The Beret is the only bit of standardly issued military uniform that you tailor yourself and that can have the potential to look unique.
Not everyone looks good in a beret, but first impressions count and you want to make sure yours looks as ally as possible. That means no ‘helicopter landing pads’ or berets covered in fluff.
Certain regiments like the Paras, shape their berets differently to the rest of the Army and wear their cap badge much further round to the left-hand side. But generally, a beret should be worn with the cap badge about an inch above the left eye.
Depending on your head size, you may find an issued beret comes with too much extra material. If this happens, some recruits take the hit and buy a smaller one. But, if you decide to stick with it, make sure whoever is issuing you uniform has taken your head measurement correctly (do not let them guess!) and choose the smallest one you can get away with wearing.
Alternatively, you can shrink your new headdress to fit by using hot water. Similarly, you can stretch the beret's leather band or slice it to open out a little more (but if you do this, make sure it is under the fold and out of sight).
There are two options here with the liner- to cut or not to cut.
Some think it makes the beret look tatty without it and that it helps to maintain the shape if you leave it in. But there are strong opinions that the beret shapes better without the liner.
It is a matter of personal preference. But be warned, cutting the liner out can also get you in trouble if you are still in Phase One or Two training.
'Shaving' The Beret
That's right - it is completely normal to see soldiers stood in the mirror shaving their ... berets. True story.
As with normal shaving, it is much better to do this when the thing is wet. Shaving the beret makes it easier to shape and gets rid of all the fluff, giving it a smarter appearance. Shaving a beret is a must.
Shaping The Beret - Step-By-Step Instructions
This is where things have the potential to go wrong. So, here are some precise instructions:
- Alternate by submerging the beret first in fairly hot water and then in cold water. Do not get the leather band wet as it will shrink. If you do get the leather band wet and it is too tight then stretch it back out (work your way around the band stretching it in small segments).
- Repeat the process three or four times ensuring you squeeze the water out in between dunking. This should make the material soft and pliable. Be careful-if the water is too hot it can make the material shrink.
- Place the wet beret on head (with excess water squeezed out) and then, ensure the cap badge area is placed above left eye (don’t attach the cap badge at this stage). Keep the band horizontal across your forehead and ensure it stays this way all the way round the back of your head.
- Now pull the excess beret material down and right across the top of your head (towards the right ear).
- Shape and mould the beret into a smart shape (see the images in this article of smartly shaped berets on service men and women).
Drying The Beret
You can either leave the beret on your head to dry (for as long as possible) or take it off and leave it somewhere warm, perhaps on a windowsill in the sun.
If at the end you are not happy with the shape, repeat the whole process again. This is not the sort of job to leave late until the night before. Give yourself a good couple of hours, and get on with something else in the meantime.
The Cap Badge
When affixing the cap badge, make a SMALL incision on the outside of the beret and slide the cap badge bar into the area of stitching/leather pocket.
An issued beret comes with an area of stitching or a leather pocket on the inside that the bar/clasp of the cap badge will sit in.
Make the incision as small as possible so the cap badge cannot fall out.
The Ribbon At The Back
Once you are happy with the shape of the beret and the band is fitted correctly, tie the ribbon in a small knot and push the ends back inside. If there is a lot of excess ribbon, SAFELY use a lighter to burn them off.
Some regiments, including the Irish Guards keep the bow and others including the Grenadiers do not. So it is best to check with colleagues.
Once you have your beret shaped correctly, make sure you fold and carry it in a way that does not reshape it. Some personnel store it in the back waist-band of trousers or in the large side pocket of smock or trousers. Either way, make sure you give it a quick dust off before wearing.
Get a spare "best" beret and keep it for special parades or emergencies. Most things you can bodge or blag from a mate ... but that never really includes berets. If you turn up without one, you are in trouble. Show parade, what?