More than a hat, this wardrobe staple signifies a lifestyle. It screams elegance and charisma and transcends you into a cosmopolitan scene of tranquil cafes and the alluring aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Small as it might be, this simple garment has the power to life you out of the mundane and make you feel as though you're part of the sensational Parisian scene. Yet despite its glamorous reputation now, the beret had rather humble beginnings.
The History of the Beret and How the Beret Was Invented
With World War II comes the French Resistance and then the Algerian War. On the political front, the beret becomes associated with the workers and then with French Communist Party members, a trend that would continue in the 1950s. With the war over and French society’s emphasis shifting from the left to the right, the beret reemerges as an object of nostalgia, in which “beret blouson” was the favorite expression to describe the short-sleeved, bell-shaped dress of the time. In the early ’70s, the short-sleeved vest would become the standard uniform in military fashion design, a trend that was later picked up by the rest of the world. By the mid-’70s, the beret would take off as an independent fashion statement and the Parisian street would finally be conquered by the beret-wearing Bohemian. By the late ’80s, a beret had become synonymous with the hip, the alternative, and the rebellious.
Founded in the small village of Vélizy-Villacoublay, 70 km southeast of Paris, on the way to Nimes and Montpellier, the Maison de la Beret was officially opened on June 17, 1989 by Pierre Cardin. On the occasion, the maison presented a limited edition of five berets. In the spring of the following year, Cardin took part in the famous Pompidou Center show in Paris, wearing a beret in its presentation of his fall/winter collection. From this moment on, the brand expanded across the globe. On September 26, 1992, Cardin founded its first store in the U.S. and, in 2002, launched its first collection with New York as its hub. During the same year, Vans began its campaign using the beret as its signature and the association was later extended to others brands, such as Converse, New Balance, and more. Today, the brand can be found in 60 stores in 17 countries, with one-third of all sales coming from the U.S. and South America.
In 2010, a new location, in the Hightower building on Park Avenue, would inaugurate the expansion of the U.S. brand. The first collection under the Maison de la Beret label was also launched in 2010, with its collection consisting of four categories: women’s shoes and accessories, handbags, belts and hosiery, and men’s shoes. In 2012, the maison launched a leather label and, in 2013, another line in women’s clothes. These three lines are now distributed to more than 130 points of sale across the country. To define the brand’s positioning on the market and its design, Cardin and his wife, the Belgian fashion designer Hélène Lawson, traveled to the rural areas of France, where they collected photos and materials to illustrate the French countryside and the beret.
At the beginning of the ’80s, they created a small fashion collection named Béret de Ville, in which he combined the design with jeans. They also founded the Cardin Design Institute, with its first exhibit on the theme of "designing the wardrobe." Following this success, the cardinistas were given another beret to work on in the form of a brand for fashion. Thus, after more than ten years, Cardin was ready to unveil his very own maison.
The label is defined by the couple’s vision of modern masculinity. The men’s line is characterised by minimalism, simplicity, and functionality. This is what led to the development of the "Beret Box", a small collection composed of four items and sold individually. "There are two elements that are the basis for this brand: simplicity and functionality. Our collections are created with that philosophy in mind. That is the case for women’s clothing too. Men’s and women’s are very different, but we wanted to do that while keeping the brand’s DNA. Men are very practical and that is how we want to be perceived," says Cardin. The designer explains the choice of the French countryside as inspiration for his brand.
"At the beginning, I wanted to do something without using urban locations. For this reason, I found rural and rustic locations that had nothing to do with fashion. I began to see berets everywhere. They became the inspiration for the collection." The collection is made in Paris and produced in Spain, Italy, and Turkey. "We want to make the collections we want to wear. The production of our labels starts in the same location we source our products. This is why you see the same logo on every product. The design is a reflection of our culture, the places we come from, and the places we want to go. When we travel and our team sees what is happening in these locations, we then create our collections based on these encounters. This is what I like about travel. It gives you an idea of what the world is like," says Cardin.
The maison’s approach to design also has to do with the fact that the designers feel like they are in the countryside. As Cardin himself says, "I want to design a woman’s beret that will remain in fashion and look good in ten years. To me, that is a very interesting challenge." Cardin believes that a hat is a hat, not just a fashion statement. "A beret is still a hat. It makes a big difference to me. And that difference is the point. I always wear it. For me, a hat is not just something I wear for a fashion statement or just to look good. It is very important and that is what it is for. The beret is very present in our daily lives. For example, in the winter, we put our berets to use when we go out. If you see a woman wearing a beret, she is going to a party or to the cinema or to a restaurant with her husband. She wants to look presentable and stylish. This is the role of the beret."
As for women, the brand’s main objective is to maintain the feminine shape and to create a line that suits every figure. "If we don’t have a hat that is a good design in our wardrobe, it’s not a good brand. For us, the beret is a statement. It is not just a hat. It’s very different from a cowboy hat," explains the designer. Cardin’s favorite accessory? "My backpack. It’s the simplest thing but it has become very important for me," the designer concludes.
A True Success Story
What is it that makes the Maison de la Beret such a success story? "I believe we have a culture of quality. People don’t know that. When you work hard and you succeed, you are happy. It has been our destiny to make berets cool and we want to remain at the forefront of this. We are not a cheap brand but we are a fashion brand. We are not a mass label. It is our goal to make clothes that can stay in fashion. Our idea is to be a brand with a future. That’s what I mean by quality," says Cardin. Founded in 1968, Cardin is today among the most iconic fashion brands. But the designer explains that the secret is simple. "That is what we have always done. We focus on quality.
How to Style a Beret Hat
From the right materials to the right ways to wear it, we’ve got your back. You need to be aware that the beret can get stuck up in the brim, so you need to take care of the hat. If it's a bit too hot for you, a great way to cool it off is to put it in your freezer. What to look for: There are many different types of berets, so it's good to know which one you want so you can find the right fit.
The right material Beret is made of different types of materials. The main ones are: straw, net, cotton and wool.
What to look for:
Net: Look for a beret made of a net that is soft, not too tight and does not have holes.
Straw: Look for a straw beret that is light and has an even shape.
Cotton: Look for a cotton beret with an even shape.
Wool: Look for a wool beret with a flat top.
How to Style Different Beret Styles
Try different shapes One of the great things about the beret is that it can be styled in different ways. I would recommend going for a round one. You can be as classic as you like with a black and white beret or a coloured one that can make a big statement. Experiment.
TIP: If you don't have any shape in mind, choose a beret that will take your hair naturally. Try to avoid wide berets for that purpose. They'll be too obvious on your head and they might not suit your hair. Try round, petite, square or triangular berets that will give you some dimension and style without being too obvious.
How to wear it:
Over Your Hair
Depending on the type of beret you have, you'll need to know how to style it to give you the style you want.
Net: Choose either a flat top or rolled. You can do this by combing the net up through the hair.
Straw: Roll the straw beret up in your hair and secure it with a pin.
Cotton: Choose a loose style that you can take down with your hands if you wish.
Wool: Wear your hair on the flat side of the beret. Roll it back.
Around Your Face
Don’t be afraid to go for some crazy and dramatic styles with your beret. There are so many ways you can style it and have fun. Try using your beret as a headband. Wear it around your face, leaving your hair flowing and free. You can also try it with your hair pulled back or pinned on top. You can even pin the band of the beret to the back of your neck to look as though you have a cool headband.