Berets are oft mocked as a cartoonish symbol of tacky Francophilia, up there with Eiffel Tower charms and “je t’aime” t-shirts. But worn correctly, they can be the accessory to tie together a stylish outfit, whether you’re donning cozy sweaters and clutching a pumpkin spiced latte, or back-to-basics in your post-Halloween all-black mourning attire.
Some notes: First off, when buying a beret, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing the right size. You’ll want a band that fits snugly to the head, not so tight that it’ll leave a red stripe on your forehead, but also not so large that it’ll be falling down over your eyes. If ordering online, measure the circumference of your head and compare it to the sizing guide provided. If you can, it’s always better to try a hat on in person.
Fabric and color: High quality material and tasteful color choices are the difference between a hat looking ready for the runway or ready for a trip to Target. Let’s leave sequined, metallic, or patterned berets in the early 2000s where they belong. We are also saying no to pom poms, bows, beading of any kind, and slouchy berets. This is the time and place for solid colors only, preferably in darker colors, and a streamlined look. (Pastel berets are reserved for aggressive trinket hawkers in the Latin Quarter.) Stick with black, charcoal gray, dark green, or navy blue. Khaki can be tasteful as long as the material is preserved well, since pilling or fluff will show more easily on lighter fabrics. A red beret runs the risk of looking too “Emily,” but maroon or burgundy can both provide a bold pop of color without drawing the wrong kind of attention.
Those willing to commit to a more intense look could consider a leather beret, but know that pleather always comes across as cheap and plasticky in beret form. (I don’t make the rules.) This look is not approved for vegans.
Want to keep your look fresh and current without your beret dragging it into the 1960s? Opt for a leather moto jacket and a pair of wide leg pants in a bold color (like these ones from Zara). This look will kill at the coworking space where you freelance and fantasize about your future art-tech startup.
The beret can be an automatic outfit elevator, so you might want to play with some contrasting aesthetics to keep things interesting. Try pairing one with a slip dress (like this Parade dress in Dirty Martini) and a classic pair of Doc Martens. It’s a look that will tell people you like Godard films, but aren’t afraid to cancel questionable celebrities with a single hashtag.
Use a beret to offset a chic menswear look, like a velvet blazer (perhaps this one from J. Crew) over a simple turtleneck. Round out the look with slacks in a narrower cut, velvet slippers or loafers (like these gorgeous Birdies), and a pair of fishnet gloves for a surprising textural touch. Best served with a negroni sbagliato and a subscription to The New Yorker.
Try a dark academia-inspired look by pairing a beret with plaid trousers or a skirt, penny loafers, a brown sweater, and a gray wool coat. Houndstooth is also an option for the plaid-averse. Bonus points if you wear wire-rimmed glasses and a leather satchel filled with classic novels.
As mentioned, the leather beret is a tough look to pull off, but impressive if you can. (Invest in one from a quality heritage brand like Laulhère.) Let it be the focus of the outfit, and keep things simple with an all-black ensemble in matte colors: black jeans, boots, and black turtleneck. It’s an ideal uniform for someone who spends every weekend at a protest or volunteering for a local food bank.
The camel trench coat is one of the most iconic staples of timeless French fashion, and a natural companion for a tasteful beret. But if you don’t want to look like you’re impersonating Catherine Deneuve, you can zhuzh it up with a pair of thigh high boots (like these ones or these ones from ASOS). You’ll look like a babe at brunch and a boss in the boardroom, and you’ll definitely get a compliment from the Sweetgreen employee who knows your daily lunch order. (You just might need a foot soak later and wish you’d worn your Vejas instead.)
Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.