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: 

 

32

34

36

38

40

42

44

46

48

50

52

54

 

 

 

S

 

M

 

L

 

XL

 

XXL

 

 US

65/8

63/4

67/8

7

71/8

71/4

73/8

71/2

75/8

73/4

77/8

8

 UK

61/2

65/8

63/4

67/8

7

71/8

71/4

73/8

71/2

75/8

73/4

77/8

 CM

53

54

55

56

57

58

59

60

61

62

63

64

 Inches

203/4

211/4

215/8

22

221/2

223/4

231/4

235/8

24

241/2

243/4

251/4

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 http://home.avvanta.com/~rgphoto/2004/basqueberet.htm 

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: http://www.gauchoclothes.com/boinas.html.  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 http://www.regionalesarg.com.ar/ 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 (http://www.museeduberet.com/pages/boutique.php) 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. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your post, it emboldened me to remove the headband, which was annoying. I've had several berets, all French; the current one is called Super Basque, purchased in a Paris department store. Previous ones have been Laulhere, which historically has been top-of-the-line, made in Oloron Ste.Marie, West of Pou in the foothills of the Pyrenees...it's the town where my grandmother was born, also where 90% of French-made berets traditionally have come from; however the industry is in trouble these days and Laulhere is one of the last remaining factories in the country.

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