18th Century Men’s Caps

Last updated: Nov 27, 2021

Sue Felshin describes two kinds of caps: “A working man’s cap is generally plain fabric with the bottom turned up to form a brim all the way around, or knitted. An upper class man may wear a cap (which could be called a ‘night cap’) as ‘undress’ when he is not wearing his wig. A man’s cap is generally made in one of three styles: in four quarters sewn together like a modern baseball cap but with a brim turned up all around (often with the top edge of the brim shaped decoratively) (this is how working men’s caps are made, without decoratively shaped brims), in a tube (a rectangle with two opposite sides seamed together) cinched together near the top with a ribbon or some such and with a brim turned up at the bottom, or a turban form.”

This page also has sections for knit caps and the “tied tube” style.

Night caps

Colonial Williamsburg calls these “negligé caps”: “The negligé cap was a small informal cap often, though not always, worn to accompany a banyan. For some men it served to cover a shaved head when the wig was removed, others wore them over their own hair. Made in a variety of materials, these caps were often embroidered. It could be constructed in different ways, the most usual of which was to be cut in wedge-shaped quarters with a turned-up band.”

(For 16th and 17th century caps in this style, see Elizabethan and Early Jacobean Men’s Nightcaps.)

  • MFA 38.1308, silk embroidery, Italy, late 17th or early 18th century
  • Met 26.231.9, linen embroidered with silk, 17th-18th century
  • PMA 1909-113, Venice, late 17th or early 18th century; yellow silk embroidered with silks and metal threads, with metallic braid outlining panels
  • Manchester 1952.123, linen with silk embroidery in chain stitch and hexagonal backstitches, England, c. 1675-1700
  • Manchester 2012.82, England, c. 1675-1700; “White linen cap in the chinoiserie style; with a stitched ground of vermicular lines in bright yellow silk. Embroidered with the main design, also in acid yellow, mainly in chain stitch in a bold design of scallop shells. Domed crown in 4 sections; wide turned up, peaked brim with meandering floral embroidery as an edging; cap is unlined.”
  • MFA 38.1298, green velvet with padded gold satin stitch, Italy, c. 1675-1725
  • MFA 43.309, gold thread on green velvet, France
  • Snowshill Wade Costume Collection National Trust 1348949, c. 1700-1720; “Medici crimson silk velvet. Interlining wool, lining black silk. Cuff lined with old rose coloured twilled silk. Made in two sections gathered at top. Deep, shaped cuff. Cuff embroidered in silver thread in clumsy design. Silver thread tassel at top.”
  • MFA 43.1053, coral-pink satin with metal-thread embroidery
  • MRAH/IRPA 20049258, a linen cap embroidered with wools, and trimmed with lace
  • Met 1986.106.13, yellow silk with metal-thread embroidery, Italy, early 18th century
  • Christie’s Lot 94 / Sale 5982, a French gentleman’s night cap, early 18th century; ivory silk embroidered with flowers in silk, and silver thread scrolls (and grapes in silver paillettes?)
  • MFA 38.1307, white satin embroidered with orange silk and trimmed with metallic lace, France, early 18th century
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1991-496, c. 1700: “Man's cap of golden yellow ribbed silk, embroidered in yellow silk satin stitches and knots and couched silver metallic threads. Design consists of scrolls enclosing strapwork or basketweave pattern with additional stylized flowers and leaves. Cap has high rounded crown cut from two pieces of fabric with the addition of two darts to shape the curve. Cuffs angle out to peaks. Cap is lined with cream color finely ribbed silk; cuff self lined.”
  • Cooper Hewitt 1951-105-30, an 18th century nightcap in silk with metal-thread embroidery
  • Snowshill Wade Costume Collection National Trust 1348925, 1680-1699; “Fine linen top with coarse linen backing. Unlined. Made in four sections with shaped turn up brim slit at sides. Tall shape wtih upstanding linen tag on top. Vaguely quilted in straight lines with large running stitches.”
  • DHM KT 97/108, white linen with whitework embroidery and quilting, England, c. 1700
  • Manchester 1948.1, linen in whitework and drawn-thread work, England, c. 1700-1725
  • MRAH/IRPA 20049572 and 20049573, white linen caps with whitework embroidery, c. 1701-1750
  • Snowshill Wade Costume Collection National Trust 1348924, c. 1700-1759; “Fine linen top and coarse linen backing. Lined with white linen. Made in four sections with 3.25 inch (83 mm) - 4 inch (102 mm) turnup brim. Dawstring at base of headpiece. Quilted with white cotton thread. Design outlined with back stitched and waved ground in running stitch. Although designed for cord tie, two close lines made the cord unnecessary. Worked linen button at top intersection.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1375, England or France, linen embroidery on linen fabric with linen bobbin lace and linen lining, c. 1730-1760
  • MFA 43.318, whitework embroidery, France
  • MFA 43.307, France, early 18th century
  • FIT 2007.30.1, silk damask brocade with metallic lace and cording; France, c. 1700-1725
  • Man’s brocaded silk undress cap, early 18th century; “The crimson red satin damask is brocaded with polychrome silk and silver filé and frisé threads; red and gold metallic cord and gold lace trim the edges of the crown and the brim; and the silk tassel adds an exotic touch. The cap is lined in green cotton, diamond quilted with red silk thread. The sculptural shape is achieved with a stiff interlining, probably of heavy paper.”
