Ten things about berets

Malema's use of the beret indicates that he is in political-activist mode. (Delwyn Verasamy, MG)

Malema's use of the beret indicates that he is in political-activist mode. (Delwyn Verasamy, MG)

1.  Malema's use of the beret indicates that he is in political-activist mode, as opposed to, say, wearing a purple suit, which would indicate a high-flying-partygoer mode.

2. Berets.com says: "Although worn as military headgear in ancient Greece, the modern origin of the beret is traced to the Basques, people living on both the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrenees.Centuries ago, the Basques were great fishermen and sailors, a fact that might explain the appearance of a very similar hat in Scotland. Both the Scots tam and the beret are woven in one piece without a seam or a binding."

3. The EnglishRussia website, the personal blog of a "young Russian gentleman" informing the world about his homeland and surrounding areas ("Russian-speaking countries"), says: "The red beret is the  uniform cap of the special mission units of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. It is the pride of each special squad soldier. Only those who manage to stand special tests have the right to wear the red beret." It can be granted to soldiers who show courage performing a mission, he adds.

4. In the early part of the 20th ­century, the beret was seen primarily as sporting garment. During World War I, however, the beret became associated with the French Alpine Regiment, which wore a blue Basque beret.

5. The beret was also famously worn by Che Guevara, the poster boy of Latin American revolution. This is probably the Malema association, not the fact that the beret became the headgear of the British Commandos in World War II.

6. The United States Army Special Forces, experts in "unconventional warfare", are called the Green Berets because of their hats. The 1968 movie The Green Berets starred John Wayne. It was also directed by Wayne, with the help of Ray Kellogg.

7. The 1953 movie Paratrooper, originally titled The Red Beret, was about a British attack on a German radar station in 1940.

8. "Can a man get away with a beret if he hasn't won the Man Booker prize?" asked Hadley Freeman in the Guardian last year, concluding that a beret was okay "for special occasions", but no hat was good for a man "on a casual daily basis" (far too "look at me!").

9. Johnny Depp is given as an ­example of beret over-use.

10. This goes against the hopes of French beret-making firm Blancq-Olibet, which said in 2009 that, after a period of decline, the beret was back in a big way, especially among young French people reconnecting with their rural heritage. The firm was perhaps encouraged by the fact that in 2006 the Cuban government ordered 100 000 berets to be worn during the 45th-anniversary celebrations of the revolution.



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