is a symbol of a romantic, rural past.

The beret might be a traditional piece of Gallic headgear, but so is the tam o'shanter, and you don't see baggy tartan bobblehats in Topshop for a very good reason.

Until its latest resurgence, the beret was largely worn by spinsterish pottery teachers. 

Today, berets send out other messages about their wearers.

There is a barking-mad woman who works at my local library. She has a selection of angora berets in colours ranging from mauve through to lilac. 

Her headgear is a useful shorthand that lets people know to keep their distance.

However, the beret has a noble and distinguished history and, in context, commands respect and authority. 

Most armies in the world top off their uniforms with the jaunty little hats and, on the heads of soldiers, they look smart - sexy even.

Berets were also famously worn by Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso. 

Marlene Dietrich scandalised polite society when she became the first woman to wear a beret in the Twenties - so it's all her fault it's a unisex garment - and it was later adopted by Brigitte Bardot and Greta Garbo.

Sadly, most people don't think immediately of war heroes, philosophers, artists or iconic moody actresses when they think of the beret: they think of Saddam Hussein, Seventies sitcom halfwit Frank Spencer or, if they are in their 30s, Ben from Eighties band Curiosity Killed The Cat - none of whom are obvious sartorial heroes to the average woman.

Even the most dedicated fashionista can't overcome the real sin of the beret, which is that it gives you the worst hat hair of any headgear, ever, with the possible exception of the swimming hat.

The snug-fitting band leaves a welt on the forehead, while the thick woolen fabric creates a dank, sweaty atmosphere inside the hat that will plaster the bounciest of blow-dries to the scalp in just a few minutes.

It's very French to suffer to be beautiful, but this is taking fashion victimhood too literally. Oh well, c'est la mode.


Beret returns to France amid economic gloom

This article by Peter Allen I found on 

Beret returns to France amid economic gloom

Once worn by everyone from farmers to existentialist philosophers, the black beret was as much a part of French culture as onion sellers and Left Bank cafés.


By Peter Allen in Paris 
Last Updated: 11:14AM BST 14 Apr 2009

Beret sales have doubled since the start of the credit crunch 

Now after years in decline, the Gallic headgear is back in fashion with manufacturers reporting a doubling in sales.

Young people in major cities including Paris are leading the revival, embracing the beret as a symbol of a rural past in an increasingly Americanised world.


Patricia Jourdain, a style commentator who runs a designer boutique on the fashionable Rue Jacob in Paris, said: "The beret is as far removed from the baseball cap and other manifestations of US culture as you can get. Following the collapse of the Anglo-Saxon economy young people are harking back to their roots, showing they're proud to be French.

"Rather than solely being worn by country people or intellectuals the beret is now an extremely chic fashion item. Many models wore them at this year's Paris Fashion Week. British visitors to France also love the berets, buying them in the way that their Francophile forebears used to."

Manufacturers around Orlon Sainte-Marie, once the beret making capital in the south-west of the country, confirmed sales had doubled since the start of the credit crunch.

A spokesman for Blancq-Olibet said that, after facing closure less than a decade ago, the business was now producing around 300,000 a year.

Bobos – the French equivalent of yuppies – are said to be increasingly buying the berets as a link with the villages where their grandparents lived.

Stephane Jacquet, a milliner from Bourges, south of Paris, told the Connexionnewspaper: "The beret has become an essential bobo fashion accessory and most beret-wearers nowadays seem to be the bourgeois-boheme type.

"I think they are looking for an authentic and tangible symbol of deepest France, or, la douce France, the cliché from the song by 1960s singer Charles Trenet.

"The beret is perhaps synonymous with France's rural past where life was supposedly easier and simpler than today."

As far as wearing a beret is concerned, Mr Jacquet said style could say a great deal about a wearer.

"There is a popular myth, which says the side to which you choose to slant your beret, left or right, is a sign of your political affiliations," he explained.

