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What is a Pilgrim Hat?

Nicole F.
Nicole F.

A Pilgrim's hat, also known as the capotain, has a tall crown and a relatively narrow brim, with a slight cone shape. It is commonly associated with the Puritan dress of the late 1500s to mid-1600s. Before the Puritans adopted the hat, a Pilgrim hat was a bit taller and had a slightly wider brim. It was also known as the cockle hat. The cockleshell, or scallop, was a badge of honor for making a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James of Compostela in Spain. As time passed, and religious people made fewer pilgrimages, the scallop disappeared, and other decorations were used on the band, such as a feather or a buckle.

Men and women in Europe also wore the Pilgrim hat, and not just the Puritans. It was made of a variety of materials, depending on the wealth of the individual. The height of the hat changed dramatically as time passed, starting out around 10 inches (25.4 cm) tall with a rounded crown and eventually shrinking to around 5 inches (12.7 cm) tall with a flat crown. Despite its popularity, the capotain became almost exclusively associated with the Puritans who migrated to New England in the mid 1600s. Artists and writers since that time have promoted a stereotype by always depicting Puritans as wearing a tall, black Pilgrim hat with a buckle.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The Pilgrims, as the travelers came to be called, did wear a simple version of the capotain that conformed to their very strict dress code. Desiring to be humble and avoid frivolous fashions, the Pilgrims wore simple brown or dull clothing with very little adornment. However, wearing a Pilgrim hat was not a requirement, and since they could be somewhat expensive or difficult to make, it is unlikely that the capotain became very common in the New England colony.

In modern times the stylized, black Pilgrim hat with a shiny buckle became the primary symbol of the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock to settle North America. Although black dye was expensive and probably wasn’t used by most people at the time, the hat is depicted as jet black and is almost a perfectly round conical shape with a flat top. While it is no longer worn today on a daily basis, it is a common site in the U.S. around the Thanksgiving holiday, a day celebrated partly for the survival of the Pilgrim colony.

Discussion Comments


@cloudel - I agree that it is sad that we are feeding our children misinformation. It is highly possible that even the teachers don’t know the truth, though. I suppose that fashion is not a main focus of the history books.

I remember wearing a construction paper pilgrim hat in a school play. It was really stereotypical, because not only did we have the stoic Pilgrims in their black hats, but we also had Indians with face paint jumping around like animals. We had no idea at the time that we were being really politically incorrect!


My sister has five small children, so she is always doing cutesy things with holiday related items. She makes these super easy pilgrim hat cookies, and they are so simple that even her small kids can help her.

She just takes chocolate peanut butter cups with ridges along the edges and dips them in vanilla frosting. She presses them onto chocolate cookies turned flat side up. Then, she dips a tiny square piece of candy in frosting and presses it onto the side of the peanut butter cup to serve as a buckle.

Because they are so cute, they are even more delicious than their counterparts would be on their own. I think that the kids love eating something that they helped make, too.


We made felt pilgrim hats in second grade around the Thanksgiving holiday. I now feel a little bad about having participated in the stereotype, since it wasn’t even an accurate one.

Oh, well. I was eight years old, so what did I know? I had fun using the black felt and the plastic buckle to make something that I could wear on my head for our school’s little parade.

I understand why teachers associate certain items with certain cultures or groups of people. They want us to have something solid that we can relate them to, but I do think that they should at least get their facts straight before choosing the items that we will link with people in our minds for the rest of our lives.

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