Pulling Off The Menswear Beret

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I won’t tolerate any French jokes.  Well, maybe just one.  How could you not?

Berets are something that I never thought I’d wear.  I’ve always thought that they were a little bit of a dandy item and that I couldn’t pull them off confidently.  Well, like my experience with the padmores, tastes change, and I find myself optimizing for more unconventional styling pieces as of late.  Now, I’m digging the beret.

You may have noticed that I’ve been wearing it a few times this past year.  Interestingly both times were at the Gooch Collective events: Wellema’s and Rogue Collective.   It’s a little bit different and odd, as I don’t even wear fedoras often, but I really like it.   Even though the my experience with the beanie is fairly new, I actually learned more about them (and got some inspo) from this great post on MFA.  Honestly, that post is why I’m not going to get into much detail the history of the beret.

The beret is basically a wool felt rounded hat (with a little point a the center), with a wider crown than the actual opening.  This results in it’s slightly “poofy” appearance, though the amount of floppyness varies from model to model.  It’s probably most commonly known as a “French hat”, though Spaniards seem to have worn it since it was first introduced.  It also has some military heritage as well (Green Berets, anyone?), though it has always been worn by civilians at the same time.

Because most of the pics in the MFA link are fairly modern/casual, here are a few pictures I found of vintage gents rocking the beret.

Now to be even more honest with you guys, I found these pictures after I already decided to start wearing the beret.  When I first considering tit, I didn’t really have any inspiration to go off of.  I found most of the pictures to be a little too out there for me and felt that a regular knit cap would be the better choice.   I guess you could say that the knit cap was really just for me to test out the waters.

The real form of inspiration came from the guys from Bryceland’s, Ethan Newton and Kenji Cheung.  These guys (and their sales associates) have a style that I think is totally in line with the ethos of this blog: combining vintage and classic menswear.  It’s not just wearing striped shirts and patterned ties for them though, as they actually experiment with chore coats + tailoring, leather jackets, and other cool pieces.  That’s where the beret comes in, and you can see that they rock it well.

As you can see, they really know how to make it work. It’s not as dressy as a flat cap or as casual as a beanie.  In fact, it gives off a pseudo intellectual vibe that mixes well with their rugged approach to tailoring. After seeing all these pictures, I was immediately hooked.

My Turn

It’s important to remember that the beret is a pretty fashion-y piece of headwear.  It’s similar to the fedora and flat cap in the sense that it’s vastly different than what most people wear and that it stands out.  Plus the stigma that comes with the beret is hard to shake off.  However, I was feeling confident after the knit cap (which is similar in feel and is much more versatile) that I decided to do it for myself.

Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to locate a vintage beret.  They aren’t all that common and most of the shit that comes up on eBay are “modern” ones that are probably made of cheap materials.  Unlike my approach to the beanie, I had no one here recommend me anywhere to start; I also didn’t want to spend a lot on a piece that I wasn’t confident enough to wear.

In the end, I lucked out by going to my grandma’s house for her birthday in early January.  I had vaguely remembered that my lola (tagalog for grandma) had actually worn one a few times and asked if she had any. To my surprise, she actually had a lot! In the end, I went home with a floppy black one that actually used to be my mother’s one from college.  The reason why we knew it was hers was because the “point” was actually cut off; my mom simply didn’t like it and wanted to be edgy.   Even though it doesn’t have any tags or labels, I think the fact that I wear it is sorta cool, since it serves as a de facto family heirloom.

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I first wore the beret with a fairly simple monochromatic outfit to the LA Art Show.  It’s basically my own version of this outfit, which consists of a navy jacket, black polo, grey pleated flannels, and black penny loafers.  I think the beret worked really well with this outfit, since it mainly dark colors and very clean.  It might be a little on the nose as a “snooty art guy”, but whatever. I liked it.

