Headgear, variously known as headwear, head-dress, or head garments, is a fashion statement for your head, and is one defining feature of many human cultures since the dawn of human civilisation.

Headgears had evolved tremendously over the centuries, from ancient headgear made from animal hides, woods and straw to modern hats and caps made from steel and synthetic fabric like polyester. Let us today explore the skullcap, a type of headwear with designs ranging from a simple cap to one embroidered with intricate motives.

There are many types of skullcap, or skull cap, worn by different cultures for various occasions. These include the stylish beanie, the Roman Catholic biretta,  the Qing Dynasty gua pi mao, the U.S. Army jeep cap, the Jewish kippah or yarmulke, the kufi or kofia, the taqiyah worn by Muslim men which itself consists of many varieties, the knit caps, and the zucchetto worn by clerics.

1. Beanie

Colourful beanies

A beanie is a large sized head-hugging skullcap made from cloth or leather. The beanie was primarily worn by blue collar labourers and other tradesmen to keep their hair back but without the hindrance of the brim. Since then, the beanie had evolved into many different styles, such as a four to six felt panels design worn in colleges and fraternities, which is still continued today at the Benedictine College in Kansas and the Wilson College in Pennsylvania.

Today, beanies are worn very much as a fashion statement by the young and old, with major brands like Nike, Under Armour, True Religion, Jordan, Gucci, Polo Ralph Lauren each selling their own design of the head garment once worn by workers. Other versions of the beanie include the knitted cap, Canadian tuque cap, and the propeller beanie, which spawn the term propellerheads.

2. Biretta


The biretta is a square stiff cap with ridges and occasionally a tuft, and is the predecessor of the mortarboard used in many of today’s universities. Thought to originate in the Middle Ages in Europe, the three-peaked biretta is now worn mainly by Roman Catholic clergy, while the four-peaked biretta is worn by doctoral candidates from pontifical university. The Roman Catholic biretta differs by ranks where the cardinal wears scarlet red silk biretta, the bishop wears amaranth-coloured biretta, while black biretta is worn by the priest, deacon, and seminarian. Anglo-Catholic Anglican clergy sometimes wear black biretta with a red pom.

As for academic doctorate biretta, they are mostly black with different colour piping where theology is scarlet, ministry is crimson, canon law is green, and philosophy is blue.

3. Gua pi mao

Gua pi mao

The gua pi mao, variously known as the watermelon cap or melon shell cap, was a headwear commonly worn by Chinese men during the Qing dynasty.

Thought to have originated from the earlier Ming dynasty, the gua pi mao has six sections made of cloth or silk, with embroidery designs, and a decorative knot at the top. To denote the ‘front’ of the cap, a decorative item is attached to the brim of the cap, and such item may be a simple button or to show off a wearer’s status, precious stones such as pearl, jade, coral, or cat’s eye.

4. Jeep cap

Jeep cap

Originally an army cap, the jeep cap was first issued by the U.S. Army during World War II to keep a solder’s head warm and provide soft padding against the steel combat helmet worn on top. The cap was made of olive drab wool in four different sizes.

The jeep cap is still standard issue of the US. Army with significant changes for more comfort. It now has two additional blue and black colours. Furthermore, the jeep cap has now become a fashion head garment with brands like Nike and others producing their own unique designs.

5. Kippah or Yarmulke

Crocheted kippa

The kippah (also kippa, kipah, plural kippot) or yarmulke is a traditional head covering and prayer shawl in the form of a small cloth cap worn by the Jews following the requirements of the Orthodox halachic (Jewish religious laws) authorities to cover one’s head. Once worn only by men, the kippah is now used by women too, and may be worn during prayers, or for the whole day by Orthodox Jews.

The kippah is usually made of cloth, and the fabric, as well as the colour of the kippah or yarmulke, may denote the wearer’s religious affiliations. For example, Religious Zionists and the Modern Orthodox wear knitted kippah, and some wear suede or leather kippah. Haredi followers wear black velvet or cloth kippah. Nowadays, the kippah is becoming more fashionable, with popular sport themes and cartoon characters decorating the traditional headwear.

White crocheted kippa
Bukharan kippa

6. Kufi or Kofia

African kufi

The kufi or kofia is a brimless rounded skull cap with a wider flatter top. Variously known by its local names of fula, fila, or malo hat in West Africa, kofia in the Swahili language in East Africa, and topi or tupi in India, the kufi or kofia cap is worn by men in North, East Africa and Western Africa, and South Asia.

The kufi cap is of Islamic origin, but is commonly worn by African Christians and African Jews as well. Made of kente cloth, mudcloth, or knitted in yarns, the two types of kufi cap are the more formal crown style kufi and the non-formal knitted style kufi.

