A hood-like hat with a pointed top, the Phrygian cap was introduced to ancient Greece around 500 B.C.E. from the nearby land of Phrygia, in what is now Turkey. The Phrygian people of the sixth and seventh centuries B.C.E. had many influences on ancient Greek culture, among them a tight-fitting cap with a pointed top which angled to the front. The Phrygian cap is brimless, but may have flaps over or in front of the ears, and also sometimes has a long flap in the back to protect the neck. The caps were sometimes made of stiffened fabric or leather, which made it sit up on the head like a helmet, with the pointed top curving towards the front of the head. Other Phrygian caps were made of soft felt, with the point either flattened onto the crown of the cap, hung to the side, or stood up softly. The Phrygian cap was later popular during several different time periods and has been seen on a wide variety of people from French revolutionaries of 1789 to the seven dwarves in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The style is still echoed in some types of modern stocking caps.
The Phrygian cap became popular wear for many Greek men, from soldiers to farmers, and the style continued to spread after Greece was conquered by the Roman Empire in 146 B.C.E. Men continued to wear Phrygian caps at various times throughout the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500 C.E. ), and they rose to tremendous popularity again during the French Revolution, which began in 1789. An ancient Roman custom of giving Phrygian caps to slaves who gained their freedom inspired French revolutionaries to adopt the cap, which they dubbed the "liberty cap." The soft felt cap was dashing enough for freedom fighters, yet simple enough to provide a contrast with the stiff three-cornered, or tricorne, hats of the aristocracy. The Phrygian cap, often made from red cloth, became the symbol of French liberty.
Phrygian caps have continued to be symbols of freedom, and pictures of them are often found on official seals and banners, such as the state seal of West Virginia, the presidential flag of Argentina, and the Treasury seal of Paraguay. A 1992 song by the rock group XTC, "Then She Appeared," describes a woman who appears "Dressed in tricolour [the French flag] and Phrygian cap."
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Sichel, Marion. Costume of the Classical World. New York: Chelsea House, 1980.