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The ancient and ubiquitous flat cap

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

This article is an extension of two larger Hickory Lane projects: Golf Fashion for Female Golfers and Spectators, 1800–1899 and Golf Fashion for Male Golfers and Spectators, 1800–1899. These are in-depth, illustrated articles created to help featherie and gutty golfers pull together era-appropriate clothing. Each decade has its own write-up, and each write-up offers specifics on everything from hats to shoes and every piece of clothing in between.

The flat cap has many names, all of which broadly refer to a rounded cap with a stiff brim in front. People refer to them as a baker boy, newsboy or newsie, peaky cap, Boston scally, cabbie cap, longshoreman’s cap, English cap, Irish cap, dai cap, bunnet, Gatsby hat, Jeff, duffer, IV, or apple cap.

History reveals that this extensive list developed over a long period of time, in different parts of the world.

In 1571, the English Parliament established an act intended to promote domestic wool production and trade in general: all males over age 6, excepting for nobles and “persons of degree” were required to wear woolen hats every Sunday and holiday. If a boy or man did not comply, he would be fined 3 farthings. The Act was repealed in 1597, but by that time, the flat cap had essentially become part of the uniform of the working man in Great Britain, and it essentially remained common workwear (and golf wear) until the early 20th century in most of the Western world.

In the 1800s, the gentry adopted the flat cap for country or sporting wear, although these caps were made of much finer materials. The real peak of popularity for the caps ended about 1925 (although recently, they have become fashionable again).

The main categories of flat caps

• The duckbill is a six-panel, very streamlined cap that is form-fitting all the way to the front or peak. It has a rounded back that slopes down to the peak, which is sewn to the body of the cap.

Wear linen or lighter-cloth varieties in warm weather, and tweed or flannel varieties in cooler weather. It’s a perfect style to wear with a more tailored outfit, such as breeches and a close-fitting waistcoat and/or jacket.

• The Gatsby or newsboy is an eight-panel cap that has more body on top, so it offers more coverage. It has a bulkier look in the front and generally has a button on top. Its brim sticks out a bit more than other flat caps, and it can either be sewn to the body of the cap or be connected by means of a snap.

Wear when the weather is cooler: the airspace created inside the larger-bodied cap will keep you warmer. But these caps are appropriate in any weather. This cap works with any golfing outfit (unless you are trying to replicate a red-jacketed, "golf is a game for gentlemen" look. For that, you need a top hat).

• The ivy or Scally is a rounded cap that has no stitching nor button on its very flat top. Three seams in the back of the cap create an abrupt drop that hugs the head. The peak or brim can be sewn to the body of the cap or be connected with a snap.

Wear when the weather is warmer, as ivy caps are often available in linens and lighter fabrics. An ivy cap works well with a more tailored outfit, such as breeches and a close-fitting waistcoat and/or jacket.

Other ivy cap options

• The halo ivy is similar to the duckbill, but its top is formed with a rounded (halo) seam, which creates more of a panel on the top of the cap. This is a fitted cap with more body toward the front.

• The three-panel ivy is built from two side panels and a top panel. This cap is a bit deeper but is still form-fitting.

Which should you wear?

Pick the cap you like best, but to be historically accurate, pick era-appropriate fabrics like tweed, wool, flannel, or linen. If you want to emulate a particular golfer, study that person’s dress. For instance, Allan Robertson has been photographed wearing what looks like a newsboy cap with an unsnapped or unsewn brim. He also could be wearing what we would call today a Greek fisherman's cap.

Muted colors are best. But make sure there is enough color/tone contrast between your jacket and cap fabrics, OR, for a very dapper look, use the same fabric for your coat and cap. You may shape the brim or peak any way you wish—you may even tilt it a bit when you want to unnerve your opponents.

Other considerations

• When in doubt, the moniker “flat cap” is always accurate.

• Select a size that is snug enough to resist the wind but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable.

• Some flat caps come with ear flaps hidden inside, which are very handy for cold, windy days.

• For more visuals and even more information on flat caps, please enjoy the Goorin Bros. Hats video at

Recommendations on where to purchase caps from Christian Williams, The Hickory Hacker:

• Christian's go-to cap for gutty golf is a custom-made cricket cap from a hatter in Pennsylvania called Stockbridge Sewing Works:

• Village Hat Shop sells the fiddler hats Christian wears for featherie play. He particularly likes the Jaxon brand of hats:

Photo credits:

Tom Morris from

Screen grabs from Gorrin Bros. Hats video

Harry Vardon and James Braid from

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