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Is This A Beanie?

Updated on October 20, 2016
This is not a beanie.
This is not a beanie.

What's in a name?

In the world of knitting, hats are hot items right now. They are quick, easy, and useful. But the current style names or millinery nomenclature can be confusing. It seems every brimless hat is called a beanie. What we need is some consistency in terms, a millinery vocabulary.

Of course, the names used in fashion change over the years, with hats it’s no different. Yet hats haven’t seen a come back since the disco hat craze of the 1980s. So most modern knitters have no experience with hats as fashion. Back then the little cocktail hat morphed into a fascinator, which is a little hat that sits on top of the head or hairdo and is held on by a separate band. Yet according to Wikipedia, fascinators were originally a kind of lacy hood. We wouldn’t call that a fascinator today. Nor should we limit our naming of hats to five or six words.

This is a beanie.
This is a beanie.

Call it a beanie

Despite fashion’s fickleness, I must object to the randomness currently in vogue for naming hats, especially knitted hats. The use of the name beanie seems to be ubiquitous. I believe this is due to the fact that the study of millinery has all but disappeared from fashion and costume study. Most students are lucky if they take one class in millinery. And few of these students end up designing knitted hats.

This job is left to designers who are knitters first; designers second; and milliners, not at all. As a former theatrical costumer and an English teacher, I have some expectations in the use of millinery terms and their usage. As a costumer, one must be exact. When the director says, “Bring me an Armani suit!” --- It had better be an Armani suit. It had better not be a knock off; and God help you if you’ve been hanging about in the back lot and appear at the last minute with a toreador hat. Himself will not be amused! I feel the same about hat nomenclature. If it’s a beanie, call it a beanie. If it is something else, give that something else a proper name.


Naming the hats

So, let’s talk about hats and their nomenclature. I have a pretty good millinery vocabulary, so we’ll start with the word beanie. First of all, a beanie is not a watch cap; and a watch cap is not a toque.

A beanie is a small round cap made in sections. It may have a small brim or not. It is similar to the much smaller Jewish yarmulke or the zucchetto worn by Catholic priests. We seldom see knitted beanies, but I did find one very famous one. (Read to the end to find out.)

A watch cap is much closer to the knitted hats that are often called beanies. The Navy issue watch cap is navy blue or black ribbed knit cap with a wide band that can be worn turned up for a snug fit or turned down to cover the ears and back of the neck in cold or windy weather. The Canadian toque is the one we are most familiar with. It is similar to the watch cap but with more fullness in the crown, so it doesn’t hug the head. In the US this would be called a stocking cap and often has a pompom on the top.

Two other types of hats that are often seen in knit-wear are the beret and the tam. Both are knit as circular disks, increasing to the maximum desired circumference, then decreasing inward until the head circumference is reached. The beret is smaller and has a narrow rolled band, while the tam is wider circle and has a wide band. These are quite practical, as they can be folded and put in the pocket when necessary.

Naming of the parts

Other terms that we need to get correct are those that describe the parts of a hat. In today’s knitting pattern the part that holds the hat snug to the head is often referred to as the brim. This is a misnomer. The brim is the part of the hat that extends horizontally out from the crown, as in a picture hat. It may shade the eyes and neck or it may be smaller and mainly decorative. Often times the brim can be shaped to different angles to give a different look. Knit hats usually do not have brims, unless worked with a stiff material or having hat wire in the brim.

The narrow strip that holds the hat snug against the head is called the band, not the brim. It is usually slightly smaller than the crown. The crown is the part that rises from the forehead to the tip, as a crown would sit on the head. In some hats, the band is turned in and hidden on the inside of the crown. The tip is the flat part on top of the hat or the top of the crown

Make a beanie

A beanie is not a bad thing. But what is a beanie? Let’s see some real knit beanies. How about a beanie as a stash buster? You could make each section in a different color. Now we have the basic vocabulary. Let’s see some well-made, adventurous knit hat designs.

Hat trivia - Let's review

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Just for fun, let’s try some movie trivia, too.

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