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The nuance and history of the tuque

Andrea Webster | Intercamp | Lifestyles | November 28th, 2005

EDMONTON (CUP) — It's that time of year again when we pack away the sunscreen and dig out old faithful-the toque, a powerful symbol in Canadian culture. There are plenty of other cold climate countries in the world, but none have personalized the tuque quite like us Canadians.

Most Canadians spend five months a year from the day they're born until the day they die nestled inside their cozy cranial condoms without giving much thought to where or how it all began.

But someone has to wonder, where did the tuque originate? Where did the name come from? What makes a tuque special? Why does our culture have such an attachment for this simple accessory? Is ‘tuque' even the right spelling? With these questions in mind, I donned my favorite orange ski-doo tuque and headed to the nearest Farmers Market in hopes of finding a knitting granny to give me some insight.

Feeling slightly discouraged, I scanned the emptying warehouse hoping to find someone who could feed my need for tuque knowledge. I headed home, my shoulders slumped over in defeat, stopping off at a liquor store for a little inspiration.

Alas! Like angels in glowing halos of wool, a couple emerged from the liquor store bearing knitting needles, Bob and Doug McKenzie paraphernalia and a case of Crest beer. It's obvious these were two people who truly know tuque.

Jeff LeDrew and Shannon Lawrence consider themselves connoisseurs of the tuque trade. Even after a few generous portions of rye, they refuse to disclose any further personal information but are familiar faces in halls of Grant MacEwan College. I ask them about their tuque fetish.

“It's not a fetish, it's a way of life,” Jeff quickly responds. “It's all about warmth, style and fuzziness.”

Jeff embraced his love for tuques when he-like many young men-realized his age was showing through his rapidly receding hairline.

“For aging men, a tuque is more of a life saving tool than a fashion item,” he adds.

This sparks interest in Shannon as she discusses the possibilities of a tuque being a male ego-building device.

“In areas of North Scandinavia, the Sami reindeer herders wear wool hats with pompoms to show their status. The larger the pompom, the more wealth you have,” she says.

Shannon is a seamstress and knits toques on the side for a little extra cash. She admits that previous haircuts have made it difficult for her to enjoy the pleasure of tuque-wearing.

“My hair was always too big, I found it hard to find one that didn't look awkward so I started making my own,” she says.

I ask for her opinion on wool versus fleece.

“Wool is a lot warmer and more natural. A lot of people have a problem with the itch factor. It's essential to get one with high lanolin wool content. The lanolin is what makes the wool less scratchy. Washing wool lowers the lanolin content.”

There are tuques with pompoms, earflaps, neck straps, brims, roll-ups, and the unforgettable but regrettable dragon tails of the early ‘90s. There is a tuque to suit every occasion from the Sunday church crochet knit to the full-face coverage of the balaclava.

So throw your concerns about hat hair aside and pull your tuque down low. If not in the name of national pride then to take comfort in the fact that you'll trap in the 90 per cent of body heat that is lost through the top of your noggin, which makes drunken public flashings in winter less of a health hazard and all the more acceptable. So whip it out and make your mother proud. A warm wooly tuque that is.
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