Minor British Institutions: The flat cap

Government intervention in the world of fashion is rare, but can have long-lasting effects. In 1571, parliament passed legislation that required all males, excepting noblemen, over the age of six to wear a woollen cap on Sundays and holidays, on pain of a fine. In those days, the wool trade was the foundation of the English economy, and the Tudors were determined to protect it.

The law was repealed in 1597, but the flat cap had gained critical mass, and by the early 20th century was ubiquitous, and usually associated with the working classes. By the 1950s, Labour had become concerned about what was termed its "flat cap" image, and Andy Capp was the nation's favourite layabout.

The decline of the working man has, ironically, left the flat cap to the landed classes, and today the conceptually similar but more exuberant baseball cap, sometimes placed back-to-front, has taken on the role of signifying (usually) lower social status, especially in Burberry trim. Still, if the cap fits...

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