What Is the Fascinating History of the Bearskin Hat?

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Here are the key takeaways on the history of the bearskin hat:

  • The bearskin hat dates back to the mid-17th century when European grenadiers first wore them. Their use fell into disuse until revived in the late 18th century.
  • Grenadiers in the British, Spanish, and French armies began wearing tall fur hats in the 1700s to add height and impressiveness.
  • The British Army adopted bearskin caps after their 1815 victory at the Battle of Waterloo for guards regiments.
  • Today, bearskin caps remain in use by grenadier and guard units in several armies, including 5 British Army foot guard regiments.
  • Bearskins are made from pelts sourced from legal, licensed hunting in Canada as authorized by provincial and territorial governments.


The bearskin hat is one of the most recognizable symbols of elite ceremonial military units across the world. With its distinctive tall, furry form perched high atop a soldier’s head, this unique headgear has an allure and appeal like no other. But what are the origins of this remarkable cap, and how did it come to have such an esteemed place in military tradition?

This article will comprehensively trace the fascinating history of the bearskin hat from its earliest appearances to its continued use in modern times. Key topics include the emergence of bearskins in 17th and 18th century European armies, the adoption of the hats by grenadiers to enhance their impressive presence, the British Army’s embrace of bearskins after the Battle of Waterloo, and the endurance of the bearskin in numerous foot guard and ceremonial units today.

With rich detail and through examples, this piece will uncover the storied past of the bearskin hat and provide intriguing insights into how this singular fur cap became an iconic military symbol over the centuries. Readers will gain valuable perspective on the evolution and heritage of bearskin hats along with their distinguished place in ceremonial dress customs.

What Is the Fascinating History of the Bearskin Hat?

When Did Soldiers First Begin Wearing Bearskin Hats?

The bearskin hat has a long history of use by military forces in Europe and beyond. But when did soldiers first begin incorporating these conspicuous fur caps into ceremonial and battle dress?

The earliest evidence of bearskin hats being worn in a military context dates to the mid-17th century during the Thirty Years War. Grenadiers serving in various European armies at this time are depicted wearing fur caps, sometimes folded or creased lengthwise. However, the practice of sporting bearskins appears to have fallen into disuse until their revival over a century later.

It was not until the second half of the 18th century that bearskin hats became more widely seen again among grenadiers and elite infantry units. For example, French grenadiers are described as wearing bearskins as early as 1761 during the Seven Years War. Other European armies soon followed suit, and bearskins became standard headgear for grenadiers in the British, Spanish, and French forces.

Why Did Grenadiers Wear Bearskin Hats?

But what prompted grenadiers and other specialized forces to don such conspicuous headgear on the battlefield? The adoption of bearskin hats seems to have been driven by both practical and symbolic motivations.

On a practical level, the tall bearskin hats added significantly to the stature and imposing presence of grenadiers. Grenadiers were typically selected for their size and strength, but the lofty bearskin caps magnified their physical impressiveness even more. This added height and bulk served an intimidating purpose, especially for troops often leading assaults or manning defensive positions.

Symbolically, the bearskin represented the elite status and prowess of these soldiers. Grenadiers saw themselves as the most formidable forces on the battlefield, and their specialized caps visually reinforced this identity and ferocity. The dramatic bearskins marked them as elite shock troops to be feared and respected.

So by issuing bearskins to grenadiers, armies could both enhance the physical intimidation factor of these units as well as their elite esprit de corps and morale. The hats effectively combined practicality with psychological warfare.

How Did the British Army Adopt the Bearskin Hat?

While various European armies incorporated bearskins in the 18th century, the British Army’s strong association with this headgear stems from the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

At Waterloo, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards played a pivotal role in defeating Napoleon’s forces. To reward and commemorate their crucial service, the Foot Guards were granted the honor of wearing the bearskin caps on guard duty outside royal residences such as Buckingham Palace.

