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Tartan tam o' shanters

A tam o' shanter (in the British military often abbreviated TOS or tam) is a 19th-century traditional Scottish bonnet worn by men. It is named after Tam o' Shanter, the eponymous hero of the poem by Robert Burns, of 1790.[1]


The tam o'shanter's cap is normally constructed in cylindrical fashion out of six "pie segments" of woolen fabric and is attached to a one-inch headband of the same material. is the bonnet that was first worn throughout northwestern Europe during the 15th century. It is made of wool and has a toorie in the centre. It also has as a main hallmark the clan tartan woven into its woollen threads. This distinguishes it from other bonnets such as the beret. Although brimless, the tam o'shanter, like all Scots bonnets, has an external hatband.

Before the introduction of inexpensive chemical dyes in the mid-19th century, the Scottish bonnet was made only in black, brown or blue cloth, the blue kind dyed with woad or indigo ("blue bonnets").[1] Now it is available in a wide variety of colors, as well as tartan. Women have also adopted a form of this hat known as a “tammy” or “tam.” The original form of the Balmoral bonnet and the Glengarry in Highland dress, the tam o' shanter is now best known as the headgear of a number of Scottish infantry regiments and those with Scottish affiliations.

Military use

A khaki Balmoral bonnet was introduced in 1915 for wear in the trenches by Scottish infantry serving on the Western Front. This came to be known as the bonnet, or tam o' shanter later abbreviated among military personnel to ToS. It replaced the Glengarry – a dark blue cap with coloured dicing which had been worn with khaki field dress by Highland regiments during the early months of the war. Today, the Royal Regiment of Scotland and some regiments of the Canadian Forces continue to wear the ToS as undress and working headgear. The various battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland identify themselves by wearing distinctive coloured hackles on their bonnets. The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland wear a red hackle in their ToS as do soldiers of The Black Watch of Canada on both their duty ToS and dress balmorals.

Some regiments of the Canadian Army wear different coloured toories: the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada have traditionally worn dark green; The North Nova Scotia Highlanders wore red toories during the Second World War; and the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders wore blue. Most regiments, however, wear a khaki toorie, matching the bonnet. In many Canadian regiments it is traditional for soldiers to wear a ToS, while officers (and in some cases senior non-commissioned officers) wear the Glengarry or the Balmoral.

The tam o' shanter was traditionally worn by various regiments of the Australian Army which have a Scottish connection. B (Scottish) Company 5th/6th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment[2] wore both a khaki and blue bonnet at various stages. It appears this has now been superseded by the Glengarry.[3]

Academic tam

The velvet academic tam worn with a tassel is part of the ceremonial dress used at many universities to distinguish those holding the Ph.D. from those holding other academic degrees. Although referred to as a "tam", the academic tam derives from the Tudor bonnet rather than the Scottish tam o' shanter, and the cap is constructed of two pieces of either six- or eight-pointed cuts of fabric attached to a headband rather than the pie segments used in a tam o' shanter.[4]

Fashion tam

The tam, or tam cap, became a fashionable women's accessory from the early 1920s and was derived from the tam o' shanter. It followed the trends for closer fitting hats and for borrowing from men's fashion.[5][6]

See also

  • Bonnet (disambiguation)
  • Flat cap


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