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Hats off to Robin! – How the outlaw’s headwear became such an iconic symbol

 There are many types of recognisable headgear that instantly identify the group the wearer belongs to - including the cowboy's stetson, the knight's armoured helmet, the pirate's bandana, the fireman's hard-hat and the American Indian's head-dress etc. - but the one item of headwear that immediately establishes an association with a single person's name is the traditional Robin Hood Hat!

The familiar, triangular-shaped cloth cap with a feather in it has become an iconic and recognisable item of clothing that universally identifies the wearer as "Robin Hood"! Historians tell us that it was probably originally designed as a practical piece of medieval headgear used primarily by foresters, as its slim forward-pointing brim avoided it catching the string of their longbows when firing an arrow. The simplicity of the style, with some decorative additions, later saw the hat evolve into the mainstream fashion of the period. The familiar shaped hat has also been used as the distinguishing feature on numerous illustrations and commercial brands ranging from the giant US Walmart supermarket chain to, at a more local level, "The Nottingham" building society and it is frequently worn by campaigners for social justice such as Oxfam's Robin Hood Tax initiative and representative groups such as the California Nurses Association.

One of the most famous uses of the hat "brand" is by the Robin Hood Flour Company based in Saskatchewan, Canada, who first introduced it on their stylised logo when the business was founded in 1909. In fact, the flour brand became so well known as a household name in North America that the original logo was actually used as the reference that inspired Errol Flynn's iconic hat and costume for Warner Brothers classic 1938 movie "The Adventures of Robin Hood".

Another, somewhat unusual, Hollywood connection was recounted by film star, Katharine Hepburn in her memoirs of the making of the 1951, Oscar nominated movie, "The African Queen." She recalls being on location in Uganda, South Africa and on a break from filming, accompanying her co-star, Humphrey Bogart and director, John Huston on an expedition into the bush. Describing the party setting-off, she states, "We were walking along in single file, each one carrying his own things. We were led by the black native that knew this country. He carried a sort of spear about six or seven feet long. He was naked except for a pair of vey short shorts and he wore a dark-green Robin Hood hat, pointed in crown and in brim."

There are of course literally hundreds of pubs, inns and hotels with Robin Hood related names and on the pictorial signs that usually hang outside these establishments, Robin is frequently shown wearing the characteristic hat with a feather and, on some of the older signs, the artists often disproportionately over-emphasised the size of the feather, making the hat look more like a cavalier's headwear from the English Civil War!

Over the centuries that the Robin Hood tales have been told and re-told, the Robin Hood Hat has been the simplest of costumes by which to define the character and has become an essential stock wardrobe item in schools, amateur dramatic productions and theatre and repertory companies. Easy to make and store - yet instantly recognisable.

It has also proved indispensable to cartoonists who found that by just adding a simply drawn Robin Hood hat to their illustrations the figures quickly conveyed the context of the character they were trying to create. So whether they were a political satirist depicting David Cameron as the "Sheriff of Notting Hill" or Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny on a Sherwood Forest caper in an animated film short, showing them wearing a Robin Hood hat with feather immediately put their drawings in character.

However, not everyone saw the traditional hat in an attractive light. To some it seemed twee and hackneyed and (excuse the pun!) old hat and a look-back at a few of the more recent portrayals of Robin Hood on the big and small screen shows that Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Patrick Bergin and Jonas Armstrong preferred to ditch the iconic Errol Flynn headgear as being out-dated and old-fashioned. Perhaps they felt it was not masculine enough for a hard-hitting, modern day film hero and so their costumes incorporated the use of a hood or cowl, more in keeping with the outlaw's name and ability to slip un-recognised into the safety of Sherwood Forest.

But the Robin Hood hat still remains a firm favourite with the general public ; a fact that is confirmed by its popularity as a top-selling visitor souvenir and fancy dress costume. So, whether it's young boys wearing one to act out their hero in a wooden sword fight or "big boys" with one jauntily perched on their heads on a Nottingham Stag Night, the Robin Hood hat still survives and is here to stay!

Additional suggested panel: A FEATHER IN HIS CAP!

The most essential and recognisable feature of a traditional Robin Hood hat is, of course, the feather and the origins of this symbolic decoration lie in a general world-wide custom adopted by hunters and warriors. The forester who killed his first game-bird signified the honour of his achievement by putting a single feather in his cap, just as the American Indians added a feather to their head dress for every enemy slain and many other tribes and civilisations throughout history had similar practices.

However, the recent "Feather In Your Cap" Awards promoted by the World Wide Robin Hood Society reflect a more docile and non-violent use of the popular phrase! The new quarterly awards are made to business and commerce in recognition of the innovative use of links with the Robin Hood legend in marketing and promotion practice and the winners receive a framed certificate that features a specially commissioned logo with a distinctive Robin Hood hat with a feather!