The history of things, whatever they are, has always been fascinating to me for one reason or another. The same goes for etymology or the history of words. But, for today I’m going to attempt to write a few articles on something that’s popped up. Berets–their respective colors, whose heritage those colors are tied to and how we got to this point. We’ll start with the famed Green Beret, try to trace Beret history and look at the colors used today by Rangers and Airborne of the US Army and its history.
This is in some ways a fashion of war. The sense of purpose and identity related to these garments, patches and other things such as coins is remarkable. These items come to take more meaning than what’s intended when they’re built. For example, take a DD-214, something I won’t forget–it’s the final form that sums your military career on a piece of paper. I wonder if I made paintings and blankets with your DD-214 printed on them they’d sell like hotcakes.
Anyway, berets are worn by military and police units all around the world. A beret is merely a round, soft, flat-crowned hat. It’s practically useless–but it’s come to be much more than its definition. Mass production supposedly began in the 19th Century, and the beret is attributed to France and Spain. According to the entry in Wikipedia:
Archaeology and art history indicate that headgear similar to the modern beret has been worn since the Bronze Age across Northern Europe and as far south as ancient Crete and Italy, where it was worn by the Minoans, Etruscans, and Romans. Such headgear has been fashionable among the nobility and artists across Europe throughout modern history.
The Basque style beret was the traditional headgear of Aragonese and Navarrian shepherds from the Ansó and Roncal valleys of the Pyrenees, a mountain range that divides Southern France from northern Spain. The commercial production of Basque-style berets began in the 17th century in the Oloron-Sainte-Marie area of Southern France. Formerly a local craft, beret-making became industrialized in the 19th century. The first factory, Beatrix-Laulhere, claims production records dating back to 1810. By the 1920s, berets were associated with the working classes in a part of France and Spain and by 1928 more than 20 French factories and some Spanish and Italian factories produced millions of berets.
In Western fashion, men and women have worn the beret since the 1920s as sportswear and later as a fashion statement.