Design Project by
In Canada, the knit hat is not only a potent national symbol, but a vital necessity in what can often be frigidly cold winters.
These woolen hats were ubiquitous throughout much of the world in the 16th century. They were worn by seamen, labourers, fishers, hunters, soldiers and sailors because their design so effectively provided warmth in cold weather. Known then as “Monmouth caps”, they were so vital to the British wool industry that Queen Elizabeth passed an edict in 1571 that required that male commoners wear them on Sundays or face fines. Their popularity extended into popular culture and they are mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry V. And because they were worn by British explorers, today they’re found all over the world in places with cold climates where they go by a variety of local names.
Their design made them particularly useful in the British colony of Canada, where they took on the name ‘toque’, a word that came from Breton immigrants who settled in New France. They spoke Middle Breton and the word ‘tok’ was a word that meant ‘hat’. A red version of the tuque became a symbol of French-Canadian nationalism during the 1837 Patriotes Rebellion inspired by the French Revolution’s Phrygian cap but modified to be better suited to cold climate warfare.
From that point onward, the knit cap maintained its status as a functional hat well suited to a variety of tasks and was popular through World War II with the U.S. Navy. That popularity persisted with the help of people like Jacque Cousteau and even David Beckham.
A part of the appeal is their simplicity. They hug the head, keeping the hat secure, and are usually tapered at the top. There are many variants. Some with tassels, some with folded brims, some loose fitting, and others tight.
In every case, they are a cold weather necessity. Whether heading into the woods or the city, they protect against the cold so that focus remains on the bigger task. But there is always room for improvement. It can be a challenge: Finding exactly the right wool that doesn’t itch, a shape that covers the ears properly, and a thickness that actually keeps your head warm.
We are asking ourselves some questions: What would it take to design and produce the best tuque in the world? How can we tap into the lessons learned by tuque wearers everywhere to design the next great one? Our goal is to design a new Canadian icon in a way that respects the past but responds to the present.
We will share our progress as it unfolds. Over the coming months, with each issue of Frontier Field Guide, we will post project updates: sketches, photos, stories from the field. And ultimately, we’ll make it available in our shop for purchase.