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Colonial Tricorn Hats for 18th Century Patriots and Privateers

Updated on November 29, 2014
Adult Man's Black Colonial Hat
Adult Man's Black Colonial Hat | Source

Tricorn Hats Top off an 18th Century Costume for Men and Boys - and Women, too!

We often think of the three-cornered tricorn hat as a pirate hat, but it is also a common costume of the American Revolutionary War period. As headgear goes, I'd venture to say this style is the ideal hat for a man's colonial costume for theatre, parades, Halloween fancy-dress parties, or patriotic Fourth of July costumes.

Tricorn hats were found across the western world and on the high seas, in the 1700s, worn by men in all walks of life - from pirates to privateers, private citizens to princes, as well as a part of military and naval uniforms - and some of the most fashionable women of colonial times wore a stylish tricorn hat as well.

A Tricorn Hat gives a costumed man a real swashbuckling style!

Man in a Tricorn Hat
Man in a Tricorn Hat | Source

Fancy Tricorn Hat

The average working guy in colonial times is very likely to have worn a tricorn hat, but it would have been a plain affair in dark felted wool or perhaps leather, without the fancy trim. One of the Founding Fathers, a prosperous merchant or lawyer, or a military or naval officer can certainly wear a braid-trimmed style of tricorn with confidence.

Deluxe Colonial Tricorn Hat
Deluxe Colonial Tricorn Hat

Black with a touch of gold braid at the edge gives this affordable tricorn hat the right air for accessorizing the costume of, say, a merchant or man about town of the colonial era in America, through to the end of the 18th century. This style of hat also works for a European version of a similar costume of the time period.

 

For a less affluent man's costume, you might want to forego the braid, or distress the shining trim just slightly with a light touch of watered-down acrylic craft paint in a sienna or mid-tone brown, to give a greater impression of age and wear-and-tear to the hat, fitting for the character you're playing.

elope Gov'nah Pirate Hat
elope Gov'nah Pirate Hat

On the other end of the social scale, this fancy tricorn hat sports a degree of ornamentation that sets it well above the common run, so it's most appropriate if your colonial costume is intended to represent a character of some high social standing - and a rather flashy taste in hats!

 
Painting of the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, 1781, by John Trumbull.
Painting of the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, 1781, by John Trumbull. | Source
Butterick Patterns B3072 Historical Costume (Coat, Vest, Shirt, Pants and Hat)
Butterick Patterns B3072 Historical Costume (Coat, Vest, Shirt, Pants and Hat)

Make Your Own Tricorn Hat

If you can't find the perfect tricorn hat to complete your 18th century costume, consider the possibility of making your own.

Colonial Costume Sewing Pattern

The easiest way to make a tricorn hat to complete your colonial costume may very be end up being just to get out the sewing machine or find a seamstress to whip one up.

How hard can it be to sew a hat, compared to blocking it from a piece of cowhide or felting your own tricorn from raw wool?

Butterick's Colonial costume sewing pattern includes a pattern for the tricorn hat as well as the 18th-century men's coat, vest, shirt, and breeches.

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria (later Queen Marie Antoinette of France), aged 16, in hunting outfit with tricorn hat. Portrait by Joseph Kreutzinger, 1771.
Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria (later Queen Marie Antoinette of France), aged 16, in hunting outfit with tricorn hat. Portrait by Joseph Kreutzinger, 1771. | Source

Tricorn Hats for Ladies

Women in the 18th century also adopted the fashion for tricorn hats, especially in the fashionable circles of the European upper class. The three-cornered hat was a practical style for ladies who rode out with the hounds in all weather, as well as being a flattering piece of headgear that sat well on the often-elaborate hair styles of the period, and often formed an essential part of the horsewoman's ensemble.

The tricorns worn by women for hunting were very similar to those worn by men of their class for the same purpose, usually trimmed with braid and perhaps an ornament where the brim turned up at the side.

For purely fashionable wear, however, a very feminine version of the three-cornered hat was slightly smaller, fabric covered to match the dress rather than made of felted wool or leather, and often very heavily embellished with jewels, ribbons, feathers, and so on.


The painting reproduced here shows a young Marie Antoinette in her hunting costume, but if you've seen the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette, you may recall a frivolous and very lovely little pale-blue tricorn among Kirsten Dunst's costumes in the film.

If you'd like to try your hand at making a ladies' version of the iconic 18th century headgear, Naergi has an illustrated tutorial with detailed instructions for how to make a tricorn hat inspired by that very outfit from the movie. To see how to make a variation on the fabric-covered ladies' tricorn, see the video tutorial below.

How to Make a Fabric-Covered Tricorn Hat - Steampunk-y Costume Accessory for Women

I'd like to see the Tricorn hat back in style, wouldn't you?

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    • profile image

      VIPelle 3 years ago

      I was told in colonial Williamsburg that a woman might wear a tri-cornered hat if she were head of her own household. I'd asked because the only hats seen on women there were simple straw hats or frumpy cotton bonnets, neither of which offered any warmth at night like the wool tri-corners. Thanks for the pic of Marie Antoinette, very stylish!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I always thought that these looked stylish, and borrowed one off a friend once for a pirate party. Great selection.

    • profile image

      MarcellaCarlton 5 years ago

      If the Tricorn hat came back into style we would have to change the way we wear our hair. But, didn't Adam Ant look cool in one in the '80s. Very nice lens.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      They're actually pretty cool looking.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      Tricorn hats! What an absolutely fantastic theme for an article. These hats are perfect not only for July 4th but also for Halloween costuming, plays, and the theater. You are indeed a rock star my dear.