No one is sure where the name “beanie hat” came from, but there are several theories.
Some think it’s from the slang term “bean” referring to the head. Others point out that the button that was commonly found on top of beanie hats a long time ago was about the size of a bean.
It all started in Wales almost a thousand years ago
First of all, the term beanie hat can refer to two main types of hats: the rounded, seamed cap often with a button on top, or a soft, stretchy knit cap. Beanie Designs makes the soft stretchy kind.
The first hats of the style of beanies we’re talking about seem to date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. They were called Monmouth caps after the name of the town where they originated. The earliest versions were worn by women and made of velvet, taffeta, or satin adorned with embroidery.
Even the first beanie hat makers were obsessed with quality!
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Monmouth caps evolved to look pretty close to a knitted beanie cap you could find today. These beanie hats were knit of wool by hand knitters in the town of Monmouth in south east Wales, because the sheep there, called Ryeland sheep, produced particularly high-quality wool.
Wikipedia tells us, “The industry of cap manufacture by hand knitters in and around Monmouth was well established by the 15th century, when court records show Capper as a common surname in the town.”
The hats were worn by soldiers and sailors and widely exported. The wool was felted to make the hat waterproof.
Everyone must wear a beanie hat on Sunday…?
These early beanie hats were used so commonly that nearly everyone in England and Wales wore them. In fact, the Cappers Act of 1488 forbade the wearing of caps made outside the country, upon penalty of fine! Nearly 100 years later, there was even an Act of Parliament that required those older than age six to wear this type of hat on Sundays and holidays (excluding some people such as maids and ladies, and when travelling).
Gradually, the precursor to the beanie hat was manufactured in places other than Monmouth, leading to new names cropping up, including watch cap.
In the 1620’s, the early settlers of Massachusetts brought their Monmouth caps with them to the New World.
I wonder what the early Monmouth knitters would think of our Beanie Designs hats today?