AskDefine | Define bearskin

Dictionary Definition



1 the pelt of a bear (sometimes used as a rug)
2 tall hat; worn by some British soldiers on ceremonial occasions [syn: busby, shako]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The pelt of a bear, especially when used as a rug
  2. A tall ceremonial hat worn by members of some British regiments for ceremonial occasions; see busby

Extensive Definition

A bearskin is a tall fur cap worn as part of the ceremonial uniform of several regiments in the British Army (most notably the five regiments of Foot Guards and the Honourable Artillery Company), the Canadian Army Royal 22e Régiment , Governor General's Foot Guards Canadian Grenadier Guards , The Royal Regiment of Canada, the Royal Life Guards (Den Kongelige Livgarde) of the Royal Danish Army, the Royal Life Guards (Kungliga Livgardet) of the Royal Swedish Army, the Guard Grenadiers (Grenadiers Garde) of the Royal Netherlands Army , the 1st & 2nd Grenadier Regiments (Granatieri di Sardegna) of the Italian Army and the Mounted Royal Escort of Belgium . A bearskin cap is also worn by the Drum Major of the United States Marine Band.
Traditionally, the bearskin was the headgear of Grenadiers, and is still worn by regiments of Grenadiers in various armies. Following the Battle of Waterloo and the action in which they gained their name, the Grenadier Guards were permitted to wear the bearskin. This tradition was later extended to the other two regiments of Guards. The officers of Fusilier regiments also wore the bearskin as part of their ceremonial uniform. The bearskin should not be mistaken for the busby, which is a much smaller fur cap worn by the Royal Horse Artillery and hussar regiments in full dress. Nor should it be confused with the similar but lower racoon skin cap worn by other ranks of the Royal Fusiliers .
Until 1914 bearskins were worn in parade uniform by the Regiment der Grenadiers/Regiment of Grenadiers of the Belgian Army. The modern regiment has recently readopted this headdress for limited ceremonial purposes, although it is now made of synthetic fur.
The standard bearskin of the British Foot Guards is 18 inches tall, weighs one and a half pounds and is made from the fur of the Canadian black bear. The British Army purchase the hats, which are known as caps, from a British hat maker, which sources its pelts from an international auction. The hatmakers purchase between 50 and 100 black bear skins each year at a cost of about £650 each. Proper maintenance of the caps allows them to last for decades. Some bearskin caps in use are allegedly more than 100 years old.


On 3 August, 1888, the New York Times reported that bearskin caps might be phased out because of a shortage of bear skins. The article stated that, at that time, bearskin hats cost £7 5s each and noted “it can readily be seen what a price has to be paid for keeping up a custom which is rather old, it is true, but is practically a useless one save for the purpose of military display..”
In 1997, Minister for Defence Procurement, Baron Gilbert stated that he wanted to see bearskins phased out as soon as possible due to ethical concerns, but no replacement was available at that time.
In 2005, the Ministry of Defence began a two-year test of artificial fur for the hats. The army has already replaced beaver hats and leopard skins, worn by some of its soldiers, with artificial materials. In March, 2005, Labour MP Chris Mullin called for an immediate ban on bearskin hats stating that they “have no military significance and involve unnecessary cruelty.”
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has protested against the continued use of real fur for the guards’ hats, alleging that the animals are killed cruelly. For several years, PETA members have held demonstrations, including one with 70 naked protesters at Buckingham Palace in 2006. PETA wants the fur hats to be replaced with synthetic materials and claims that the Ministry of Defence has not done enough to find alternatives. Supporters of the headgear claim that the animals used are not killed for their fur but are roadkill or culled animals. A website purporting to be “an historical encyclopedia of the land forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth” claims that Inuit hunters cull 40,000 brown bears annually out of a population of more than a million.


bearskin in German: Bärenfellmütze
bearskin in Dutch: Berenmuts
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