The Origin of Mortarboard Hats and Tassels

Kaminski Wool Beret - The PagliniAccording to The Answer Man, graduates “still sport outfits that represent centuries of pomp and circumstance”, robes which date back 800 years when universities were closely tied to the church.

Continuing with his findings The Answer Man says that the

“strange-looking hat has an even longer and more colorful evolution with roots in ancient Rome and, perhaps, the Middle East.

According to Philip Goff’s “University of London Academic Dress,” the mortarboard developed from the biretta, a similar-looking hat worn by the Roman Catholic clergy. It also may have been influenced by garments from the Islamic madrassas, or schools. But its popularity apparently didn’t take off until it hit the fashion capital of the world — Paris.

Traditionally, university students wore a round hat based on the Roman “pileus rotundus.” It looked something like a beret with a stalk or tab in the center. Then, in the early 1500s, graduates at the University of Paris started wearing a square pileus, according to the Encyclopedia of World Costume. It soon became the rage across Europe.

At first, the headgear consisted of a soft, flat square cap on top of a skull cap, but in the 1600s, the two were incorporated into a single hat.

For comfort, a flat, hard square was added in the 17th century to stiffen the hat so that the corners wouldn’t flop into the face while some long-winded commencement speaker droned on. The tassel apparently came along in the 18th century.

From everything I can find, switching that tassel from right to left to signify graduation is a modern, American custom, but just when and where it started seems to be lost in history.”

I’m sorry to say I got lost after the word biretta. For some odd reason, all I could think of was that old cop show from the 70s with Robert Blake in it, called Baretta, the one where the detective wears a newsboy on his head and a cockatoo on his shoulder.

Thanks for reading,
Steve Singer, The Memory Man
and CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 1:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Hat Appeal

Men's Hats and Women's Hats at - From fur felt fedoras to caps and classics like The Ambassador Winter Hat by Miller Hats. Made of dyed Persian lambs wool. Order your hat today!An article in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, called Hats Get An Upsurge In Popularity, contains some fashion trends and advice from industry experts:

Specific Trends
Hats seem to be in style at all times, though the specific hat style trends come and go,” says Shannon Fischer, junior account executive for The Baddish Group, a New York marketing firm that researches hats. “For example, the slouchy beret is the hot item this winter. Certainly, more celebrities have been spotted in winter accessories, and hat popularity is skyrocketing.”

The Classics
“We’ve seen the return of the more structured, classic hats,” says Gregg Andrews, a fashion director for Nordstrom Department Stores. “A lot of these hats have that vintage feel to them, and they look great.”

Michael Carl, fashion director for Allure magazine agrees: “A black hat and black coat looks great and pretty much works for everybody. It always looks chic.”

Renew Your Outfit
A great hat can spice up a casual jean outfit and make it much more stylish and fabulous. Conversely, a hat can dress down a more classic formal outfit in a chic and trendy way, Fischer says. Even a plain outfit can be jazzed up with a funky hat.

Thanks for reading,
The Chic and Trendy
Steve Singer, All Jazzed
Up in a Funky Hat
and CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on November 25, 2008 at 3:25 am  Comments (2)  

Bring Back The Beret

French Berets from Hartford York Hats - Kangol Women's Beret -  The Furgora BeretBill Bonner of The Daily Reckoning has more unsolicited advice to offer: this time, he’s counseling France, its government and entire tourism industry. His words of wisdom?

Put berets back on the heads of Frenchmen and you will give the nation’s largest industry a big boost.

Some pretty sound reasoning backs his byte. He’s fighting against uniformity and for uniqueness and those unforgettable glimpses of local color that tourists and travelers yearn to see. Lose the interchangeability of the sights of so much of this modern world, vive la différence, and wear your beret, France.

Thanks for reading,
Steve Singer
CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on August 30, 2007 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gentle With My Hat, Please, Officer

Fur Felt Fedoras from Hartford York Hats - Men's Borsalino Fedora - The Virgilio reports that the Transportation Security Administration has issued a directive advising the nation’s 43,000 airport screeners to scrutinize anyone wearing a head covering that might hide explosives (or monkeys) — be it a cowboy hat, turban, baseball cap or beret.

Okay, I get the explosives bit and I’m all for it but I was completely unaware of the monkey-under-the-hat smuggling incident that apparently took place on a flight into LaGuardia Airport earlier this month. Now you know I’ve been wearing hats all my life and maybe it’s just me, but it really never has occurred to me (until a moment ago) to use my headwear as a form of animal transport. Several immediate concerns comes to mind, and most of them involve extreme danger to either my hair or hat.

Also I do have some trouble thinking that a beret can hide anything larger than a ladybug.

However, if there’s a market niche somewhere in this story just begging to be filled, I’m your man. I’ll give this whole thing some considerable thought and get back to you.

In the meantime, my advice still stands. Your head belongs in your hat. Nowhere else and certainly nothing else.

Thanks for reading,
Steve Singer
CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on August 29, 2007 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Clips Keep Hats Put

Berets from Hartford York Hats - Wool Beret - The Basque BeretA Florida high school’s athletic director has come up with an invention that keeps Jewish athletes hats on their heads–without the use of hair pins (pins are banned in most sports due to potential danger).

It’s quite a simple gadget–he’s just engineered the skullcap (known as a kippah or a yarmulke) with two clips sewn in under the fabric so it stays in place. The inventor, Jon Kaweblum, has applied for a patent and even has a website called

See a need and meet it. Get rich. Make other people envious.

Hey, maybe I could invent a similar thing for other types of hats–you know, BattenedDownBerets or ForeverFedoras or PinnedPorkpies. . . .oh, yeah, I’m onto something here. . . .

Thanks for reading,
Steve Singer
CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on June 22, 2007 at 1:57 am  Leave a Comment  

One Customer At A Time

Hats and Caps from Hartford York Hats - Scala Wool Beret - The Parisian Beret

Gary Comer, former ‘king of the clothing catalogs’ as Lands’ End founder, is credited with saying: Worry about being better; bigger will take care of itself. Think one customer at a time and take care of each one the best way you can.

The raison d’être of this blog and even the innovations that have recently taken place on the website are really due to this philosophy of service. In my book, service isn’t just about being polite on the phone, or helping someone determine the right size hat — it’s also about a true welcoming attitude, and somehow making the entire experience of browsing or buying fun, interactive and interesting.

Replace the word “customer” with “guest“, and see how differently you treat the person so defined.

Thanks for reading, friend,
Steve Singer
CEO Hartford York

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Published in: on March 2, 2007 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment