Designing The World’s Best Tuque

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A quick note about this section

There is no shortage of designs for the knit hat. The question is: Which is best?

Written by
William Daubney Holmes

The small community of La Tuque lies in Canada’s province of Quebec, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive northwest of the capital, Quebec City. The town of 11,000 people is dominated by the pulp and paper industry, as well as a hydroelectric station.

La Tuque was first settled in the 1850s, but a few decades before that, an explorer named François Verreault arrived there. In a report on his travels, he quoted the voyageurs who regularly moved through the area. They called it La Tuque because the nearby mountain looked like one.

The knit hat we in Canada call a tuque (or toque — more on the spelling in a moment) is uniquely of this country. Although hats of this general description exist in the United States, Scandinavia, and many other places around the world, no one calls them tuques but Canadians.

Most Canadians wear tuques, it’s probably fair to say, and for anyone living or travelling in a cold climate, such headgear could be labelled as essential.

The origin of the word is uncertain. Some sources say it comes from sixteenth-century France. Others are more specific, claiming it’s derived from “toc”, a word meaning hat in Middle Breton, the language spoken by immigrants to New France (now Quebec) in the 16th century.

These days a fierce debate rages in Canada over whether the word is spelled tuque or toque (or even touque). Oxford uses tuque, distinguishing it from toque, which it says was a fashionable hat for both men and women in — yet again — the 16th century. Oxford defines toque today as a woman’s small hat.

So for the Canadian winter hat made of knit wool, we have decided to use “tuque,” although not everyone will agree. For our purposes here at Frontier, the design of the item itself commands our attention more than the word or its origins.

Most Canadians wear tuques, it’s probably fair to say, and for anyone living or travelling in a cold climate, such headgear could be labelled as essential.

There is no shortage of tuque designs. The question is: Which is best? Using wool from a sheep? Or a different animal? Or even synthetic fibres? Pompom? Tassels? Folded brim? Tight-fitting or loose?

We want to design things that we believe have tangible value, and we want to design the holistic experience of the product beyond the product itself.

At Frontier, we have set ourselves the task of designing the world’s best tuque. Why would Paddy Harrington, the founder of Frontier, want to do that?

“It’s about applying the design process to a project that we believe in. Normally, designers are hired to work on someone else’s project. We want to design things that we believe have tangible value, and we want to design the holistic experience of the product beyond the product itself. Where does the material come from? Is it sustainable from an environmental and labour perspective? What is the main motive — profit or performance? By setting the ambition high, we are focused on only one thing: designing the thing in the best possible way so that it’s a valuable piece of someone’s life in every sense,” says Harrington.

As part of our research for this project, we approached people in various fields for their advice on how to go about it.

tuque

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From your expert perspective, how would you design the world’s best tuque?

Biomimicry

Jeanette Lim  |  AskNature Content Coordinator
Erin Connelly  |  Communications Manager Biomimicry Institute

In biomimicry, design inspiration comes from observing nature’s design strategies and applying them to create our materials, products, buildings, and cities in radically sustainable ways. At The Biomimicry Institute, we’d throw out all notions of what tuques typically look like and focus on function: What would we like the tuque to do? Tuques function to keep heads warm. With this in mind, we’d look to nature — what strategies do organisms use to stay warm in cold environments?

One example is from the caribou. They retain body heat with the help of their fur coat, where long, air-filled guard hairs overlay a dense layer of shorter, finer underfur. These hairs work together to create an insulating layer of trapped air between the warm skin and cold external air.

In biomimicry, design inspiration comes from observing nature’s design strategies and applying them to create our materials, products, buildings, and cities in radically sustainable ways.

Rather than constructing the tuque from caribou fur, though, we’d translate the caribou’s strategy into a general design strategy that we could apply to create a manufactured product that’s not only functional but sustainable, non-toxic, and beautiful.

Designer and Product Developer

Sarah Hopgood  |  Designer and Product Developer, Drake General Store

A long, long time ago when I was little, my mum would dress me for school in this very adorable striped tuque. It was part of a set — mitts, scarf, and hat — very cute, but I hated it! Passionately hated it. It was tight, leaving marks on my forehead for about an hour after wearing it, and it itched like crazy.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that hat laid the groundwork for my approach to design. Fit and feel are of the utmost importance. If it’s comfortable, most of the time one doesn’t even notice they’re wearing it. But if it’s uncomfortable, it can’t come off fast enough. Once the fit and feel have been mastered, the real fun begins!

