Tam o’Shanter: The Scottish Hat

by hatrevivalist on December 16, 2008

The Tam o’ Shanter is a Scottish bonnet  originally worn by men. However, women have adopted a form of this hat and it is often known as a “Tam” or a “Tammy”.

The hat is named after the Robbie Burns poem Tam o’  Shanter, written in 1790 and six pages long; this is regarded as a classic like many things by Burns. The poem is often illustrated by a character wearing a hat in this style. You can read the original and a translation on the Robert Burns UK site.

The hat is usually made of wool and has a pompon ( known as a toorie) in the centre. It is quite a floppy type of hat with the crown sometimes twice the diameter of the head. They are available in many colours and tartans. Originally they were dyed blue ( the famous “blue bonnets”), owing to the limitation of available dyes.

The Tam is referred to as a “bonnet” from old French ( and not as a “beret”) although it does not look like the very fashionable bonnet worn by ladies in the late 18th. and early 19th. centuries (reminiscent of Marie Antoinette) . A beret on the other hand refers to a rounder more tighter fitting hat. This is confusing – just call it a “Tam”.

The Scottish Tam o’Shanter is sometimes worn with a feather plume that is known as a “hackle”. This plume adornment is now mostly worn by bandsmen (or perhaps women as well?).

Here is a charming photograph of a baby wearing a Tam complete with hackle. It was originally a cabinet card from late Victorian vintage. The baby is posing in a lovely wicker baby carriage (“pram” as we called them in Britain). It’s a great image. Probably the baby carriage was a prop in the photographer’s studio. Of course, babies did not generally wear Tams complete with plume – that would be a bit unsafe don’t you think?

The Tam is very popular  in Scottish Regiments and was worn as battle dress in World War II. Of course, don’t confuse this with the beret made famous by Field Marshal (Monty) Montgomery. During the War they were plain khaki but now the dress Tams are more stylish.

I am obliged to various pages of the Wikipedia for some of the information in this posting. Their articles are interesting but vary in quality.

Women wear a form of Tam This one is made by Betmar, picture courtesy of Aaron hats.

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