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Why do Spain’s civil guards wear those strange hats?

The Local Spain
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Why do Spain’s civil guards wear those strange hats?
Three Spanish "Guardia Civil" women parade during the National Day in Madrid. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

If you’ve ever seen Spanish national day parades on October 12th, then you’ve most likely seen groups of Spain’s Civil Guards marching along wearing strange black hats. What’s the reason behind this odd uniform attire and where did they originate?


Known as the tricornio, this type of hat is one of the most representative symbols of the Spanish Civil Guard and has been a true piece of their identity for as long as most people can remember.

The main characteristic of the hat is that it has three points. Today, the hat is black, rounded at the front, while at the back is a kind of headboard with two points or wings jutting out either side. Although this is what it looks like in the modern day, its material, shape, size and its colors have evolved over time.

Origin of the tricornio

The origin of this quirky hat goes back to almost the very founding of the Civil Guard. The tricornio became part of the Civil Guard uniform in 1859, only 14 years after it was formed.  

The first ones were made from felt and were the brainchild of the Duke of Ahumada (1803 - 1869), a Spanish Army officer known for being the founder of the Civil Guard and its first director-general. He wanted to make sure the uniforms were both elegant and authoritative, yet with a showy appearance.  

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He presented General Narváez, head of the Civil Guard at the time and the 1st Duke of Valencia, with a mannequin dressed in the uniform and topped with the tricornio hat, to be worn by the cavalry forces.

This uniform was accepted, but on the condition that the infantry forces also wear it. It was Queen Isabel II, at the proposal of General Narváez, who ruled that the tricornio should be worn by both.  


At the time, it was a type of hat with wings, in which the rear and front wings folded over the crown, and were kept in place by a ribbon and a button, this is why it is said to have three peaks or corners.  

Spanish Civil Guard troops march during the Spanish National Day military parade in Madrid. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Evolution of the tricornio

Both its shape and its size have changed considerably over the years to adapt to the needs of the civil guards - the main ones being that it is now a lot smaller and has also changed colour. Sometimes a gold band was added, while the more modern versions were plain black.

From felt hats, they changed to rubber to be able to withstand various weather conditions. The rubber version was based on a design created by the Civil Guard wives who decided on a new flap with buttons on each side. This version consisted of different layers and colors, but the shape has remained until today.

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Later on, the rubber was covered in plastic, until it became replaced by vinyl, which would give it both shape and shine.

This again was subsequently changed to a material that resembled patent leather to promise better vision and durability.

In the post-war period, the uniform was modernised to prioritise combat requirements, practicality for transport units, and any symbols that may be required.

Starting in 1989, the tricornio came to be worn only as part of the gala uniform for ceremonies, parades and solemn acts, as well as in some operational services, such as those in charge of surveillance of embassies or airport security.  

Even so, these oddly-shaped hats have continued to be used throughout the 20th century and still serve as a visual reference and the most important symbol of the Civil Guard today.  


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