Both Jean Paul Sartre, the philosopher, and Pablo Picasso, the artist, were known for wearing their berets in a "straight" fashion, neither to the left nor the right.

Less impressively, so was Michael Crawford, who played Frank Spencer in the BBC comedy Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em.


Monday, April 27, 2009

The Beret and Islam

Two recent clippings on the Islam and the Beret: A German teacher is not allowed to wear her beret while at work, while at the same time two Dutch imams receive their G.I.-Beret to wear on the job... 

It's not that long ago that the beret was a pretty standard piece of headgear for teachers in many European countries (and uniformed school children in France had to wear the Basque). 

Islam in Germany: Beret not allowed either

A Muslim teacher who replaced her head-scarf with a beret pulled down over her ears has been fired from school.

 The teacher, who tried to preserve her religious values and at the same time follow Germany’s social norms lost a lawsuit Friday against a German state which banned religious head-dress from public schools; IRNA reported.

Presiding judge Heike Menche of a labour tribunal in the western city of Dusseldorf upheld a pre-dismissal warning issued to the woman, 35, who trains children in life skills at a city school. The woman adopted the pink beret after North Rhine-Westphalia state followed the example of Turkey and France by outlawing head scarves in public schools, saying they were a sectarian symbol. 

This is while an estimated 3.2 million of the 82 million people in Germany have an Islamic heritage.

The woman denied her beret was religious and said she wore it for cultural reasons, since she felt “undressed” when bare-headed.

Eight of sixteen states in Germany including the capital have banned Islamic head scarves from public schools. 


Netherlands: Army employs two imams

08 April 2009 

Starting Thursday, the Dutch army is employing two imams. A spokesperson for the defense ministry confirmed the report Tuesday to the Vrij Nederland weekly.

The imams are Ali Eddaoudi and Souad Aydin. They are respectively of Moroccan and Turkish origins.

The two Islamic clerics trained in recent weeks in the military in order to be able to work in the army. On Thursday they will be presented with their beret at a private ceremony at the Royal Military Academy in Breda.

Source: Trouw (Dutch)


Sunday, April 26, 2009

From Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects


English Term: BERET
Other designations: Basque beret; student beret.
French Term: BÉRET
French Grammatical Gender: m
Nomenclature Code: 03-00056

Do not confuse with: BALMORAL (C080:03-00055); BIRETTA (C080:03-00059).

Sterkowski from Poland

  The Polish Beret Manufacturer Sterkowski was founded in 1924 by Anna Sterkowska and operated as a small business for the next 15 years until the outbreak of World War II. The war ruined Anna's business. That was, until Anna's son, Zygmunt, returned to Poland from captivity in Germany after the war. To his great luck he found a sewing machine in a ditch along the road, which was a real treasure in post-war devastated Warsaw. It allowed Zygmund to set up a small manufacturing business, which later turned into a factory. Through years of incessant work, with lots of ups and downs, the business continued to grow. All founding family members and employees have passed their master/apprenticeship papers for the Polish Craftmans Guild (Guilds still exist in Poland to this day). 
Sterkowski doesn't have it's own web site, but can be contacted by email: przemyslaw.kratochwil @

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beretanimations and Cartoons


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Finding the Real Thing

Since starting this blog, I received a number of emails from people who'd like to buy a beret, but don't know where to start. Hat Shops, if stocking berets at all, often have only one brand and size and little knowledge on the various types of berets. Unfortunately, I have to say, the best way to get your beret is through internet, but this means that you need to know what you want before ordering.

First, you'd have to decide whether you prefer your beret to have a leather or synthetic headband. If you do, you need to know the size of your head as these berets are made to size. Sizing systems differ between countries, but if you measure your head by taking a measuring tape –placing it around the circumference of your head, slightly above the ears- the following table will help: 















































































Personally, I am not in favour of berets with a headband; the size is never 'just perfect', it irritates on my forehead, it becomes sweaty and you loose the advantage of the beret – being able to roll it up and stuff it in your pocket. Then again, many people do appreciate the headband – it's something you have to work out for yourself.

