The tam was a millinery design for women based on the tam o’ shanter military cap and the beret. Sometimes it was also known as a tam hat or the traditional term tam o’shanter might also be used. It became popular in the early 1920s. when it followed the prevailing trends for closer-fitting hats that suited shorter hairstyles and for borrowing from men’s fashion; other traditional men’s hats that rose to popularity in women’s fashion during this period included the top hat and bowler.
The tam was a draped design that came in a variety of shapes and fabrics. Often it had a stiffened and close-fitting inner cap, over which fabric could be draped in a variety of ways.
Along with other headgear formerly reserved for men – including the top hat and bowler – it was popular by the 1920s, suiting the fashion for shorter hairstyles. A 1920 article in The Guardian described the prevalence of closer fitting designs based on the tam’ o shanter in combination with more ornate blouses and neater hairstyles, noting: “Since the majority of blouses follow Greek or quasi-Greek lines, it is natural for the hat worn with them to follow also the Greek type of headgear”. The article noted that its versatility was another reason for current popularity: “it can be twisted and folded into the close-fitting shapes that are so remarkably becoming…it lends itself admirably to…all kinds of embroidery or needlework stitched apparently at random over it”.
A year later, The Guardian reported that the tam hat was: “dominating the small-hat system” in women’s fashion. Describing this ubiquitous millinery design in more detail, it added: “Nor are the present tams by any means tam-like in shape. They are elongated or heightened or squared or triangulated…The tam is merely a sort of envelope which can be pulled about over an under-structure, the shape of which is all-important“. The article went on to provide tips on how to create a tam hat successfully at home, advising the creation of a small peak or small brim on the inner cap to create a more becoming effect.