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What is a Flat Cap?

By Mandi R. Hall
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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The flat cap is a hat that commonly goes by other epithets, including “scally cap,” “driving cap” and “Tudor bonnet.” A flat cap is curved with a narrow, rigid bill that angles straight or downward. It is traditionally a casual men’s cap, with a history dating back to the 14th century. In modern times, flat caps are worn by both sexes as fashionable statements.

The most popular fabric used in the construction of a flat cap is tweed, as it is viewed as an informal material. Wool is also often used, particularly in the colder months. Flat caps used for golf or seasonal leisure time are often made of a more breathable material, such as cotton. Such caps also come in leather and suede, though it is less common, both historically and traditionally. Flat caps may or may not be lined; if they are, it is often with a silk-like material.

Comparable to — and often mistaken for — a newsboy cap, the bill of the flat cap tapers off more than a traditional newsboy cap. Flat caps are also more constricting to the head. They also don’t fluff or protrude above the head in the way a newsboy cap does. The back of a flat cap, however, is significantly higher than the front.

Historically, this wedge-shaped cap has been worn in casual or daytime situations, predominantly by the working class. In 1571, British Parliament passed an act requiring all men and boys over the age of 6 — except for noblemen and clergymen — to wear wool caps on all holy days and Sundays. The law was a method to increase the wool trade. Men who didn’t comply were fined.

Though the law was abolished in 1597, men continued to wear the caps. They were functional, after all, as they provided shade and a finished element to men's dress. As European immigrants began settling in the United States, the flat cap became an American fashion, as well.

Flat caps are primarily associated with British citizens. In modern times, Charles, Prince of Wales is often seen wearing a flat cap in affluent country areas. In contrast, London’s working class is also often depicted as wearing flat caps.

In 20th- and 21st-century America, flat caps are worn by high-fashion female models, hip-hop gurus, and blue-collar men, alike. They come in both subdued and flashy designs, appealing to the younger masses. The flat cap is also often associated with elderly gentlemen.

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Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Aug 23, 2011

@OeKc05 - I personally don’t have a slender face, but my friend who does feels the same as you do about flat caps. She really wishes she could wear them, but I have seen her with one on, and it really does overwhelm her.

My face is heart-shaped, and I love to wear them. I have a leather flat cap that goes with lots of different outfits. I also have several colors of plaid caps.

Probably the one I wear the most is gray and black plaid. I have a lot of gray in my fall and winter wardrobe, and the cap keeps me warm while looking good.

By OeKc05 — On Aug 22, 2011

I think they are super cute, but flat caps just do not look good on me. I have a narrow, long face and long, straight hair, and flat caps tend to make my face appear even slimmer than it is. I seem to disappear beneath one.

I have a friend with more pronounced cheekbones than I have who looks great in a flat cap. She has several of them to match things in her wardrobe. She owns a black, brown, denim, purple, and a black and white plaid one.

I tried one of hers on, and that’s when I discovered that the look was not for me. Do any of you other people out there with long, slender faces feel the same?

By orangey03 — On Aug 21, 2011

My brother-in-law plays golf, and he wears a tweed flat cap. It helps shield his eyes from sunlight, and it also protects his scalp from sunburn.

The cap is hunter green, and it features a herringbone pattern. Since this is his favorite color, it goes with most of his other golf attire. My sister got it for him as a Christmas gift, and I think it is his favorite gift she has ever given him.

He says that the cap is breathable enough to let some air circulate, so he doesn’t get too hot playing in the summer. Also, it offers enough protection from the wind to keep him from getting too cold in the winter.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 20, 2011

My male coworker wore a flat cap to the office on days he was feeling fashionable. It looked really good on him.

I think that the solid brown leather really brought out his blue eyes. Since the cap covered his hair and part of his forehead, it led the focus directly into his eyes, so people noticed them more.

Another coworker got inspired and started wearing a flat cap, but since he was overweight, it didn’t look good with the shape of his head. It sort of flattened it out, which made the rest of his face appear more round.

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