Is my Kangol beret an original piece?
A British airborne troops' red beret is one of the most iconic pieces associated with an elite fighting force and as such, highly collectible. Although wartime pieces do turn up in the militaria market from time to time, they are relatively rare. As a result, basic economics lead to high prices... and faking attempts. Some of these are quite easy to spot and some others are actually very good. Although this article doesn't claim to offer conclusive knowledge on the subject, some basic details of the original, wartime berets will be pointed out. Combining their existence or absence with common sense while inspecting an example should keep a collector on the safe side, most of the times.
The maker's mark and date of manufacture should be stamped on the fabric. Many faking attempts concentrate on these stamps. As usual, some of these are easy to spot and some are more tricky. Studying the different maker's marks and fake examples is the way to go here. Sometimes however, they are nowhere to be seen. Whether that has to do with honest wear or... a dishonest faker could be decided by the "spray test".
The "spray test"
The process is quite simple. By spraying a good amount of water on the beret, the marks should become more visible. Taking a photo with the flash on can make them show even clearer. In this case, the "spray test" revealed both the maker and the date: Kangol Wear Limited, 1943.
War Department inspection marks
These are also faked of course, but they can offer interesting clues. In this case, as expected for an original beret, the letter "N" is correct for the 1943 date. In case that no date of manufacture can be found, the WD stamp could help dating a beret. That is always a helpful tool when having to decide if a beret is a wartime or an early postwar piece for example.
The backing piece of the ventilation grommets should be made of leather. On some berets, these pieces are absent, as they could have been removed by the wearer or due to wear. On either case, the traces of them should be visible. The headband should also be made of doeskin leather. Late postwar examples have headbands made of fabric.
How was the badge fixed?
During WW2 the badges worn on red berets were fixed by making holes on them, that would allow the badge lugs to pass through the fabric and then be secured by the pin. An issued beret should have at least two holes indicating that a badge was fixed on it at some time, in the right place. Later postwar the badges had sliders instead of lugs and the berets a "slider pocket", holding them in place.
The "loose thread"
WW2 era berets had a hessian piece in them, keeping them in shape. During the manufacturing process, it would be held with a piece of thread, that would later be cut, but not removed. The presence of this thread or the traces of its removal are always a detail that should be kept in mind.