The British Army also established these headpieces as standard gear for the prestigious Grenadier Guards after Waterloo. Britain’s victory over Napoleon transformed the bearskin into a symbol of military achievement and national pride for the British Army and people.

So while other European armies sported bearskins before, the British uniquely embraced the bearskin as an enduring symbol of their triumph and status due to the Grenadier Guard’s performance at Waterloo. The bearskin became special headgear specifically representing British military achievement.

Which Modern Military Units Still Wear Bearskins?

While no longer standard battlefield wear, the distinctive bearskin hat endures as a ceremonial uniform item for numerous military forces in the present day. Grenadier and guard units across multiple countries preserve the bearskin as part of their storied regimental traditions.

In the British Army, five regiments of foot guards still wear the bearskin during state ceremonies and special events: the Grenadier Guards, Welsh Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards, and Coldstream Guards. The British Army procurers its bearskin pelts from licensed hunters in Canada.

Guard regiments in Belgium, Italy, Chile, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Russia, and other nations also maintain the bearskin as part of their ceremonial dress. So this unique fur hat remains an iconic fixture in numerous armies worldwide, symbolizing elite status and historic traditions.

Why Do Some Oppose the Continued Use of Bearskin Hats?

Despite its long heritage, the use of real bearskin hats has become controversial to some people and groups who view it as unethical and a relic of the past. Animals rights organizations like PETA argue that killing bears for unnecessary military caps is cruel and environmentally destructive.

They advocate for faux bear fur or other materials to be used instead. They also contend bearskins glorify war and violence. As public attitudes shift, opposition to bear fur may pressure some armed forces to eventually transition away from real bearskin hats.

However, defenders of the bearskin argue these ethical criticisms are misplaced. They point out the bear fur is procured from legal, regulated, licensed hunts in a sustainable way. The ceremonial caps actually prevent waste from an essential culling of bear populations. But ethical debates will likely continue around the appropriate use of real fur for bearskins.


In summary, the bearskin hat has a long and storied history stretching back to the mid-17th century when European grenadiers first donned them for added height and intimidation. Their use dwindled but was revived in the late 18th century as bearskins became standard gear for grenadiers across various armies.

The British Army closely associated itself with the bearskin after the Battle of Waterloo when the Grenadier Guard’s victory earned them the right to wear these caps. Today, bearskins remain an integral part of ceremonial military dress in numerous countries, from the UK to Russia to Chile and more. Yet some ethical opposition to real fur may pressure armed forces to eventually transition to artificial bearskin alternatives.

Regardless, this unique fur hat continues to represent elite status and military tradition around the world due to its distinctive history. The bearskin cap remains one of the most iconic symbols of ceremonial guards and grenadiers hundreds of years after its initial adoption. Its past reveals a fascinating evolution from practical battlefield gear to coveted cultural symbol.

Frequently Asked Questions About the History of Bearskin Hats

When did European armies first adopt bearskin hats?

The earliest evidence dates to the mid-17th century during the Thirty Years War, when European grenadiers began wearing tall fur caps. However, this practice fell into disuse until bearskins were widely revived in the late 18th century among grenadier units in the British, French, and other armies.

Why did grenadiers originally wear bearskin caps?

Grenadiers wore bearskins for both practical and symbolic reasons. The tall hats increased their height and intimidating presence. The bearskins also marked their elite status as specialized shock troops.

How did the British Army come to embrace the bearskin hat?

The British Army adopted the bearskin for the Grenadier Guards and foot guard regiments after their crucial victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The bearskin became a symbol of British military achievement.

Which modern military units still incorporate bearskin hats?

Bearskins remain part of ceremonial dress for grenadier and guard units in the British Army, Belgium, Italy, Chile, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and more. Five British foot guard regiments still wear them for special events.

Why do some people oppose the continued use of real bearskin hats?

Some animal rights activists view using real bear fur as unethical, cruel, and environmentally harmful. They advocate for artificial fur alternatives. But defenders argue the fur comes from legal, regulated hunting and prevents waste.

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