A beret is a soft, round, flat-crowned cap, usually of woven, hand-knitted wool, crocheted cotton, wool felt, or acrylic fiber. Mass production of berets began in 19th century France and Spain, and the beret remains associated with these countries. Berets are worn as part of the uniform of many military and police units worldwide, as well as by other organizations.
Archaeology and art history indicate that headgear similar to the modern beret has been worn since the Bronze Age across Northern Europe and as far south as ancient Crete and Italy, where it was worn by the Minoans, Etruscans, and Romans. Such headgear has been popular among the nobility and artists across Europe throughout modern history.
The Basque-style beret was the traditional headgear of Aragonese and Navarrian shepherds from the Ansó and Roncal valleys of the Pyrenees, a mountain range that divides southern France from northern Spain. The commercial production of Basque-style berets began in the 17th century in the Oloron-Sainte-Marie area of southern France. Originally a local craft, beret-making became industrialized in the 19th century. The first factory, Beatex-Laulhere, claims production records dating back to 1810. By the 1920s, berets were associated with the working classes in a part of France and Spain, and by 1928 more than 20 French factories and some Spanish and Italian factories produced millions of berets.
In Western fashion, men and women have worn the beret since the 1920s as sportswear and later as a fashion statement.
Military berets were first adopted by the French Chasseurs Alpins in 1889. After seeing these during the First World War, British General Hugh Elles proposed the beret for use by the newly formed Royal Tank Regiment, which needed headgear that would stay on while climbing in and out of the small capches of tanks. They were approved for use by King George V in 1924. Another possible origin of the RTR beret is that it was suggested to Alec Gatehouse by Eric Dorman-Smith. While the two officers were serving at Sandhurst in 1924, Gatehouse, who had transferred to the Royal Tank Corps, had been given the task of designing a practical headgear for the new corps.