Berets Are Back, C'est Fantastique! But Can You Actually Wear One To The Pub?
The Debrief: Beret good, or beret bad? There’s only one way to find out...
Nobble the bobble! Bin the beanie! Forget those three days you wore a fedora last October ever happened! Because spring has got a hat on (hip hip hip hooray). Spring has got a hat on, and guess what? It’s a beret.
That rhymed without me even trying, because those are simply the poetic heights one reaches as soon as one puts 20cm of round felt on one’s head. Berets make you look clever and artsy; that is just fact. And as we have learned from beret-wearing icons like Marlene Dietrich, Faye Dunaway and Doug’s beatnik sister from the cartoon Doug, the quintessential French headgear has buckets of insouciant charm and timeless style appeal far beyond the salons of Paris. Vogue announced its return as THE hat of the season a year ago, which means the trend will be finding its way to the real-life heads of actual humans right about now.
I know what you’re thinking, though. 'Was Simone de Beauvoir right when she said ‘One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others'? No, wait –'Am I going to look like a total dickhead when I wear this to the pub?' That’s what you’re thinking.
Will you look like a) a dickhead, b) an army cadet, or c) one of those arty pensioners who go to the theatre a lot and wear brooches made of recycled magazines? All important questions. And so in the noble name of research, I have worn a beret everywhere for the last two weeks. Here are my findings.
To coffee shops
The easiest one, this, because the beret’s natural home is le café. Of course you’re less likely to be debating Albert Camus and more likely to be asking in a put-upon tone whether they have almond milk in Nero yet (they don’t, and you’re not even lactose intolerant so shut up) – but still, sipping a cup of hot joe is the time when your new beret is going to look least ridiculous, so it’s a good place to start.
'I like your beret!' said the woman behind the counter in my regular place. 'It looks nice and... felty.' It’s very likely she’d been told to compliment every customer in order to meet some internal marketing target, but I’m still chalking it up as a win.
Dickhead level: 1/5
To the pub
The main question here is: do you take it off? Because you can pretty much walk into a London pub with a stuffed otter on your head and nobody will even blink, as long as you peel it off as soon as you sit down and immediately order a craft ale. But if you’re going to keep the beret on, that’s different. That’s a statement. That goes beyond ‘hey, just keeping my head warm’ and announces ‘EVERYBODY, I AM DOING A LOOK.’
Wearing my beret to the pub in Dalston didn’t illicit as many hard looks as it might have done in, say, Dewsbury, but I still got an 'aww look at you in your beret!' and a 'woah, loving this' with accompanying swirly hand gesture. Which as we all know is code for ‘YOU REALLY ARE DOING A LOOK.’ I think people were torn between appreciating my departure from the obligatory navy blue American Apparel beanie, and worrying I might ask them to watch some performance poetry.
On the more practical side, pubs are too hot to wear a beret without getting trapped in a vicious circle of sweaty hat hair. Either take it off immediately or resign yourself to scalp itch for the next four hours.
Dickhead level: 3/5
So, full disclosure: this isn’t my first time in a beret. I wore them almost solidly between the a
ges of 16 and 19, without ever even feeling pretentious. But then I never felt pretentious carrying a vinyl record under my arm around sixth form to make boys like me either, so possibly the problem lay with me.
Anyway – while in 2005 I was teaming my beret with a parka and a cravat in a look directly inspired by the woman from the French Resistance on ’Allo ’Allo, these days the 90s revival has me automatically reaching for Clueless references. Wraparound mini kilt, collared shirt under a fitted sweater, cropped jacket. Fluffy pen.
The look might teeter on the edge of schoolgirly (at 28, it turns out, the days of being able to wear knee socks without getting the icks are officially behind me), but channelling Cher’s confidence and superior vocabulary, I found the beret actually gave me a kind of creative sass-boost in the office. Like I might be able to assertively but charmingly ask for a pay rise – or at least argue my report card from a C+ to an A-.
Dickhead level: 3/5
Full, full disclosure: sixth form wasn’t my first time in a beret either. I had to wear a bright red peaked number for trips and special assemblies all through high school. And because there is nothing as resourceful as an adolescent girl in the face of oppressive bureaucracy, we discovered that the trick to wearing a ridiculous hat is to wear it at a jaunty angle. The jaunty angle might make you look 500% more pretentious, but at least it’s purposeful. Nobody will come up to ask if you know you’ve got something on your head.
So it’s armed with that old learning that I decided to wear my beret to Tesco. Cocked to one side, teamed with my leopard print coat and fingerless gloves, I hoped people might take me for a loveable cockney eccentric rather than a posturing hipster. But then I ruined the illusion by asking where the quinoa was.
Dickhead level: 4/5
To a hipster cafe
'Oh. Wow,' said my boyfriend when I appeared in this outfit. 'You’re really going for it.'
This doesn’t mean ‘you work it, girl!’, by the way, but is his gentle, polite way of wailing 'must there ALWAYS be a CONCEPT? Can’t it ever just be ‘jeans and a nice top’??' In fairness, teaming the beret with a 70s leather coat and a polo neck did make me look like a background extra in Starsky and Hutch, and not one who would even get to romp on some orange shag pile.
But half an hour later I was the one laughing, because we were sat in Edith’s House, a north London cafe designed to look exactly like someone’s nan’s bungalow (seriously, you can eat your lunch sat at one of those dressing tables with the little curtain round the bottom) and I co-ordinated perfectly with the paisley wallpaper and frilly lampshades. Maybe, I thought, if I sit here for long enough they might give me a free hot chocolate for being so thoroughly on-brand!
Dickhead level: 3/5
To the beach
In my defence, that day was cold as a brass monkey’s basement mini fridge. But seeing as everyone else in Goring-by-Sea was wearing North Face cagoules and fleece-lined lumberjack hats with ear flaps, it isn’t much of a defence.
Wearing a beret to a provincial seafront in February is definitely more ok than wearing one in August with a bikini and sliders, but I was still eyed suspiciously by locals – as though perhaps I was a new breed of foreigner they needed to vote UKIP about. And I got earache.
Dickehead level: 4/5
To actual Europe
Like wearing tartan to Scotland, a fur gilet to Chelsea or a large flatpack bookcase to Sweden, you probably shouldn’t wear a beret to France. Not least because there’s every chance you will be wearing it wrong and therefore be thought terribly gauche, when Brit girls have enough of a bad rep over there for mixing navy with black and never getting our roots done.
But on the OTHER hand, news reports in 2014 claimed that the traditional beret was dying out in France, with just one manufacturer still making them on home soil. So maybe it would look like an act of heroic cultural preservation? Anyway, I didn’t wear mine to France but I did wear it all round Copenhagen, where I was convinced it distinguished me against all the other tourists as a cool, pan-European nomad.
I was convinced, until tall gorgeous Danish people in shops kept greeting me with 'English! Yes?'
Dickhead level: 5/5
Have I inspired you to give berets a go? Très bon! Vive la différence! Je voudrais un baguette avec jambon sil vous plait! Here are some of the best berets on the virtual high street:
The cheap one
It costs less than a Pret sandwich so you literally can’t go wrong. If you give up af
ter two hours out of embarrassment, you can use it to clean the bath or something.
New Look, £3
The structured one
Probably the closest you’ll ever get to taking style tips from Kate Middleton’s christening wardrobe, so your mum will be happy.
The proper French one
It comes in every colour of the rainbow, and is made “in the shadow of the Pyrenees”. Which is where you’ll have to go and hide after you try to wear it with a Breton top and sunglasses to your mate Big Dave’s birthday.
Ropey Soles, £9.99
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