The Muir cap, otherwise known as a Sir’s hat or Master’s hat, is a common accessory in the leather community, worn as part of many formal leather uniforms. An individual wears the cap to signify to others their social position as a Sir. Receiving the cap is considered to be a milestone in the community.
The muir cap is a type of hat that originated in Northern Europe in the early 19th century. This type of peaked cap was mainly worn by working-class men and sailors. The caps were made of wool or canvas, and sometimes waterproofed with tar. Peaked caps are still commonly worn around the world by some railway or airport staff, baggage porters, bus drivers, people in fire services, and security guards. To this day, student caps in Northern and Central European countries are frequently peaked caps. The student caps in Nordic countries are traditionally white in summer and black in winter.
In the 1950s, a black leather version, sometimes embellished with chains or metal studs, was worn by bikers. These caps entered into popular culture by way of Hollywood, worn by actors such as Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Both Brando and Dean played motorcycle-riding protagonists. Members of the Black Power movement wore black leather peaked caps in the 1970s.
A peaked cap is also part of the Salvation Army uniform in most areas in which it operates. The first real armies to use the peaked caps were the Russian army in 1811, quickly followed by the Prussian army (Russia’s ally at that time). This type of cap was popular because of its comfort and lightweight design. That was also the reason for the United States Army to adopt the peaked cap in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. The standard US army headgear of that time, the shako, was not suitable for the hot Mexican climate. The British army started using peaked caps in 1902. Throughout the 20th century, they became common among armies, navies, air forces, and police forces around the world. However, in combat, they were replaced by more protective helmets .
The term “peaked cap” is descriptive. Some languages (such as the German “Schirmmütze“) kept a descriptive term, but in English (and among most of the gay community around the world), the cap is often referred to by a brand name: Muir. Currently, the original Muir Cap is manufactured by Muir Cap & Regalia Ltd., nowadays located in Markham, Ontario, Canada. They call themselves one of North America’s oldest and finest uniform cap manufacturers, since 1875. This company produced the cap for military uniforms of many countries around the world, including – some claim – German officers during World War II.
In the late 1950s, the Muir cap began to feature in the paintings and drawings of Finnish artist, Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland), typically worn by subjects clad in leather motorcycle or military uniforms. Laaksonen’s artworks gained mainstream LGBT appeal in the 1970s and helped to popularize the cap in the leather community.
Traditions and Procedures
In the leather community, there are typically many formalities surrounding the owning and wearing of the cap. The foremost tradition is that the cap is handed down from one Sir to another, continuing the legacy of the cap and its previous owner(s). Although it is frowned upon to purchase the cap, it is readily available to purchase at many leather stores and events such as International Mister Leather (IML) and Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL).
As a rule in the United States, the brim of the cap is never to be touched, to avoid fingerprints and smudges on the finish of the brim. In order to place the cap on properly, or to adjust the cap, the wearer must lift it by the sides, making sure the brim sits just above the eyebrow ridge. It is also deemed incorrect to touch another person’s Muir cap without their permission, as it is with other leather articles.