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”)

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

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

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]

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]

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]

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    

Union Forage Cap American Civil War Cavalry Original British Ww1 1905 Pattern Other Ranks Service Dress CapUs Vietnam War Original Tiger Stripe Boonie Jungle Hat Special Forces Lrrp ArvnUnique Ww1 Australian Trench Art Navy Officers Hat Cap Sweethearts Compact Ww2Rare Original Civil War Veteran " Gar 35 " Embroidered Kepi Hat - Exc PlusCivil War Hat Original Authentic With Collection Under Glass For 50 Years Ww2 Garrison Cap+sgt. Ike Jacket W/presidential Unit Citation,ribbons,fourragereWw1 Original Imperial German Rare Navy Officers Cap Wwii Us Aaf Cbi Pilot's Theater Made Bush Jacket Uniform With Wings & Visor HatWwii / Ww2 U.s. Army Air Force, Herringbone Twill, Hbt, Type A-3 Mechanics Cap, Special Forces Ike Jacket & Khaki Shirt-all Blue Patch Oval-green Beret Macv SogAuthentic Seal Devgru St6 Gold Squadron Natural Gear Nat Gear Camo Ballcap HatTier 1 Group T1g Special Ops Contractor Tactical Training Logo Ballcap HatWw2 Japanese Navy Officers Tropical Hat Very Good.Original Wwi Us 29th Inf Div 114th Infantry Named Group Uniform Belt Book Hat Wwii Usmc Marine Officer's Dress Visor HatWw Ii Japanese Experimental Army Cut Green Felt Cap ~ 1st Model 2 Piece ~ Mint!Canadian Militia Victorian Era Senior Officers Torin Cap Circa 1890Ww1/ Us Army Uniform Shirt/pants/gaiters, Cap, Buttons, OtherVietnamese Special Forces Tiger Stripe Boonie Hat -in-country Made -1960's/70's Civil War Soldier Tintype Case Cap Rifle Musket Pistol Bayonet U.s. BuckleAuthentic Seal Devgru St6 Gold Squadron Natural Gear Nat Gear Camo Ballcap HatUs Air Force Usaf Strategic Air Command Sac Missileer Missile Hard Hat / HelmetRoyal Navy Ww1 Quilted Blue Serge Cap Hms LancasterAuthentic Seal Devgru St6 Gold Squadron Low Viz Flex-fit Us Flag Hat - S/mMint Condition Airborne Task Force Overseas Hat Device A BeautyGreat Civil War Era 10" Copper Powder Flask - Marked " American Cap & Flask "Ww2 Us Army Officer's Visor Hat, Small SizeGerman M 43 Cap Elite From The Same Man Ww2 Original With MarkingOriginal Wwi Us Advance Sector Uniform W/medal 504th Collar Disc Engineer & HatIndian Wars Us Army Dress Cap Eagles For Foot SoldiersAuthentic Seal Devgru St6 Red Squadron Tribe Cia Ubl Bin Laden Mission HatUs Navy Nwuiii Aor2 Digital Woodland Boonie Cap Hat - Xl - Seal Nsw Swcc SofWw2 Japanese Army Officer Hat .good1952 Dated Slouch Hat - Korean War Era - "fayrefield" United Felt Hats Melbourne Wwii -us Marine Corps- Vintage Woman Officer's Dress Blue Uniform Hat/cap W/boxJapanese Army Hat Of The Russo-japanese War.very GoodAuthentic Us Navy Seal Devgru St6 Old Gen Retro Silver Squadron Nsw Ballcap HatWw2 Japanese Navy Seaman's Combat Cap Hat Wwii 40's Shanghai China Helmet MedalCivil War Cdv: Young Cavalryman/unusual Jacket/showing Hat Insignia 2nd Cav "a".Ww2 Army Air Force Crusher Cap Aaf Officers Hat Colonel Hogans 7 3/8Authentic Navy Seal Devgru St6 Black Squadron Head Hunter Recce Nsw Ballcap HatIndian Wars 1875 Infantry Hat Ornaments (25)Spanish American War Artillery Hat Pins Goldplated 13'sUs Usa Purple Heart Medal Military Hat Lapel PinWw2 Wwii Wh Army Infantry Officer General Commander German Visor Hat CapUsmc Marine Corp Service Eagle Globe Anchor Cover Hat Emblem 1917-1920 Screw BkAuthentic Us Navy Seal Devgru St6 Black Squadron Recce Nsw Sof Jsoc Ballcap HatWw2 Us Army Officers Service Crusher Visor Cap Hat Usaaf Society Brand HeadwearGrand Army Of The Republic (gar) Hat Insignia BadgeOriginal Wwi Us 312th Mg 79th Infantry Division Uniform Group W/mg Hat & Pin Extremely Rare Red Auscam Opfor Kepi Cap Cdo Tbas Sord Sasr Amcu Australian ArmyAuthentic Us Navy Seal Devgru St6 Red Squadron "in Tribe We Trust" Ballcap Hat1855 Pattern Us Civil War Cap PouchAuthentic Seal Devgru St6 Red Squadron Tribe Cia Ubl Bin Laden Mission HatSpanish American War Hospital Stewards Hat EmblemsAkubra Military Slouch Hat 2001 Size 57 Khaki Felt With Snap-up Latch #8808Original Wwi German Specialist Artillery Feldmutze Nco Cap HatWwi U.s. Army Campaign Hat With Cavalry Cord, Leather Sweatband, Nice ConditionRare Bulgarian Splinter Camo Camouflage Combat Uniform Border Police + Cap