Why is There a Pom-Pom On Top of Winter Hats?

Daniel Ganninger
July 10, 2024
Pom pom winter hat

Winter hats keep a person’s head warm and come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. But why is there a pom-pom on the top of some winter hats? Does this tuft of fabric serve a purpose, or is it just a fashion accessory?

While the pom-pom seems like an addition to a winter hat, it does have an extensive history. Historians have traced the use of this ball of fabric back to Scandinavia during the Viking era around 790 A.D. In 1904, a statue of the Norse god Freyr was found on a Swedish farm. Freyr was known as the god of peace, fertility, rain, and sunshine, and the statue of this god had a helmet or a hat with a pom-pom on top.

The word pom-pom is believed to have originated in the 18th century from the French word “pompon,” which means “small ball of fabric” or “bobble,” and it has appeared throughout history. Scottish Highland regiments and Hungarian cavalry regiments used the pom-pom to denote their rank, and Napoleon’s infantry used it to signify what regiment the soldiers belonged to. It was a popular part of Scottish clothing by the 18th century and has been worn by Roman Catholic clergy in Rome on hats called birettas for hundreds of years to denote what job they performed.

While pom-poms on hats generally signified a person’s identification, they did serve a practical purpose for sailors. Old ships had low ceilings on the lower decks, and when the boat rocked and pitched in large waves, sailors would hit their heads below decks. Pom-poms were attached to the tops of the sailors’ caps to soften the blow during these times. For this reason, the French Navy had red pom-poms attached to their caps, with the story that they were red because sailors would hit their heads so hard they would bleed.

french sailors
French Navy Sailors

The pom-pom, or bobble, as it is frequently referred to, continued to be used over time. During the Great Depression, it was a popular accessory on clothing, not just hats. It is believed that it was an inexpensive way to dress up clothing.

The rise of pom-poms on winter hats has also been attributed to Michael Nesmith of The Monkees, who wore a bobble hat on the band’s television show in the 1960s. While this could be entirely possible, the bobble hat was also worn around other places in the world, where people didn’t know of the show or band.

The Monkees 1966
Michael Nesmith of The Monkees with His Bobble Hat (Bottom Right)

One of the other functional purposes of the bobble or pom-pom on the top of winter hats not frequently mentioned could be how the ball of fabric makes the hat easy to take off. Though this was probably not why it was put on the top of hats in the first place, that is a mystery we’ll probably never know.

Sources: Farmer’s Almanac, Country Telegraph, Mirror UK, The National Maritime Museum