I couldn't describe the advantages of a beret without a headband any better than by the words of Ron Greer on his web site 

I take the liberty to quote:

"Why do I like this better than a beret with a leather headband? In a word; comfort. This is a personal preference but I feel these beret fits one's head shape better, the headband doesn't change size (neither stretch nor shrink) or get dry and stiff like a leather band can. It can be stretched to fit even the biggest head size & shape, and fits all but the smallest heads (the headband come about 6.5 inches in diameter from the factory) making it a great present as there's no guessing on size. It also rolls, or folds, up easy for putting in your pocket or packing. This is one of the few hats I can wear all day, even forgetting it's on my head. I wear my beret year round. It's great in the rain, shades my head in the summer (how they are used in the Basque country). I use to wear it as my bike hat; until the city mandated helmets. Darn!"


Then, what are you going to buy? I can only advise on the berets I know personally, which of course, is not much on a world scale.

The berets made by Boinas Elósegui in Tolosa, Spain stand way out from any other beret I know. Beautiful workmanship, great quality and extremely

 comfortable – The Real Thing.

The downside is, of course, you pay for it. Boinas Elósegui are rather expensive, but very much worth it – they'll last a lifetime. Elósegui offers a huge range of sizes and colours (check out their web site). In Europe they are generally available in the specialized hat stores, but in North America and certainly in Australia 

and New Zealand, very hard to find. Americans can order a good range of Elósegui's through Ron Greer's web site; I stock a small number of the Elósegui Super Lujo 12inch in Red, Blue and Black. Drop me a line if you are interested in buying one.

Another brand I very much like is made by Bonigor S.A. in Argentina: the Tolosa Tupida. These come with and without headband (I have six in my collection, needless to say without headband). These berets are 30 cm circumference, show good workmanship, nicely finished and very comfortable to wear. These are not of the same high standard as the Elósegui's; the wool is a bit softer and lighter in weight, becoming slightly fluffy after wearing them for a while, but I do enjoy wearing them – especially in warmer weather (the Elósegui's are quite warm, due to their thickness of wool).

Bonigor makes a beautiful beret in 100% cotton as well, also called Tolosa Tupida. Although for some people maybe not the real thing, I really like 

these. Very high quality, nice Summer beret with a beautiful pattern. Also made by Bonigor S.A. are the berets in the Espinosa range. Again, high quality berets, in both 100% wool and 100% cotton, but smaller in diameter.

All these Argentinean berets are hard to come by outside Argentina. An easy way to order them is

 through:  Juan Hunter, the store owner, is knowledgeable and helpful, and has PayPal facilities to make ordering easy, but prices are rather high.

Another supplier is Regionales Argentinos, also in Buenos Aires. They offer a large selection of berets through their web site for very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, they have no easy PayPal or credit card facilities in place and international payments have to be done through Western Union. Both suppliers speak English. 

French berets. Yes, most people do associate the beret with France and therefore want to have a French made beret. There are still a number of French made brands, but most come from one factory nowadays. The decline in beret factories in France is enormous, unfortunately. I won't go into that now, plenty material for a few more blogs on French berets and their industry. 

As for buying French berets; most of them have a synthetic (sometimes leather) headband in place and I can't advise you on their quality. I bought a béret chasseur alpin from the Musée du Béret store ( which is nice, but more expensive and of less quality than an Elósegui. They do offer an interesting range of berets on the web site though.

I own one Bakarra, which despite the headband, is a beautiful 11incher.

Some famous French brands with a good reputation are: Bakarra, Hoquy, Vrai Basque. Two other French brands are Plein Ciel and Le Baroudeur, but so far, I haven't been able to find more information on these berets - they are mainly used for the military.


If anyone has additional information on French made berets, please drop me a line. 

More on berets from Canada and the Czech Republic in a later blog.