Head-dress

In the Beginning, there was the Blue Bonnet.

It was usually knitted from blue wool and similar to your granny’s tea-cosy. the knitter started at the brim and finished at the top, where the loose ends of the wool eventually evolved into the red ‘Tourrie’ or pom-pom that you see today.

The bonnet wasn’t a tailored item but roomy enough to be pulled down over the ears in bad weather. Individual sizing was achieved by means of a string threaded around the brim. This string survives as the diced border and black grosgrain ribbon on today’s bonnets.

The Blue Bonnet was adorned with a broad chequered band when worn by the soldiers of the Highland Regiments. I’ve been told that this red, white and blue (or green) band was inspired by the Stuart arms and thus indicated Government service.

Another authority states that the diced border originated in the pattern of dashes caused by the drawstring threaded around the band. I’m more inclined to believe this story, as the Stuarts formed no part of the government – quite the reverse! – when the diced band was taken into use.

A flat bonnet makes the wearer look smaller than he really is, and looked unmilitary compared to the tall caps worn by Grenadiers. The soldiers therefore ‘cocked’ their flat bonnets into a pillbox shape. This is called a ‘Hummel’ (not ‘humble’) bonnet and when worn with ostrich feathers (in emulation of the Grenadiers) evolved into the Feathered Bonnet – worn with Full Dress by the drummers of the Highland Regiments to this day.

The Glengarry Bonnet is merely a Hummel bonnet pressed flat. It was first worn by the clansmen of Sir Ranaldson MacDonnell of Glengarry in 1822 and was quickly taken into use as it was easier to stow in a soldier’s pack.

The Man Himself: Colonel Alastair Ranaldson MacDonnell of Glengarry (1771-1828). This 1812 portrait is by Sir Henry Raeburn. He wears a Hummel bonnet. Note that the tartan hose have no top cuff and are held up by red cloth tapes tied in a bow. Note also the ornate dirk and sporran. Copyright National Galleries of Scotland.

The Man Himself: Colonel Alastair Ranaldson MacDonnell of Glengarry (1771-1828). This 1812 portrait is by Sir Henry Raeburn. He wears a Hummel bonnet. Note that the tartan hose have no top cuff and are held up by red cloth tapes tied in a bow. Note also the ornate dirk and sporran. Copyright National Galleries of Scotland.

September 1914: While they wait for their appointment with destiny, the Officers, NCOs and Men of "C" Company, Liverpool Scottish Regiment show us the correct way to wear the Glengarry Bonnet.

September 1914: While they wait for their appointment with destiny, the Officers, NCOs and Men of “C” Company, Liverpool Scottish Regiment show us the correct way to wear the Glengarry Bonnet. Note also that the officers are head-and shoulders taller than the Other Ranks. Such was the effect of ‘diet’ in the Industrial Revolution upon what had been the tallest race in Europe…

There is a popular story that the glengarry bonnet represents a story – the sides of the bonnet are the hills surrounding the glen, the tails are the stream that runs through it, the red Tourrie is the blood shed there, and the chequered border are the men who fell.

It’s a pretty tale, but I’m going to make a loud raspberry sound and suggest that someone should go easier on the romantic novels.

The Blue Bonnet, as worn by a highland soldier ca. 1715
The Blue Bonnet,
as worn by a highland soldier
ca. 1715
The ‘Hummel’ bonnet
Col. Hugh Montgomerie
ca. 1778
The Feathered bonnet
Piper Donald Muir
1856

Choosing what to wear:

Unfortunately, the expensive glengarries and balmorals are the only ones worth buying. The cheap ones have a cardboard stiffener that quickly goes to pieces, whereas the expensive ones have a jute stiffener and will last for decades.

You can tell the difference between the two as follows: The diced border is often not centred on the ‘cheapies’, and if you bend it sharply you can feel the cardboard crease under your fingers. The expensive bonnet can be crumpled up and then smoothed out again without lasting effect.

The glengarry bonnet has grown ‘taller’ in recent years – it’s grown back to how it looked in the 1830′s - but not everyone appreciates the ‘Mr. Canoe-head’ effect!

I’m working with a local milliner to re-create the low-crown glengarry. I’ll keep you posted.

Pin your Clan crest or regimental badge (if so entitled) on the black cockade and/or tuck a piece of your clan’s plant badge under it.

The feathered bonnet should only be worn by bandsmen and soldiers of the highland regiments with their full dress.

Cleaning your (glengarry or balmoral) bonnet:

You should only do this if you’ve somehow made your bonnet filthy, or if like me you wear it almost on a daily basis.

If your feathered bonnet gets filthy, let it dry out and then carefully pick the visible dirt off with your fingers. DO NOT use the following procedure to clean (ruin) your feathered bonnet!

Warning:
If you put any of your highland kit into the washer and/or dryer (except maybe your shirt) you will ruin it and then you will get to go buy another one.

You should not have to do this often and this only applies to the expensive ones, as the cheapies will fall to pieces if you try to clean them.

Take your badge off your bonnet.

Scour out your bathroom sink (‘coz if it’s like mine, there’s some toothpaste and beard-hair along the side!) and half-fill it with tepid (no warmer than your own body temperature) water. Lay a couple of thick towels nearby.

Immerse your bonnet and knead it gently but thoroughly. Take it out and rub some unscented hand soap (‘Ivory’ is my choice) into the fabric with your fingers. Immerse your bonnet and knead it again.

Change the water as it becomes dirty. You will be astonished/utterly appalled at how filthy it gets.

Repeat the ‘immerse and knead’ cycle until you are satisfied.

Squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands. Avoid any wringing action, as your bonnet will look much older in consequence (although if you are trying to look like an old-timer…)

Lay the bonnet between the folds of a towel and squeeze. The simplest way is to just sit on the thing. Change towels when you need to.

You could lay the glengarry on a dry towel in the shade until dry, but the best way to dry a bonnet is to put it on, shape it with your hands and then wear it until it is dry.