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The pirate hat is a popular item for costume parties and child play. We can be sure that different pirates wore different kinds of hats. The captain’s would have been different from the crew members’. Many crew members wore a simple kerchief on their heads. The captain sometimes wore a kerchief underneath his hat.
Hats made of straw, felt or sea-grass could also be found aboard a pirate’s ship. But the styles that have become most associated with the ship’s captain are the bicorn or cocked style and the tricorn. The bicorn originally had a broad brim. The front and rear brims of the style were turned up and pinned together.
The front brim would be shorter than the back and was called the cock, which is why it is still sometimes referred to as the cocked style. The back rim was longer and called the fan. There was often a “cockade” at the front bearing the colors of the country served by the officer. When worn this way, the style was referred to as a fore-and-aft bicorn.
Gradually, the hats became more triangular in shape and the two ends became more pointed. Instead of wearing the hats so that the points faced the front and back, they were worn with the points above the ears. This was called the “athwart” style. The cockade with the country’s colors was worn above the right ear.
There was less difference between the sizes of the two points, but they were not exactly the same size, as they appear to be in popular pirate hat replicas of today. Both the fore-and-aft and athwart styles were seen historically and are still a part of the ceremonial dress of some officers today.
Prior to the popularity of movies about pirates, the athwart bicorn was best known as the hat of Napoleon Bonaparte, one time King of Italy and Emperor of France. Although his kingdom was disbanded, Napoleon is to this day considered a great military leader. The hat worn by Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies is not a bicorn, but a leather chapeau more like a tricorn.
A tricorn developed as the result of pinning up the sides of a wide-brimmed hat to create a triangular shape. It was the style favored by Minutemen of the U.S. Revolutionary war. The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps of the U.S. Army wear this style, although the drum major wears a tall hat with no brim.
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