In Brief

For her 15th birthday Bloom has given his daughter a "tam." The word is short for "Tam o' shanter," a flat wool cap from Scotland similar to a north French beret. It appears to have been a fitting way to honor Milly's growing independence.

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These hats have been around for many centuries, but they acquired their current name from Robert Burns' 1790 narrative poem Tam o' Shanter, about a bonnet-bedecked farmer who encounters some witches, warlocks, and the devil himself. In the early 20th century tams were adopted by some Scottish military regiments and they also became fashionable for women. Both men's and women's bonnets sported a "toorie" on top—a fluffy ball, usually red, made of yarn. 

Bloom's decision to give his daughter one of these new, sporty, mannish fashion accessories—so different from the large women's hats of the Victorian era—suggests a sympathetic wish to encourage her daring young womanhood. As Milly says in her thank-you letter, "Everyone says I'm quite the belle in my new tam." The importance of her growing female independence comes up several more times in the novel, beginning with the moment in Hades when Bloom toys with the idea of walking or cycling west to Mullingar to visit his daughter: "Perhaps I will without writing. Come as a surprise." A few moments later, it occurs to him that this would be a very bad idea: "She mightn't like me to come that way without letting her know. Must be careful about women. Catch them once with their pants down. Never forgive you after. Fifteen."

JH 2021
1929 photograph of a woman wearing a tam, held in the Mary Evans Picture Library, London. Source: pixels.com.