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I literally took off the navy jacket swapped it for a brown checked one when I went to the first Gooch Collective event (which was that same evening).  I think the contrast works well here, and makes an almost completely different look! The first one was much more subtle while this embraces color and patterns, but only a little bit.
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The second official time I wore a beret was actually for the second Gooch Collective.   Keen eyed readers will recognize this as my own spin on Kenji’s outfit that he wore to Inspiration LA 2018.  Like I said in the previous article, I think it makes for a cool, modern take on a French Cyclist/Resistance outfit.  I know that we’re mixing brown and black here, but it still works.  It’s not like I was wearing a black fedora!

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I decided to try some straight tailoring outfits and came up with this one.  It consists of a grey tweed suit (one of these $25 ones), with a blue shirt and navy tie.  This one might be one of my favorite outfits of all time not only because I think the beret works really well, but because the colors, proportions, and fit are all on point.  It’s honestly a no brainer, since grey works really well with both black and blue.  As a result, the beret doesn’t look too bad here!

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I honestly don’t wear this suit often because it’s made of sturdy 1970’s tweed (which I feel is a little hard to get used to) and it is rarely tweed weather here in LA.  Perhaps I should break it out more often because the lapels are pretty great (even though they are very 1970’s styled) and it fits pretty spot on! The trousers are straight cut with slight taper that isn’t too agressive, which makes it work for my “2010s does 1930s” style.

Also that striped european spearpoint and the blue cross checked tie just work together extremely well, don’t you think?

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My next experiment with the beret involved trying to combine tailoring and casual wear.  And by that, I really just meant throwing on a casual jacket over tailoring, since that’s exactly what I did here.  Over a thrifted sweater vest (which happens to have wide ribbing) I put on my black wool 1940’s short jacket.  It’s similar to the gabardine one I wrote about last year, just plain black with side adjusters.   It’s darker than what I normally do, but I do dig the minimal vibes.   With the tailoring and casual jacket combo, it reminds me of 1930s cyclist attire, except I’m wearing full trousers instead of plus-fours.

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It also looked great with a charcoal sportcoat.

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I also decided to try and make “rugged” tailoring look to get even more into the Bryceland’s theme.  I didn’t have a dufflecoat like they wore to this past Pitti, but I did have a field jacket, which I think worked pretty well!  It was cold and the forecast called for rain in the evening, so it was actually functional and not just a fashion choice.  The length of the jacket is just barely long enough to cover the length of a sportcoat, but I’ve done this pairing before to great effect. 

Honestly, I was hesitant about this look since all the items, save for the trousers, are pieces that work best with brown rather than black.  Up until this point, I had used the beret as an extension of shoes (which naturally translates to hats).  It makes sense right? Brown goes with more soft pairs while black is reserved for formal or minimal outfits.  However, I think it works really well here! Unlike the previous outfits, this might be the most “vintage” since it utilizes more patterns, colors, and separates.   Sure you might argue that the outfit is top heavy, but the blog post is about the beret.  Now at least I know that it can work with an outfit that isn’t entirely comprised of dark elements.
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Intrigued by the use of layering, I decided to do an odd separates combo that wasn’t too dark (like the cycling inspired one).  It’s sort inspired by this Ethan Newton outfit, but I didn’t really have any similar pieces, namely a grey houndstooth jacket.  Instead, I went with my “new” green checked tweed jacket and paired it with my Kamakura OCBD and an early 40’s print tie for some character; grey flannels were kept the same.  It was cold that day, so I wore my 1940’s brown overcoat.  Obviously it’s not as slick as the grey DB that Ethan has, but I think it works here since I have more earthy colors.

If you look closely, you’ll note that this beret is actually less floppy than the previous one.  That’s because I went back to my grandma’s house and asked if she had anymore berets to spare; luckily she had a more “fitted one” that doesn’t have an oversized top.  While I do appreciate the first heirloom beret, I think the new one is much better since it has less fabric to “hang” over the side.  It frames the face in a more flattering way!

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This last outfit is my new fave.   Being an earthy version of this awesome Ethan outfit,  my attire consisted of the same brown overcoat from the previous outfit but this time worn on top of my ivy sack suit.   I really don’t have any dark clothes (since I love blue and brown over grey and black), but I think I did a pretty good job. It’s a slick outfit done the Ethan Wong way.  See if you can peep that slick striped shirt and patterned tie combo.  It’s my reliable red stripe spearpoint with a extremely classic 1940’s blue silk tie with a small repeating circle motif.