  • MFA 43.316, embroidered, France
  • V&A 528-1898, handpainted silk, Italy, c. 1700-1730
  • Christie’s Lot 244 / Sale 9662, “a gentleman’s night cap, of raspberry silk, brocaded in coloured silks and metal thread with 'bizarre' fruit and flowers, with a deep crimson velvet brim lined in salmon silk, first half 18th century”
  • MFA 38.1315, blue silk embroidered with straw, France, c. 1700-1750
  • MFA 43.310, France
  • Met C.I.46.9.224, silk embroidery on green silk, Germany, c. 1700-1750
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1382, silk and metallic threads on silk fabric, probably Italy, c. 1730-1750
  • Meg Andrews 5786, a brocade man’s cap, edged with metallic bobbin lace, c. 1715-1720
  • Snowshill Wade Costume Collection National Trust 1348950, 1740-1760; “Shot silk in green/yellow making bronze. Interlined with hessian, lined with striped sateen. Round cap made in 4 sections. Plain round cuff. Covered button on top.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1378, white silk embroidery on green silk, probably made in Italy, c. 1700-1730
  • Meg Andrews 12/2020, Italy, first half of the 18th century; “Domed crown in four curving segments connected by narrow mesh panels, with deep peaked brim, the panels and brim worked with Oriental shaped flowers, their centres in mesh, achieved by silk wrapped linen? thread, outlined with similar silk wrapped linen? thread couched to the blue green silk ground, with floss silks leaves, a small silk wrapped button to the crown, unlined”
  • Met C.I.39.13.278, white crown, peach brim, polychrome and metal-thread embroidery, France, 1720
  • MFA 43.312, crown in white silk taffeta, brim in yellow-green silk taffeta, polychrome and metal-thread embroidery, France
  • MFA 43.313, white silk taffeta with polychrome floral embroidery in “satin, stem, knot, bullion knot and chain stitches”; “Brim edged with gold bobbin lace; small tassel of gold bobbin lace at top center of cap crown”; France
  • MFA 43.311, patterned silk satin with polychrome silk and metal-thread embroidery, first half of the 18th century
  • MFA 1973.486, England, c. 1700-1750; “Undyed plain woven linen ground embroidered with yellow-green, dark green and vermillion silk yarns and satin stitches in back. Pattern of floral blossoms on stems in baskets on background of random undilating line. Worked in three pieces; wide border at bottom cap, dome-shaped body of cap with four points, and conical finial attached to top of cap.”
  • MFA 64.13, embroidered in blue silks on linen, New England; “Worked with pale blue silks on natural colored fine linen in variety of stitches including satin, stem, split, buttonhole, speckling and outline. Design of floral sprigs and undulating floral vine at bottom border. When worn, shape resembles a dome with four points; when stored, shape is rectangular and flat. Ornamental cone of fabric is attached at center top.”
  • Met 1980.444.4, silk and metal thread on blue silk fabric, Switzerland, c. 1700-1725
  • LACMA M.81.97.12, silk and metal-thread embroidery and metallic-thread lace on green silk fabric, Switzerland, c. 1725-1750
  • MFA 38.1281, knit linen, Italy
  • LACMA M.61.6, a “man’s at-home cap” with silk and metal-thread embroidery on a silk woven with supplementary warp-float patterning, France, c. 1725-1775
  • Designs for nightcaps in Margaretha Helm’s Kunst-und Fleiss-übende Nadel-Ergötzungen, c. 1725: V&A E.3393-1932, a quilted floral motif; V&A E.3394-1932, a floral motif in drawn-thread work; another pattern
  • Snowshill Wade Costume Collection National Trust 1348948, c. 1700-1720; “Sky grey finely-ribbed silk. Lined with begonia grosgrain. High pointed cap, cut in two pieces with wide shaped cuff edged with silver lace. Cap embroidered with sprigs of naturalistic flowers in polychrome silks and silver thread.”
  • V&A 711-1899, silk embroidered in silks and metal threads, Italy, 1740s
  • MFA 43.1051, brown musseline de soie embroidered with colored silks, France
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1991-499, c. 1740-1760: “Man's cap of polychrome silk needlework flowers and scrolls on brown ribbed silk, lined with striped silk and cotton with an inner stiffening of paper composed on pages cut from a history text.”
  • Rijksmuseum BK-1978-792, a chintz cap, mid-18th century. “The design on this chintz was probably developed in the Netherlands. The decorative motif is clearly meant to take account of the four-part pattern of the crown and the upturned rim on which the cap was based.”
  • MFA 43.308, France; “Ground: crown, gray blue velvet with stamped floral pattern; brim, red velvet. Design: in each section of crown roughly trefoil shaped ornaments of appliqué red velvet and silk and metal brocade, pendant from appliqué narrow gold ribbon; tape with minute metal rectangular repeat over seams; rosette at top of gold fleur de lis motifs, from center of rosette a gold cord ending in large red silk tassel; on brim silver oak leaves and acorns in high relief appliqué. Lined with red silk taffeta.”
  • MFA 38.1297, white linen embroidered with silk and silver threads, France, c. 1750-1800
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1952-53, England or France, c. 1760-1780: “Domed cap with turned up cuff; chain stitch embroidery of floral sprays in varicolored silks; edged with bobbin lace.”
  • MFA 43.315, polychromatic embroidery, France
  • MFA 43.314, silk and metal-thread embroidery, France