When designing the upcoming collection for Drake General Store, I began by researching our Canadian heritage for inspiration. Carlo Colacci, one of the owners of DGS, has a penchant for all things vintage, so we have a wealth of original references on hand. Combining that with my own preferences for the perfect tuque, reinterpreting our shared history leads to something unique, and utterly Canadian.

Fashion Psychologist

Dawnn Karen  |  Fashion Psychology Success

Fashion psychology is the study and treatment of how colour and fashion affect human behaviour while addressing cultural norms and cultural sensitivities. Every piece of clothing can have an effect on our psyche, even a tuque.

Clothes and feelings work together. Clothes can match your mood. If you’re feeling sombre, dressing to match it is a healthy way to dress for the benefit of the self, not for others. It’s about reflecting what’s going on inside. I call this “mood illustration.” A tuque can achieve this, for instance, by utilizing dark colours for sombre moods.

We can also dress to enhance our moods. Tuques in brighter colours can accomplish this. I call this “mood enhancement.” It’s the power of design to have an effect on shifting our mood.

Every piece of clothing can have an effect on our psyche, even a tuque.

The small tuque can have a profound effect on us by being a focal accessory. That’s a piece we wear everyday or often that makes us feel secure. It could be a watch that you can’t leave home without or you’ll feel displaced. The tuque can provide a sense of self-security to the wearer.

I’d keep all of these ideas in mind when designing the tuque, taking into account that certain elements can impact how we feel.

Physiologist

Ming Tsai  |  Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at University of Toronto; Sport Scientist/Data Analyst with Canadian Sport Institute Pacific

Since we lose heat through conduction when our body is in direct contact with a cold environment or through convection such as wind, I’d design a tuque in layers with a base layer made of wool to keep losing heat through conduction and an external wind- and water-proof but breathable layer (such as Gore-Tex) to protect losing heat through convection.

Technologist

Ali Tawfiq  |  Tech Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs and visionaries in the space of creative thinking, innovation, and technology are always on the lookout to disrupt or better existing products. Disruption is great, but it is vital that we keep an eye on the original form factor or intended use of such product; such is the case for creating the world’s best tuque.

Reinventing the phone dictates that it must still make phone calls, and manufacturing the world’s most comfortable car necessitates it gets us from point A to point B. When designing the world’s best tuque, we must keep fashion and warmth at the forefront of our thinking, and then design with a “best means now” mentality.

The time dimension has never been as critical to innovation as it is today. The iteration cycle is ever dwindling, and we ought to build with continuity in mind; for what can be an elite niche product today will only be tomorrow’s antiquity.

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Tell me more

Stephen Bahry, a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto, was confused about the word tuque as a child: “I was quite puzzled as a youth watching the  Monkees, trying to figure out why Mike Nesmith wore a ‘wool hat.’ Didn’t they know it was a tuque?”

For a country where much of the culture is adopted from south of the border, having a word that’s native is unique.

Tuque is distinctly Canadian. For a country where much of the culture is adopted from south of the border, having a word that’s native is unique. The term is borrowed from French. “Canadian French is a very important donor language in Canadian English,” said Stefan Dollinger, the editor-in-chief of the second edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles and a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and The University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Dollinger has been working on his dictionary for over a decade, trying to capture words that are distinctly Canadian. Even though tuque has been used with its current meaning since around 1865 (in reference to the woodsmen and voyageurs), he thinks it was probably used orally as early as the 1830s and 1840s.

Spelling the word is a challenge. In the 19th century, tuque connoted a form of women’s headwear. One theory is that the spelling “toque” came about to distinguish this women’s hat from the warm winter headgear we all know. Dollinger’s dictionary spells it “toque.” He says it’s the modern way.

While other Canadianisms are disappearing, Dollinger is quite sure that tuque is here to stay: “It’s one of those things you use a lot in the winter time… Occasionally, people say hat. That’s fine, but in the end I think tuque is a keeper.”

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