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Looking back, I was a little concerned with the black beret since we’re always taught not to mix brown and black.  However, it’s a beret (which are typically black), so there’s really nothing we can do about it.  Maybe if it was navy?

Update: 2019

Here’s some more beret pics that will hopefully help sell you guys on them.  I obviously wear it a lot!

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Another take with the beret + ivy sack suit.  I used the black repp tie and loafers to echo the beret.

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Leather jacket and berets are cool.

Summer Berets

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Obviously it gets pretty tough to wear a beret in warm weather, especially since mine is wool.  As a result, most of my summer attire doesn’t get to enjoy that edgy/intellectual look, instead relying on minimalism and drape-y silhouettes.

At almost the last second of summer (I’m writing this in mid September), I came across the H.W Dog & Co, a Japanese headwear brand that makes berets with a few advertised for summer.  Even though they have an English website and IG account for international clients (they also have ones just in Japanese), they lacked some info.  The prices were also pretty high (around $50-60 per beret) and I was sure shipping would be too, so I hesitated.   Luckily my friends over at Brillington had some insight as they had purchased before: the cotton beret is similar to a lightweight beanie while the paper beret is loose/breathable but had an interesting texture.

In the end I copped two: a black in the paper fabric and brown in the cotton. And to my surprise, they got to me in a week! They feel damn comfortable, with the paper one being the most summer appropriate due to the ventilation.  Keep in mind the paper one is larger, which means it “hangs” more and the paper material does take some getting used to.  They also lack the stem on the top.

They are pricey, but its probably the only summer beret I’ve ever found!    I wish I was able to try them in person during my Japan trip (since it would have been cheaper), but oh well! Better late than never.

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Conclusion

Each year I always wonder what I’m going to write about in the future.  I’ve heard people say that while I’m pretty good at styling myself, they are afraid that things can be repetitive.  I would be lying if I said that those comments didn’t scare me.  I mean, you can only write so much about brown vintage suits and wearing striped shirts + patterned ties.   However, I was wrong.

After only two months into 2018, I’ve been able to explore some new stuff, whether it was odd footwear, keeping legs wide and full, or wearing a beanie! I guess I’m glad to learn that my style is always evolving, which I of course will share with you guys.  It keeps things fresh and not as repetitive as I had feared.  Plus who knows, maybe someone else out there is looking for ways to try new things!

Overall, the beret is best reserved for guys who want something a bit more edgy that regular headwear.  Obviously caps and fedoras are on the extreme sides of the casual-formal spectrum while beanies and flatcaps are “more acceptable”.  All four of the choices are perfectly fine, but I’ve gotta say that I like the beret for it’s slightly intellectual/European flair. When combined with layers, I think it’s a great look whether you do it with a full suit or smart separates.   The amount of floppy-ness is up to you though.  Might have to see how it works with a tee shirt, but that might be pushing it.

And if you’re concerned about functionality, don’t be; the wool keeps your head warm.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W. 

@ethanwmong

Street x Sprezza

23 comments

  1. Andrew L. Carranco · March 20, 2018

    Living in rural Spain, a beret was necessary to everyday dress. I haven’t stopped wearing my Basque beret with some consistency since I came back to the States. It is a wonderful addition to any outfit–especially on a nice summary day touring the countryside. A typical outfit would be slacks, white shirt, neckerchief, sports coat, and my beret. I tend to wear mine though more frontwards for a more Spanish look.

    Like

  2. Daniel · March 21, 2018

    My kids gifted me a hat for my birthday my son is Cody barber
    I met you at Wellema Hat with Cody I was getting fitted and you help me pick the material
    you were dressed very dapper with a beret and a leather jacket I read your blog every week I’m glad to see someone is keeping fine fashion alive
    Hope our paths cross again in the future

    Like

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