The Mystery of the Corsican Hat
I know, I’ve got an update to do. But right now I’d rather post about hats.
I’ve referred to Corsican dress a few times, and for the most part it’s pretty unremarkable - there’s a lot of wool and a lot of brown. The pilone
, the characteristically Corsican hooded cloak, has been mentioned a few times. But if there’s one thing that really stands out whenever you see a picture of 18th century Corsicans, it’s the hat.
The Corsicans (specifically, Corsican men
) were universally said to wear a peaked cloth cap. How exactly this looked, however, is a little bit unclear. The classic Corsican berettu
of the 19th and 20th centuries is a soft felt cap, as modeled by this fine turn of the century gentleman:
That’s a rather common style of cap, and hardly unique. Earlier writings and depictions usually describe the Corsican cap as being a “Phrygian” cap. Sometimes that appears to be depicted in the manner of the French Revolutionary Phrygian cap, which is basically just a shorter version of the above berettu
Okay, so far so good. But if you spend any time finding pictures of 18th century Corsicans, you will pretty quickly come across a different kind of cap altogether, something that frankly looks like a jester might have worn it:
I’m not sure what the practical value of this sort of “cone hat” was, but it’s certainly distinctive. Did Corsican hats really look like this or was this a rather fanciful re-imagining of Corsican headgear by people who had not seen it firsthand?
And then there’s the really weird stuff. Ready?
Seriously, what are those cheek things for?
What on earth is this? Is that a… ribbed
hat? With little cheek-cloth things? What the hell is going on?
I suspect this hat did not actually exist. It’s just too silly, and it appears in art very rarely. But it does remind me of something real: an ancient Greek phrygian helmet, which often had similar cheek-guards attached (albeit ones made out of metal, because obviously):
It makes me wonder if some artist heard “Phrygian cap” and thought “oh, so you mean like a Phrygian helmet” and made a cloth version of a Greek bronze helmet. That would certainly explain those cloth cheek coverings. It might also explain why this portrait of Napoleon in “Corsican costume” shows him wearing a helmet with a similar design:
Just to add a little bit more confusion, Austrian light troops in the 19th century wore a "Corsican hat" (Korsehut
) which was a predecessor of the slouch hat, and has, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing to do with Corsica.