Help me rescue the poor stereotyped artist from the beret. Last week I asked on my Facebook Page, “When you meet an artist or see their work, what would you most like to know, but perhaps find yourself not asking?”. An unexpected but very good question came from one of my friends: “What’s with all the weird hats?” I realized that I had no idea, but that it would be a good topic to research. So, here we go into a light history of the beret.
It’s an interesting hat that takes on many different subtle forms. It can be very tight and serious used for the military, some older versions are baggy, it is crocheted and knit, and has survived over 20 centuries of fashion. That’s quite a hat.
The beret originated in the 5th Century BC in Ancient Greece. They lacked seems and so they were water tight. Very handy. Soon after, the Romans adopted the hat and reformed it into more of what we would recognize today. Only aristocracy could wear white berets and thus the beret achieved its first social symbolism. In 1280, the hat appeared in France. Here is an image of a stone carving depicting a figure wearing a beret on a church portal near Orthez, France. As a result of Napoleon’s soldier’s having worn the berets, the style was adopted by men and boys by the 1900’s and soon became a part of the standard French school uniform.
Artists and anarchists in France and eventually all over the world wore the black beret as cultural symbols. Its a little known fact but they actually keep their sandwiches in the bit that hangs down. Answerbag.com said that only the wealthy wore hats and berets were more of bohemian style. A commenter noted that, “The Cyprus College of Art asks its graduating students to wear berets, instead of the usual academic mortar boards, at its graduation ceremony. Apparently it stated at the college as a bit of a joke, with the students dressing as left-bank artists at the graduation party, but now its become the official college dress.” So I guess berets will be making a comeback. From Chacha (yeah, I know – great source, huh?) “Artists wearing berets is a stereotype. It originated with the artists of Montmatre and the Left Bank of the 19th century, the traditional starving artists’ areas of Paris.”
In conclusion, I didn’t find a lot of information about artists wearing berets, though. It seems that it was just a common fashion for that station in life at that time in France and it has become a stereotype attached so strongly to the artist.
I myself wear a hat while painting, but it’s only to keep the light that shines on my still life out of my eyes. The bill-less beret won’t help with that so I use a baseball hat. So, the next time you meet an artist or see one painting don’t assume that they’re really good if they’re wearing a beret and don’t assume they’re not the real deal if they’re only wearing oh say, a worn out old baseball hat.