- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001

Pop music funkster Prince immortalized a raspberry-colored one in song. Presidential paramour Monica Lewinsky made a black one lewdly political.
For famed jazzman Dizzy Gillespie, simply wearing the timeless beret made it bebop cool, influencing a whole generation of finger-snapping Daddy-Os who copied his beatnik style.
But now, 618,000 of the quintessentially hip hats are facing an uncertain future at the Pentagon, where the military agency is up to its hush-hush head in a millinery mishap of epic proportions.
The Pentagon last week ordered that no American soldier will wear a Chinese-made beret, and it canceled contracts it had for the headwear with manufacturers in three other foreign countries. Now the Defense Department is looking for the most profitable way to dispense of the $4 million worth of unusable goods.
Some could get sold to military surplus stores, but there are other fashionably civilian options.
In New York Citys Soho area, ground zero for all things au courant, Alison Collins, a saleswoman at The Hat Shop, assures that berets are still fashionable.
"I dont think the beret ever really went out," she said of the headgear that traces its fashion roots all the way back to ancient Greece.
Last winter, berets were "big, big sellers" at her Thompson Street store, where they are available for $20 in a standard felt fabric or can be purchased hand-blocked for a pricey $98.
While black is the standard color, camel and charcoal were most popular, said Miss Collins, who explains that the market for the beret—the intellectuals substitute for the hair-hiding baseball cap—is seemingly endless.
"They are just really easy to wear," she said of the berets popularity. "They dress people up. They are warm."
Not only are they functional, but berets also have earned a solid place in fashion history.
Little girls donned them in the 1940s. Faye Dunaway sported one in the classic 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde." Even the Material Girl herself, Madonna, suited up in a beret in her early days for her "Borderline" music video, a decade before the beret-wearing Miss Lewinsky sidled up to a presidential receiving line to greet her Oval Office flame.
Today, actor Samuel L. Jackson has become the berets latest proponent, with the film star lending his celebrity to the Kangol company by wearing their hats to everything from press junkets to movie premiers.
Away from Hollywood, berets have been worn by police, airline employees and are still today a favorite of marching bands and color guards around the country.
Disgruntled Pentagon purchasing agents should take heart, says Casey Bush, executive director of the Headwear Information Bureau, a New York City organization that provides marketing assistance to milliners all over the nation.
The U.S. millinery market has risen by an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent a year since the mid-80s, she reports, meaning that hats remain a happening trend.
In 2000, she said, retail volume for hat sales hit $962 million — not including sales of baseball caps.
Young women are responsible for much of the resurgence of hat wearing, and many of them, Miss Bush wants the Pentagon to know, are using hats as a way to stand out from the crowd.
A beret, she adds, would give a young woman—or man — instant eye appeal and pizzazz.
"Most everybody can wear a beret," she said. "It goes with most facial shapes. It never goes out of style."
Miss Bush, who has made hats her lifes mission, also offers some suggestions on what the Pentagon might do with its unwanted berets, not so much to recoup its losses, but as a public relations gesture of good will.
"Id give the berets to orphanages, to keep the kids warm," she said. "The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts might want them, too. And all of the patients out there on Medicaid — maybe they could use them."


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