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What is a Tricorne?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 21, 2024
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A tricorne is a type of hat that was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries on the European continent. It has made its way into the modern fashion lexicon through the popularity of historical re-enactments and its unique look. The use of this hat developed in areas of Europe and made its way into early American fashion.

Originally, according to historical reports, this kind of hat was used by Spanish and French soldiers who adapted broad brimmed hats into tricornes to keep rain out of their faces. The tricorne then progressively became used in civilian society as a fashionable trend. Some of the popularity of the hat type is generally attributed to King Louis XIV of France, who ruled from 1643-1715, and was known as the “Sun King.”

Tricorne hats were often gilded with various decorations to show affluence or power. This hat style apparently fell out of fashion around the time of the French Revolution. However, through the founding fathers and other individuals who made their way to the New World, the three-cornered hat became fashionable in America as well.

The tricorne hat is still visible today in modern America and other nations. In America, it is worn in some kinds of historical reenactments, such as the tourist attractions around original American towns such as Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg. The tri-cornered hat is part of what lends a historical simulation a sense of visual authenticity, as it is instantly recognizable and associated with a specific time period, along with less dated gear such as long buttoned coats and vests.

Another popular modern interpretation of the tricorne hat is in reference to the depiction of the traditional images of maritime pirates of the period. These hats have been appropriated for many different drawings and other renderings of a pirate’s dress and appearance, even if some of these imaginings were not particularly realistic. From restaurant menus to Halloween costumes, the tricorne survives as a historical-cultural symbol of previous Western societies.

The very precise associations of the tricorne make it unlikely that the hat will ever come back into true “fashion” in the conventional sense. Modern fashion experts see this type of hat as a good example of an item that may illustrate a “post-modern” fashion, where the ironic or dissonant can be adopted for purposes related to the human sense of the absurd, or for the “shock value” that has generated a lot of attention in popular entertainment. Still, the tricorne remains a familiar item in prop closets and throughout the theatrical and re-enactment communities.

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