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HATVENT DAY 14 - The history of the Bearskin Cap

This iconic shape called a bearskin cap is synonymous with London. Five Regiments look after Buckingham Palace. All their hats look the same but there are small details that you can spot to identify the Grenadier, Coldstream, Grenadier, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guard.

A term of duty lasts six months, everyone used their own bearskin cap from the cold storage facility. The first bearskin caps were made with Canadian Black Bear skins. Shaped on a light but sturdy wicker frame, the bearskin forms a distinctive shape. The high crown reaches 43cm above the forehead giving the wearer additional height. Weighing in at 0.7Kg, this offers a lightweight head covering. The real skin gives the wearer a waterproof cap and air flows naturally around the head. Only extreme heat causes problems but the sweat band holds back excess moisture at these times.

Work on finding a replacement for the bearskin has progressed over time. However, no substitute has been found that will adapt to the seasonal weather in the United Kingdom. Work continues now to trial new materials that would offer a more sustainable option.

These old relics date back to ‘The Battle of Waterloo’. First collected as trophies by the British Forces after a gruelling but victorious battle against the French Forces. The Prussian and British armies defeated Napoleon on the battle fields. With major casualties on all sides, it was remarkable that a victory was claimed.

The bearskin cap was later introduced as part of the Grenadier Guard uniform in 1815. Using culled bearskins these hats grew in statue. To honour the bravery of the men in battle, the bearskin cap is a privilege to wear. When assigned to the Palace, each member of the regiment wears a bearskin cap for ceremonial events.

Getting a bearskin cap ready for a ceremony is a rigorous task. First the bearskin needs to be submerged in water. This is to fluff out the fur around the hat. The most awesome look is a full hat. Each cap is formed with a wet towel and brushed carefully. The shape and form are very individual. Some fur falls at the back. Each cap is made for a particular head size.

This is the only hat in military history that has been taken from an enemy force and reassigned as part of their uniforms.


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