The tricorne or tricorn is a style of hat that was popular during the 18th century, falling out of style by 1800. At the peak of its popularity, the tricorne was worn as civilian dress and as part of military and naval uniforms. Its distinguishing characteristic was a practical one: the turned-up portions of the brim formed gutters that directed rainwater away from the wearer’s face, depositing most of it over his shoulders. Before the invention of specialized rain gear, this was a distinct advantage.
The tricornes had a rather broad brim, pinned up on either side of the head and at the back, producing a triangular shape. The hat was typically worn with the point facing forward, though it was not at all unusual for soldiers, who would often rest a rifle or musket on their right shoulder, to wear the tricorne pointed to the left to allow better clearance. The crown is low, unlike the steeple hats worn by thePuritans or the top hat of the 19th century.
Tricornes ranged from the very simple and cheap to the extravagant, occasionally incorporating gold or silver lace trimming and feathers. In addition, military and naval versions usually bore a cockade or other national emblem at the front.
The tricorne appeared as a result of the evolution of the broad brim round hat used by Spanish soldiers in Flanders during the 17th century. By pledging the brims, a triangular shape was obtained, and since the corners offered protection from the rainy Flemish weather, this shape was favored by Spanish soldiers. In 1667, war broke out between France and Spain in the Spanish Netherlands. During the subsequent military struggle, its use spread to the French armies. The style was brought back to France, where its usage spread to the French population and the royal court of King Louis XIV, who made it fashionable throughout Europe, both as a civilian and military wear. By the end of the 17th century, the tricorne was popular in both civilian fashion and in military uniforms. They remained one of the predominant European styles of hat throughout the 18th century.
The tricorne quickly declined in use at the end of the 18th century. It evolved into the bicorne, which was widely used by military officers in Europe from the 1790s until World War I, not completely fading out of style until World War II. For enlisted soldiers, the tricorne was replaced by the shako at the turn of the 19th century, which had become the new dominant style of military headgear from 1800 on. As the fashionable hat for civilian men, the tricorne was overtaken by the top hat.
Tricornes survive today as part of the traditional dress of the Chelsea Pensioners (UK), the Guardia Civil (Spain) (picture), and the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps of the United States Army. A black feathered tricorne is worn by the Lord Mayor of the City of London for all ceremonials and is in evidence at the annual Lord Mayor’s Show in November, when the newly elected Lord Mayor enthusiastically waves it at the crowds. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Chamberlain and the Speaker of the House of Commons are also traditionally entitled to wear or carry it when wearing state robes with full bottomed wigs at state occasions (and, in theory, the Lord Speaker is also entitled to do so as well).
In the United States, the tricorne is associated with the American Revolution and American Patriots of that era, especially Minutemen (militia members of the American Colonies).Participants in reenactment events often don tricornes, and they also can be seen in sports culture as worn by fans of teams with Revolutionary names, such as the New England Patriots (an American football team), the New England Revolution (a Major League Soccer team), the United States men’s national soccer team, the University of Massachusetts, and the George Washington University. Voters associating themselves with the Tea Party movement use the tricorne as an icon to associate themselves with the patriots of the American Revolution, and their distaste for big government and taxation.
In France, synagogue officiants (usually not rabbis), wear the tricorne on formal occasions. In the French navy and air force, tricorn are still worn by women as a piece of uniform.
It is traditionally used by students of the Minho University on formal occasions.
A popular children’s song, described in Primo Levi‘s If This Is A Man, goes, ‘My hat it has three corners, three corners has my hat; and had it not three corners, it would not be my hat.’ The song is usually sung several times in a row, each time omitting a specific word and replacing it with a gesture representing it (for instance, pointing at one’s elbow whenever the word ‘corners’ is sung) and mouthing the omitted word.