The “tied tube” linen cap

Additional Resources

Linen Night Cap in Kannik’s Korner 1740-1830 Men’s Accessories Pattern

For now, I’m organizing these in their own section, since they appear to have been worn as gentlemen’s night caps or as working men’s caps, depending on the context. They both seem to be roughly the same style – a white round cap, often cuffed along the bottom, with a cinched-in bit at the top that’s tied off with a ribbon. This is often re-created as a white linen tube that’s tied off at the top, as Ruth Hodges describes: “Cut a rectangle of linen slightly longer than the circumference of the man’s head. Seam the ends together so it’s a tube, open on top and bottom. Get a piece of cord (I used hemp) and tie up one end about an inch or so from the top. Roll up the lower opening a bit and voila, you have a cap.”

Analysis of the examples below (and William Cowper’s cap) suggests that more seaming and curving/shaping was probably going on, for a more fitted cap with less fullness in the pleating at the top.

Knit caps

Working men’s cloth caps

Sue Felshin describes a pattern for this sort of cap: “Take medium weight cloth and cut four eye-shaped pieces. Each should be wide enough at the middle to go a quarter of the way around your head (plus a ½ inch seam allowance at each side). Each should be long enough to go from wherever you want the edge of the cap to the top of your head, plus one inch for the brim, plus twice that whole amount so you have both inside and lining. If you have a baseball cap, you can use that as a guide, but a workmans’s cap should sit a little looser on your head – it should sit a little lower and stick up a little higher – so the pieces should be a bit longer. Sew them together into a football shape, leaving one seam open for a couple of inches. Turn the cap right side out through the gap and sew the gap closed. Make one end of the ‘football’ into the lining by pushing that end up into the other. Fold up an inch of the edge for a brim and stick it on your head. The simplest way to find out how to curve the pieces is to cut rectangles at first, pin them together, stick them on your head, move the pins in until you like the fit, and then cut a little outside of the pins (for the seam allowance).”

Some extant examples of basic linen 2-panel cloth caps include Colonial Williamsburg 1999-216 and Crocker Farm May 4 2013 Lot 200. There's also a fairly simple cloth cap (presumably linen) in Paul Sandby’s sketch of Noel Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois.