TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The History of Pompoms on Hats

The pompom on your winter hat may be just for decoration, but in the past there were more practical reasons for the embellishment.

The pompom hat’s origins can be traced back to Scandinavia from the age of the Vikings (800 – 1066). The Viking god Freyr is depicted wearing a hat or helmet with a pompom on it in a statuette that was discovered in 1904 on the farm Rällinge in Södermanland, Sweden. In an article written by archaeologist Neil Price included in the text Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes & Interactions, Price says, of the statuette, “The figure is wearing a helmet and a bracelet on each wrist, all of which are highly deliberate design inclusions and therefore not without meaning.”


Later European soldiers wore hats with pompoms on them that signified which regiments to which they belonged as well as rank. In Rome, clergymen wore square-peaked caps called birettas. The color of the pompom that crowned each biretta signified the wearer’s order.


As a decorative item, at the time of the Great Depression, floppy berets topped with a bright red pompom known as a toorie became popular in Scotland. Compared with tassels and jeweled trinkets, the pompom was an economically sound embellishment, as it could be scrapped together with leftover yarn.


Finally, sailors used to wear hats with pompoms on them to protect them from bumping their heads in tight spaces or when the seas were rough.