A soft, brimless cap, round in shape, the useful beret (from the Latin birretum, meaning "cap") has been worn by many different peoples from ancient times into the twenty-first century. Usually made from sturdy wool felt, a strong fabric that prevents the passage of wind and water, the beret is designed with a tight-fitting crown that helps hold the hat on the head without the use of elastic. Simple in design, yet offering excellent protection from cold, wind, and rain, the beret has been traced back as far as early cultures on the Greek island of Crete, around 1500 B.C.E. . The beret was the most popular men's hat during the late Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500 C.E. ) and into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially in France, Italy, and Spain.
French legend credits the biblical hero Noah with the creation of the beret, holding that Noah discovered that the wool used to waterproof the ark had been trampled by the animals into a tough felt fabric, which he then made into a weatherproof hat. Another story says that it was medieval shepherds who invented the hat by exposing knitted wool to the weather until it swelled and became solid felt. The real origin of the beret style is lost in history, but the hat became popular headgear during the Middle Ages. It was not only warm but practical too, because it kept the hair out of the face and stayed firmly on the head, yet it had no brim to get in the way of a shooter's aim. For these reasons, the beret is still a popular choice for special military uniforms.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.