Prior to the 19th century, production capabilities were limited, which meant that things like military headgear, which were issued to thousands of troops, often had to serve both practical and decorative purposes. The tricorn, or tricorne, hat is probably the most famous example of this sort of double-duty chapeau. Worn during the 18th century, these triangular-shaped hats had large brims pinned up on either side of the head, as well as one in the back, directing rainfall away from the face and over the wearer’s shoulders. Since civilians also wore tricorn hats, most militaries applied an identifying cockade, or national crest, on the front. As in many eras, the French became military headgear trendsetters, creating highly embellished tricorn styles featuring elaborate designs in gold, lace, and fur.

The most common hat style of the American Civil War, the forage cap or kepi, was also adopted from the French. Kepis were made with flat-topped cylindrical crowns, and typically fashioned from dark wool with a black leather visor and chinstrap. Navy-blue Union caps were often decorated with a crossed sword or golden bugle emblem, as well as the individual owner’s regiment number. Confederate kepis only differed in their color, which varied from grey to yellow to red. Officer “slouch hats” were another familiar style during the Civil War, and were crafted with a wide circular brim which was lined with braided gold cord and sometimes attached to the crown on one side.

Shortly thereafter, the beret was made popular by the French Chasseurs Alpins, or Alpine mountain troops. This group initiated the association of berets with elite military units, though the hats were originally chosen for their versatility in inclement, high-altitude weather. Indeed, the Chasseurs Alpins wore berets because they provided a water-resistant, cold-weather head covering that was also light and easy to pack.

Military hats and caps of the 20th century generally fall into two categories: utility pieces, worn during combat or when working, and dress caps, which are part of a soldier’s formal uniform. Utility gear serves a functional purpose, protecting the wearer from harsh outdoor environments, while formal headpieces are essentially ornaments for the rest of a ceremonial outfit. Though troops might be issued many utility items for specific situations, soldier’s dress caps, featuring division, rank, and award insignia, were often better preserved since they were used less frequently.

A very popular headpiece among collectors is the peaked visor cap worn by members of the Third Reich military, which evolved from a similar style worn by German officers during World War I. These hats were issued as part of Germany’s formal dress uniforms, with each branch of the military identified by its own unique color and insignia combination. Typical designs, like the gray-and-navy medical officer caps, were decorated with an eagle carrying a swastika above an aluminum cockade, wreath, and braided chinstrap. Other German hats like the Waffen SS general caps featured a metal skull emblem. Japanese dress caps from World War II are similar in design to their German counterparts, but were made from khaki wool with red bands and piping, as well as a brass star symbol in front.

For American forces, dress caps came in a similar peaked-visor form, with white for navy troops, olive for members of the army, and blue for air forces. Specialized utility headgear became commonplace for the American military during World War II, most of which were made from light cotton or canvas, occasionally with patches to denote the branch or unit division. The most recognized hat of this style is possibly the white naval cap with its rounded crown and upturned brim, which was first adopted more than 50 years earlier.

Other distinctive caps from World War II include the Belgian enlisted corps’ side caps, made from khaki wool with a single tassel and central peak, designed to fold flat when not...

During the Vietnam War, American troops were issued generic utility hats with their fatigues, which resembled baseball caps made from olive-green cotton, as well as tropical “boonie” hats. These hot-weather hats were made with a fully-encircling brim to block sun, but were discontinued by 1971 because their floppy form didn't project the buttoned-down look that the military aspired to for its enlisted men. Vietnam also helped to establish the popularity of the Green Berets, a secretive Army Special Forces Unit, known as much for their deeds as their distinctively colored headgear.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Des Chapeaux

Des Chapeaux

A French tribute to women's hats and other headwear from the 1940s... primarily magazine images, with some commenta… [read review or visit site]

