Scottish Threads: What is a Tam Cap?



This hat is named after the hero in a Robert Burns poem.


What is a tam cap or a Tam o’ Shanter?

You’ll impress your friends by knowing the question to a Jeopardy clue or an answer at a pub night trivia. The history of a tam o’ shanter is quite fascinating and possibly surprising. And you can own your very own with our authentic tam and hat collection!

What Is In a Name?

What is a tam? A top down view of a Macintyre tam o shanter. Red, navy, and green tartan with a green pom pom.

Robert Burns, arguably the most famous Scottish poet, often wrote about his surroundings and incorporated the elements and people into his great works. He was born near the town of Ayr and became friends with a farmer Douglas Graham of Shanter Farms, nicknamed Tam o’ Shanter. (Tam for the boy is often used and Shanter for his farm).

According to Look and Learn, the bridge in the town of Ayr crosses the river Doon. Burns poetically refers to it as Brig o’ Doon. 

The 1790 Burn’s poem speaks of Tam, who, after a night of pub drinking, rides his grey mare Meg home during a frightful storm. While passing the haunted church (kirk), he encountered dancing witches and warlocks. As he stood in fear, the apparitions took notice of Tam.

Lore said that these entities could not cross a running stream. Tam rode Meg with fury while being chased. He made it to the Brig o’ Doon in the nick of time, with Meg’s tail being the only casualty.

The Tam o’ Shanter Inn is now a museum in Ayr. Tam and Burns would spend their days and nights in the small pub room, drinking and conversing, 

At this Inn, a series of paintings capture Tam’s ride depicted in Burn’s poem. On Tam’s head is a Scottish lowland bonnet that is woolen, flat, round, and blue with a pom on top. The particular hat is commonly hand-knitted in the towns of  Kilmarnock and Stewarton, near Ayr. 

The Scottish hat, in its many forms, then became known as a Tam o’ Shanter, or simply, a tam hat.

Pre-Burns Poem

An old etched illustration of a Burns Night celebration.

The Scottish hat, although named from Burn’s poem, existed long before. The flat bonnet was seen throughout Scotland from the late 1500s through the 1800s. It was similar to the common European hat but with a pom ( a “toorie”) on the top center. 

Before the availability of synthetic dyes, the dye for wool for the hats came from plants and colors abundant in the region. The often-used indigo dye gives way to the name blue bonnet. Read more about tartans and dyes at Tartan? Plaid? What’s the Difference?

The Scottish regiments made the Tam o’ Shanter (ToS) part of the official military uniform during the First World War. The ToS is still worn today in the military units, not only in Scotland but also in Canada and Australia.

Tam in Fashion

A vintage illustration of a woman wearing a striped tam

Military and farmers are not the only ones in the tam game. Women adopted the fashion in the 1920s, and shorter haircuts came into style. Borrowing from men but making their own, women figured out ways to drape the hat in flatterable ways to frame their faces. 

The tam also saw spikes in popularity in the 1930s, with plaid and checks being fashionable and again in the1970-1980s. Tams dominated the small hats in women’s fashion history over the years and today. 

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Tams in Royalty

Stewart Royal Modern Spring Weight Tam

The Royal House of the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, often are seen wearing tams at events and everyday life. Tams are versatile, functional, and ageless. From the wee ones to the aged, tams are the perfect cherry on top, so to speak!

Purchase Your Very Own Tam

After reading a bit of history on tams, are you ready to purchase your very own? Besides tams, we have many other hats to consider. Read all about the varieties of hats we have to offer at Types of Scottish Hats And Where to Wear Them

What To Wear, What To Wear? 

Tartan Tams, Spring Weight

By now, you are probably familiar with The Celtic Croft and all we have to offer. Our often handmade and always authentic collection of Celtic products is superior. Tams are just one of the many customizable pieces we offer to give you the Celtic look!

Celtic Croft kilts, footwear, shirts and jackets, shawls and wraps, jewelry, and other Highland accessories set you apart at that special occasion, festival, or everyday gathering. 

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Waiting On the New Season of Outlander?

A girl smiling and wearing an OUTLANDER Tam Premium Lambswool Tartan tam and scarf.

Oh, when oh when will Droughlander be over? Word is the season will air in 2022. Be all set for the season with your very own Outlander collection. Travel back in time with Jamie and Claire Fraser, Brianna and Roger Mackenzie, and the rest of the gang in your official Outlander-licensed Scottish tams, clothes, and accessories.

Wedding Bells

Thinking of Outlander has gotten us all romantic. Did you know Celtic Croft not only has a wedding collection but offers rentals? Your big day just got a bit bigger and more fun!

What Else is a Tam?

A graduation tam hat with a gold tassel on a white background.

Somewhere in the back of your head, you know you heard tam used, but not a Scottish hat. The graduation hat, based on a tam is for those graduating with a master’s or doctorate degree. The higher the degree, the fancier the tam!

Graduation tams come in 4, 6, or 8 sides. The number of sides correlates to the level of graduation. Master’s graduate tams are four-sided, a doctorate is eight-sided, and six-sided are degrees in between.

The different color bullion and tassels indicate the different schools (i.e. nursing, education, etc.).

People often use the terms tams, berets, and slouch hats interchangeably. Now you can be the expert!

Wearing o’ the Tam

A tam helps you dress head to toe in the clothes and tartans of your clan. Be prepared for that next holiday, wedding, Highland games, or a trip to the grocery store with an authentic tam from Celtic Croft. Your head will thank you!

Celtic clothing, Scottish Hats, tam cap, tam o shanter
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