Two friends, Christos Tolera and Chris Sullivan, make a beret-check phone call to one another before they go out to DJ together, thus preventing a double-beret, matchy-matchy scenario. These savvy style merchants have been dropping berets since the late Seventies at legendary clubs such as Le Kilt, The Blitz and The Wag. They channel a blend of Latin jazz beatnik and New Romantic hero. And both adore a beret.
"Speaking as a longtime wearer of hats, the only consistently risky titfer is a beret," says Tolera. "They're always somehow incongruous." His striking looks range from circus strong man to Rat Pack Lothario. "I favour a snug sports beret à la bebop jazz and the ubiquitous Basque style."
For 2018, berets are a major trend. Regardless of the fashion, they're a potent and egalitarian instant-access accessory. Get one and you're in. Anyone can pick one up, but it takes some front to wear, be it bravado, camp posturing or avant-garde edginess. Check iconic beret men Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, Dave Bowie, Sonny Rollins, John Lydon, Public Enemy, Captain Sensible and pick your vibe. Military wearers don't count - I'm talking misappropriated style - but activists and assassins do, such as Che Guevara and Carlos The Jackal. For reference, turn to The Beret Project.
Beret style can transform an outfit. Combine with charcoal-grey suiting and rollneck and one becomes a suave Situationist thinker. Don with jeans and a chunky knit and you're a rustic turbo-folk connoisseur. For an art-slant, street-style clash, drop a beret with a tracksuit. Jack Nicholson wore his with a tux and shades to the Oscars - double potent black-tie machismo.
Note, however, there's an unavoidable comedic element, especially in the UK, where berets provoke a basic reaction from many. Most pedestrian types opt for the Frank Spencer-referenced jibe. Fractionally more cultured snarks go for a Citizen Smith snipe. Despite this, strangers warm to you in a beret. Perhaps it's intrigue or simply pity, but I enjoy the chat. Tolera points to another beret concern, "They're not sexy. Which is sexy, right?"
My obsession got properly triggered by YMC's Autumn/Winter 2017 Traum der Maschine collection last January, styled by Mark Anthony. The look was Paris Left Bank aggro rendered modern through Bauhaus nuance. Models looked chic and militant, clever men who know their way around an urban obstacle course when required.
Berets are also très Paris 1968 uprising. They will always be synonymous with France, though the manliest style - with the leather headband and stalk - is a Basque version originally. Lock Hatters of St James's get its Basque berets from the Boinas Elósegui factory in Tolosa, Spain. Basque men wear them flat and symmetrical, with the front tweaked forward and narrowed like a peaked cap. Naturally the French do it differently, worn as an extension of their psyche. "The beret goal is to bring out the personality we all have inside," says the Elósegui website. And it's right. Part of the beret's appeal is that you can do what you want, be whomever you choose. Be it an activist's stance or a hyper-camp aristo flex, there is so much to say with a beret.
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This article was first published in the January/February 2018 issue of GQ magazine