Nothing says "European schoolchild" like children's French berets, even though they are considerably less popular than they used to be in French schools. However, they are still worn and still look sharp on both girls and boys.
Usage of Children's French Berets
Berets, long worn by shepherds and artists in France, became part of the standard school uniform for French children in the mid-19th century. Schools could distinguish themselves with different ribbons around the base of the beret, but the look was very standard. It was also very smart and soon spread to Belgium and was even seen in some schools in England, where all things French are often frowned upon.
Because they are warm but lightweight and easy to care for and travel with, berets became a standard part of the scouting uniform for children in many countries and are still used today, although usually just as part of the dress uniform. Since berets do not provide sun protection, both girls and boys tend to use hats with brims when out on the trail.
Some private schools or schools with strict dress codes still use children's French berets as part of their uniform, but this is far less common than at the hat's height of popularity. However, the hats have become so popular in various forms - seen on celebrities in every media - that children now embrace them as a cool accessory.
The Classic Beret
For both adults and children, the classic beret made famous in art and movies is wine-colored and made of a strong, smooth felt. It is a simple, unadorned flat cap, fitted neatly to the head. For children, it was often standard to have a ribbon around the brim - if it was a school beret, this ribbon was in the school colors or pattern. Many children's French berets still come with ribbons, although these are now worn only by girls.
If you want to buy a classic beret, you don't have to go to France, although of course you can get a beautiful selection if you happen to be there on holiday and decide to do some shopping. You can also get a nice selection in Belgium or England, but you do have to be mindful of the tourist traps, where poor-quality berets will be in abundance.
Most people looking for a child's beret will shop in a local hat shop or online. Many hat shops have excellent online selections, but surprisingly few include a range of children's hats. One exception is 123 Voyage, which claims to sell classic berets at reasonable prices. It should be noted, however, that it doesn't specify where the berets are made, so they may be constructed cheaply in China and then distributed elsewhere.
The Village Hat Shop has a great selection of berets, but very few for children. However, you should check their sizing chart and determine if a smaller size might indeed fit your child.
Making Your Own Beret
Although the standard beret is made from a very tight, smooth felt, it's also traditional to knit or crochet berets to match sweaters or scarves. If you are making a gift for a child, or if a child is learning to knit or crochet, this is a fun, easy and quick project to undertake.
The more experienced knitter can go a step further and actually felt their own beret. This is not hard, it merely requires practice. Look for patterns online - you can even get them for free!