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The question

Can I wear a beret? It's a classic black Spanish one. I'm not in the army.

The answer

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A Roz Chast cartoon in a recent issue of the New Yorker shows a guy wearing a Basque beret (the most common style) in the street. Nobody is really looking at him, but he is thinking angrily to himself, "I'm allowed to wear a beret! Plenty of people all over the world wear a beret!"

The thing is, of course, they don't: Only the very oldest of old men in the smallest of towns in France and Italy still do; the rest of the beret purchasers are either planning a fancy-dress costume (a "painter," usually, with white smock and palette and floppy bow) or hoping to join the Guardian Angels. There is also a small contingent of elderly professors (political science, philosophy, classics) who emulate Jean-Paul Sartre and Che Guevara in pictures from their youth; they're sweet, in their buttoned trench coats, but you don't want to look like them.

In 2010, Armani put classic berets on all the models in a runway show in Milan – it was a Basque-farmboy look that appeared quite tough and relaxed – but they haven't seen a resurgence in high fashion since then.

Paradoxically, berets always look fetching on women. But then most hats do. Guys who have even the slightest fear of appearing clownish should avoid fashion hats altogether.

Russell Smith is a novelist. His recent memoir, Blindsided , is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a fashion question? E-mail

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