Believe it or not, berets are making a comeback. Vogue, People, Bustle, Refinery 29, The Guardian, Bazaar, even Fox News, and more all say so. Rihanna, Selma Hayek, Kate Middleton, Kourtney Kardashian, Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Eddie Izzard, and Diane Kruger would agree.
From reading today’s fashion magazines and tabloids, you’d think berets have only been coming back in style for the pasty few years. In reality, berets have had waves of style revival for much longer. American beauty icon Greta Garbo donned one in the 1920s, looking like the epitome of French innocence. French and American actresses of the 50s and 60s like Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and Catherine Deneuve gave the beret some sex appeal. The beatnik poets added an edge to its reputation, and Che Guevara and the Black Panthers made it into a symbol of rebellion. Clueless’s Cher made it carefree and fun again, accenting several of her outfits with a beret.
Elegantly French, sexy, edgy, rebellious, carefree—the French beret’s significance has evolved over the years. One thing has stayed the same: the berets themselves. Laulhère has been hand-making berets in a tiny town in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region since 1840. They are the oldest and last maker of traditional, quality berets, those sweet little hats symbolizing “tradition, elegance, and French irreverence.”
We know, we know. We say “beret” and everyone visualizes sweet grand-pères wearing striped shirts, carrying bottles of wine, French fieldworkers, or American beatnik poets, of which (fortunately) few remain. But that’s the old beret—this is the new beret. “The French beret is not dead,” says Julie Manizan, the major accounts manager at Laulhère. “You can wear it with style.”
No one knows more about making the French beret stylish again than Laulhère, who took up the mantle of modernizing the traditional French cap by creating contemporary berets. Their 2017 collection features berets with bows, a newsboy hat brim, patches, pom-poms, sequins, gold leaf, and splatter paint, made with cashmere, velvet, and leather. And, of course, Che Guevara-style—commando. Taking the beret from traditional to trendy is easy, thanks to the 100% merino wool material used to make the hat. “Wool absorbs light,” explains Manizan, “so wearing a decorated one is like ‘all eyes on me.’”
It sounds crazy, but next time you’re walking around, take a second to look up from your phone, and you’ll see—berets are everywhere. Unlike Coachella’s indie-boho threads, berets are fashionable on all levels, from the streets up to the runway. Flip open a copy of Vogue, Glamour, Madame, Elle, Gala, GQ, Marie Claire, or many of the other top fashion magazines, and you’ll see a Laulhère beret featured in an editorial spread. Or simply turn to social media. “Our Instagram and Facebook pages are just going crazy,” says Manizan. The beret comeback spans the globe, with 35% of Laulhère’s beret sales coming from export sales.
The more you know about berets, the more you understand why they would be back in fashion. Quality berets (like Laulhère’s) don’t retain odor, pill, or change shape. You definitely can’t put a fedora in your pocket, but a beret curls in perfectly. Berets don’t discriminate against people with big heads—berets made with real merino wool stretch up to 30% of their size. It’s a versatile hat, and not just in size but in style. “There are so many ways to wear it,” explains Manizan. Flirtatiously tipped to the side, playfully perched on the back of the head, or centered and serious on the top. Available in virtually any color, or in classic black, berets are the easiest way to take any outfit from basic to chic.
Americans might doubt that they can pull off this traditional French look. Manizan recognizes the fear: “It’s a classical hat people are frightened to try.” She also knows that deep down, we want to wear it so badly: “American girls just dream of weaving berets.” Think of Sara from Princess Sara, Judy Funny from Doug, Cher from Clueless, Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl, Beyoncé’s backup dancers at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show, and feelings of nostalgia mixed with a suppressed desire to wear a beret surface. Well it’s finally time for your secret beret dreams to come true. All evidence point to berets being back. They’re functional, they’re fashionable, and they’re here to stay.