Kufi caps are worn in many occasions including weddings and Kwanzaa celebrations. Further, royal or noble arms symbols could be embroidered on kufi worn by a West African king or chieftain.

White rounded kufi
Kofia for sale in Zanzibar, Tanzania

7. Taqiyah cap

Taqiyah for sale

The taqiyah, or tagiya, is the general term for a rounded skullcap worn by men who follow the Islam faith because Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad used to have his head covered. The taqiyah worn in Arabian countries is traditional white when with a keffiyeh headscarf, however when worn by itself the taqiyah can be of any colour. Shia and Sufi Muslims may wera an amamah, which is a taqiyah cap wrapped with a turban.

There are many types of Muslim caps, usually following the country’s traditional attire. For example, in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan the taqiyah is called topi. In Sindh, Pakistan, Muslims wear the Sindhi cap and the crochet topi salat prayer services. In Afghanistan, a wool beret called a pakol is worn by men. Muslims in China wear a white prayer cap with traditional Chinese suit, while in Indonesia and Malaysia the peci or songkok is the preferred headwear for Muslim men. Maldives Muslim men wear the thakiha prayer cap. In Somalia the taqiyah is called the koofiyad cotton prayer cap. Meanwhile in Russia specifically and the Central Asian region generally, the taqiyah cap is known as tubeteika and the doppa or rug cap respectively.

Topi skullcap, Pakistan
Tubeteika skullcap, Kazakhstan
Peci skullcap, Indonesia
Pakol skullcap, Afghanistan

8. Knit Cap

Balaclava ski-mask

The knit cap is a skullcap-style head cover used since the 18th century to present day seamen, fishers, hunters and others in regions of colder climate. The knit cap, made of wool or synthetic fibres, is of simple constructions designed to hug the head to provide warmth. The knit cap is tapered at the top and may be topped with a pom-pom, or may be fitted with ear flaps as used by South American communities in the Andes.

Another type of knit cap is the ski mask or balaclava that cover the whole face leaving only openings for the eyes and mouth. It was initially known in the British Imperial army as an Uhlan or a Templar cap, but since used by the soldiers during the Battle of Balaclava in Crimea it became popularly known as the Balaclava.

In Scandinavian countries, the knit cap is called the tophue or top-hue literally meaning top cap. The caps are topped with pom-pom and is thought to have been worn since the Viking period. In fact, a statuette of Freyr, the Viking god of fertility even wears a knit cap with pom-pom.

The Canadian called the knit cap a tuque or toque, which is a French Canadian term. The tuque is thought to have originated from the Monmouth cap. Meanwhile, a version with a brim on it is known as a bruque and is worn by snowboarders.

The British version of knit cap is the bobble hat or bobble cap. It is a knit cap with a yarn bobble (pom-pom) top. The bobble hat was popular among football club supporters in the 1960s and 1970s and nowadays is associated with older, British working-class football fans.

Tophue knit cap, Denmark
Canadian tuque skullcap
British bobble hat

9. Zucchetto or Pileolus


A religious headgear worn by clerics of the Catholic churches, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and by the higher clergy of the Anglican church, the zucchetto is a small, hemispherical skullcap that was adopted since the Middle Ages to protect clerics’ heads from cold. Zucchetto, literally meaning small gourd, is derived from the word zucca or pumpkin.

Pileolus is the official designation, while the skullcap’s other names include subbiretum, submitrale, soli deo , berrettino, and calotte.

Catholic zucchetto consists of eight triangular panels and is made of silk or polyester fabric with a lining of thin leather as insulator in addition to a piece of velvet inside for better fitting.

The zucchetto is worn by ordained members of the Catholic Church beneath the mitre or the biretta. The rank of the wearer is denoted by the colour of the zucchetto where the pope may wear any colour he so chooses although it is usually white, scarlet for the cardinals, amaranth for the bishops, territorial abbots and territorial prelates, black for the priests and deacons.

Priests of the Syriac and Malankara Orthodox churches wear a seven-panel zucchetto called a phiro.

The form of the zucchetto worn by Anglican bishops is constructed of six panels with a button at the centre of the crown, and is purple in colour.

Velvet lining inside a zucchetto

Now let’s travel back in time and have fun with a Mattel beanie copter hat!

Photos sourced from:  eBay Beanie, MK777 at English Wikipedia, Sogou, AmazonGilabrand at English Wikipedia, eBay Kufi hatBernard Gagnon at  English Wikipedia, Tobias “ToMar” Maier at  English Wikipedia, Vivi’s Butik, Amazon, Frontier Shop, Pinterest, Beli.comStaecker at English Wikipedia, TwitterGugganij at English Wikipedia, TheKufi.com, Zanzinews, RussoRaffaele.it

References:  Headgear – English Wikipedia, Sogou, Mosaic Law

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