Cockades: Hat Decorations

Cockades are hat decorations. They were worn mainly on cocked hats commonly called tricorns or bicorns, fashionable from the 1600s until the mid-1800s. They are also sometimes called rosettes. They comprise, usually of a button, sometimes a strap, and some ribbon. At first they were used to add color to headgear. Eventually, people began to wear colors and designs that marked, familial, national, or political affiliation. So that a particular cockade could be very controversial. During the French Revolution the type of cockade worn by a person could even mean life or death!

The tricorn hat is a three cornered hat, basically a round hat with the sides brought up and attached to the crown. Today, they are often thought of as "pirate hats" and worn with costumes. In the 1700s they became so widely popular that they were often made part of military uniforms. Cockades were an integral part of the cocked hat. In most paintings cockades were shown attached to the left side of the hat.

Cocked hats were first mentioned as a bonnet a la coquarde by Rabelais, a French play-write. The name cocked hat could come from either its resemblance to a coxcomb on a rooster, or the fact that it was often worn cocked to one side.

In the French Revolution the side supporting the king wore a white cockade in their hats. The revolutionary forces wore one that was red, white, and blue. Feelings ran so high during the "Reign of Terror" that wearing a white cockade could get a person's head removed by the guillotine.

In America, during the revolutionary war, a black cockade was worn by the Americans seeking independence, even though it was the color worn by the house of Hanover (of which King George III was a member). During a brief interval, when uniforms were in short supply in the Continental army, different color cockades were used on the caps of officers to as an insignia of rank.

After the revolution Federalists often wore black cockades while the Francophile Jeffersonian party wore red, white, and blue. By the mid to late 1800s cockades began to go out of style. In the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica the cockade is mentioned mainly as a badge of domestic service. Today, cockades are seldom seen except in historical or traditional dress. Insignia on military caps are still sometimes referred to as cockades.

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