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

American Hatpin Society

American Hatpin Society

Who knew there was so much to hatpin collecting? This site is all about great hatpin images - from recent hatpin co… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Authentic German Crusher Cap Ww2Dress Uniform Wwii Boxed Stetson Visor Cap Hat Named Us Army Military Officer NrAmerican Militia Grenadier Bearskin Cap C. 1890True Crusher-wwii Usaac Officer's Green Visor Cap-bancroft Flighter-namedWw2 Japanese Navy Seaman's Combat Cap Hat Wwii Uniform War Medal Badge Naval 40s2 British Staff Officer’s Cocked Hats, C.1890 + 1 Civilian Court Dress HatTrue Crusher-wwii Usaac Officer's Khaki Visor Cap-bancroft Flighter-namedWw2 Wwii Lufwaffe Berlin Air Force General Pilot Officer German Visor Hat CapOriginal Ww2 German Panzer CapWw2 Japanese Leather Flight HatWw2 Army Air Force Bomber Pilot Combat Crusher Visor Hat Chocolate Gabardine CapItalian Ww2 Navy Officers White Visor Hat Italy NavalWw2 Japanese Army Officer/soldier's Field Hat ExcellentWw2 Aaf Pilots Bancroft Flighter True Crusher Cap With Soft Brim Original Civil War & Earlier Hicks Musket Percussion Cap Tin RareRare Original Indian War Era Model 1875 7th Cavalry Cross Sabre Hat Insignia Scarce Ww2 Us Army Glider Troops Overseas Cap For Em-engineer-has Service #Civil War Veteran's Gar Hat With Badge And Hat CordScarce Wwii Period Us Army Air Corp True Crusher Visor Cap For Em/ncoVintage Wwii Ww2 Raf Rcaf Royal Air Force Pilots Visor Cap Hat Canadian BullionDress Uniform Wwii Bancroft Flighter Visor Cap Hat Crusher Us Air Corps OfficerRare 100% Orig Civil War Officer's Embroidered Gilt Wire "us" Hat InsigniaRare Wwi Tommys Tin Hat Novelty Money Box-c.1915Rare Wwii U.s. Army Nurse Anc 1st Pattern Blue Service Uniform Cap Hat 22 1/2Authentic German Elite M43 Cap Ww2Ww2 Japanese Army Officers Visor Hat/cap Us Wwi Army Grouping 311th Reg.div.combat Doughboy Hat/mask/tunicLuxenberg Wwii Army Air Corps Military Fur Felt Wool Visor Hat Dress Cap NamedOriginal Wwii Army Nurse Corps Officer Cap / Hat Size 23 1/2 Ww2Pre Wwi Postcivil War Us Army Union Blue Uniform Hat Cap Kepi Insignia 34 ARare Wwi German Imperial Brunswick 17th Hussar Regiment Peaked Cap SchirmmutzenWool Dress Tunic Visor Cap Hat - Named Ww2 Estate Us Army Officer Combat CrusherThe Royal Dublin Fusiliers Officers Cap/collar Badge,sil/gilt.Ww1 Era Us Army Officer Campaign Hat With Cord Ackerman Size 7Usmc Ww1 1916 Pattern Enlisted Ega Cover Cap Emblem Outstanding Marine Corps Original Wwii Us Army / Aaf Officer's Flight Ace Visor Hat *excellent Condition*Ww2 832nd Avn Engineer Batt. Grouping Booklet & Overseas Hat Rare D.i.Ww2 Japanese Golden Kite Medal Badge Army War Navy Officer Award Silver Wwii CapJapanese Army Lieutenant Hat For Formal Attire. Vintage Authentic Lubstein Ww Ii 1943 German Panzer Visor Hat / Cap Rare Wh Ww2 Wwii Navy Kriegsmarine U-boat Uboat Lieutenant German Visor Hat CapWw1/ww2? Scottish Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Glengarry Hat CapUsmc Dress Blues Marine Corps Uniform Cap White Hat Cover 7 1/4 Kingform VinylOriginal Spanish American War - Usmc - Marine Corp 2" Hat Insignia -excRare Ww2 Us Army Capt. Chaplain's Overseas Cap-khaki-with Initials/service #Ww2 Silver Japanese Sacred Treasure Medal 4th Badge Navy Officer Wwii Cap ArmyVtg Air Force Uniform Men's Howard A. Shrum 1944-1945 Jacket, Pants & HatEarly Vietnam Jungle Hat Usaf Air Commando Date 1964 Size 7 1/4Ww2 Us Army Nurse Corps Hat Office 1st Lt. PinWw2 German Third Reich Gendarmerie Police HatWw2 Us Officers Peaked CapVintage Wwi Women's Motor Corps Of America Hat With PinNwt Nwu Type Ii Navy Seal Aor1 Digital Desert Boonie Hat Sun Cover Size LargeOif Iraqi Fedayeen Black Beret With Badge Size 58 Unissued Original LookPost Ww2 .22 Caliber Walther Ppk Magazine 7 Round Cap. With Finger ExtensionWwii Army Aaf Officers Knox Brand Gabardine Visor Cap With Bullion Eagle (7 1/4)Usmc Marine Corps Officer's Field Grade Barracks Cover Cap Size 7 3/8 Nr!Wwii Vintage Coast Guard Officers Hat With Bullion Insignia Named Usmc Marine Corps Officer's Field Grade Dress Blue Cover Cap Size 7 1/4 Nr!Original Wwii Usn Knit Wool Watch Cap W/ Surgeon Insignia + Tag