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Men's Renaissance Red Caps

Little Red Caps, 1430-1530 N. Italy

It didn't take me long to figure out that most guys in Renaissance portraits wear some kind of headgear. It didn't take me long to see that a lot of the headgear I was seeing came in one basic shape (sort of a toque, that old familiar stocking-shaped cap everybody wears in the winter), and two basic colors: Black, and bright flaming scarlet.

You start seeing these hats pretty early on in the period, say around 1450. They last pretty much into the 1500s, but maintain the basic toque-shaped silhouette. Some are more fitted than others. Some are brimless, some have brims, some have brims that look pretty welded on. Some are vaguely cylindrical. Some are somewhat pointy. Old guys wear them. Young guys wear them. These red hats are *everywhere*, and once you know to look for them, you see them everywhere in the portraits.

This is the hat I decided to try for:


Notice that the painter very thoughtfully left out details like seam lines so I'd have to use my brain a little.

Construction Details

It seemed to me that these hats are largely unstructured (we'll ignore good Sir Montefeltro over there in his cylindrical ducal hat), being much like winter hats we still use today. It seemed like most of them had little knobbly protrusions that could be seam lines, so I figured they had to be seamed. They also all seem to be fairly rounded, so I figured they had to be more than 2 parts.

The easiest way to make a hat is to make 2 half-circles and sew them together at the roundy parts. Ta da. A hat. But these seem rather flat, and I wasn't sure that they'd round out enough when worn loosely to look like the portraits I was seeing. (Garb Buddy quote: "Never use 4 pieces when you can use 2." But I digress.)

I experimented with 4 triangular pieces, making at first bowed-out triangles, and this crashed and burned. The protrusions at the seamlines were just too extreme. I resewed the pieces as flat-edged triangles, and this looked a lot nicer, except now I'd rendered the hat almost too small, and it was very pointed up top. Sweetie refused to wear it, saying it looked "silly". Hmph.

I thought and thought about a revision to the hat (I had plenty of wool left over, after all), and finally went out and bought Mccall's 9551, a winter-hat collection, and discovered that the four-part toques McCalls has do have bowed triangular pieces, though not as bowed as mine, and McCall's has the top inch or so angled slightly more sharply inward. Ah! Epiphany!

I made my pieces wider than McCall's suggested, as sweetie has a big head *smirk*. I also made them 2" or so shorter, because I knew I wasn't aiming for a full-cover toque like we use nowadays. I wanted something that'd sit on the head casually and loosely.

When it came time to put on the brim, I cut mine about 2" narrower than McCall's suggested, and sewed it on as instructed, with the seam on the outside of the hat, then turned the brim up, which made the hat look REALLY silly, like a sailor hat. So I took off the brim and sewed it on "inside out" and left it hanging down, with the seam inside the hat, and the results were very satisfactory, very much like how the Medal Youth's hat looks. It's possible his hat has a turned-up brim, but either way, what I got looks like what he's got. And my clothes horse victim will actually wear this one.

Materials used: less than 1 yard suit-quality wool. I washed the wool in hot water and then dried it in the clothes dryer to achieve something like felted wool -- so fuzzy and soft it almost looks like fleece. I got mine at Joann's, in scarlet. I didn't need to finish any of the edges -- this stuff is NOT going anywhere.

Pictures of what I came up with:

BELOW, the hat turned inside out to reveal seam details:


BELOW, the test victim wears his new hat.



This was the first clue I had that the hats were popular. I saw this fresco in an art book of mine and went "Holy cow! Lookit all the red hats!" Then I began seeing them everywhere.

Like in these:



Botticelli, Portrait of
a Young Man, 1483


And the hats came in other colors, too, notably black (but you can find these simple hats in blue, too, if you look for them).

Portrait of a Man (Candida), 1480

Other Kinds of Hats

Ya feeling lucky? Go for a liripipe hat, or maybe one of these semi-Musketeer-looking hats I've seen in Sienese frescoes:



Other Sources for Men's Italian Renaissance Garb

It's sparse going to find men's Italian Renaissance garb, except for occasional Halloween costumes found online. But here are a few places to try for inspiration.

The Milanese Tailor's Handbook

This page last updated: July 10, 2009

All text copyright Vangelista di Antonio Dellaluna, except where otherwise noted. All portraits are understood to be copyright- free and are presented as research aids only.