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”)

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    

Wwi Us Army 2nd Lt Nurse Corps Uniform Grouping Coat, Cape, & Cap - Named & RareWw2 Wwii Italy Italian Fascist Army Pnf Hat Fez Superb ConditionWw2 Wwii Italy Fascist Army Mvsn Milizia Contraerei Dicat Hat Fez MarescialloDemolition Airborne Group, Bag, 10 Cap Blasting, Wwii Us Mint, UnissuedOriginal Vietnam War Ciso Okinawa Tiger Stripe Boonie HatCanadian Ww2 Airborne Hat Badge - Officer's - 1st Canadian Parachute BattalionWehrmacht Army Field Cap German With Stamps Inside Dated 1943 Ww2Complete Original Ww1 Vad Voluntary Aid Detatchment Nurses Uniform & Hat - NamedWw2 Japanese Army Tropical Hat Kai Shigeyoshi.very GoodWw1 Conscientious Objectors/ambulance Drivers Cap.Police Visor Cap German With Stamps Berlin Inside Ww2Wwi-wwii Usmc Marine Corps Officers Ega Hat Device, Old Estate Fresh (#a1)Indian War Period Usmc United States Marine Corps Officers Shako Hat Us No Res.Vintage Antique Civil War Slouch Hat, OriginalWw2 Eagle Hat Or Chest Insignia With Back ScrewOriginal Wwii German Air Force (luftwaffe) Wool Garrison Cap HatUs Ww2 Ka-bar, Olean, Ny Mark 5 Hard Hat Diver's Knife & Scabbard No Reserve!!Australian Ww2 Era Awas Uniform Cap Hat With Rising Sun BadgeItalian Fascist Party High Gerarca Peaked Cap 1938-43.italian Kingdom SenatorAntique Eagle & Shield Military Militia Shako Helmet Hat Insignia Badge PlateOriginal Ww2 Airborne Infantry Em Paratrooper Overseas Cap, Bullion Patch!Pre Ww1 1905-1908 J.r. Gaunt Dress Enlisted Cap Hat Ega Insignia Rare UsmcOriginal Australian Army Pre Ww2 Militia Period Light Horse Slouch Hat 1921 RareCdv Of An Identified Vermont Officer Amputee With Hat, Sword, & Corps BadgeItalian Fascist Milizia Alpine Style Hat.consul(colonel) 136th Legion CommanderRare Usmc 1920s Dress Uniform-tunic-pants-belt And Rare 1922 Pattern Visor HatWwii Us Army Officers Crusher Visor Cap Maker The ColumbiaWw2 Us Army Officer Chocolate Brown Overseas Cap, Sz 7 1/8; "luxenberg" 2lt BarWwii Japanese Army Field Cap-original-late WarCivil War Era Tall Top Hat / Flat Brim / Stovepipe / Lowell, Mass. / Aafa / NrCanadian Wwii Beret With Fusiliers Mont Royal Cap BadgeWw1 Us Doughboy Campaign Hat...great Montana Peak ! !Vintage **flight Hat & Goggles** Motorcycle Steampunk?Original Ww2 German Elite Officer Visor Cap..rare MakerLuftwaffe Pz Visor HatAntique Original Civil War & Indian Wars - Wm. H. Horstmann Co. Phila. Kepi HatGenuine W.w. Ii German Army Officer Erel Visor HatWwi-wwii Usmc Marine Corps Ega Hat Device, Old Estate Fresh (#a2)Vintage Beret Grand Mere Knitting Company 1944 Canada Military Hat Vietnam Special Forces Airborne Bright Light Beret Flash Sog Theater MadeVietnam 7th Special Forces Airborne Arvn Original Beret Flash Theater Made NamedWw 2 Polish Army Airborne 1940 Wool Battledress Blouse Size 13, 1943 W/beretWw Ii Leather B-2 Bomber Crew Cap Eastman Leather Sheepskin Lined ReproRare Original Indian War Era " Uss " United States Scouts - Hat Insignia -excCeylon Parachutist Airborne Troops Beret Insignia 1972 Issue MetalThe North Face New Era Crye Precision Multicam 59fifty Hat - 7 1/2 LargeVietnam Special Forces Airborne Arvn Original Beret Flash Advisor Theater Made Vietnam Special Forces Airborne Arvn Original Beret Flash Advisor Theater Made Wwi Uniform Tunic/trousers/campaign Hat/bandolier /military School/smallCivil War Dug Infantry Bugle Cap Devise , GettysburgWw2 German Elite Wool Hat Sz. 58Original Ww2 Us Navy Commander Officer Visor Hat Named/w BadgeDecorated Ww2 Usmc Gunnery Sergeant Photo Dress Blue Uniform Badges Ribbons HatWwii Officer Fur Felt Visor HatThe North Face New Era Crye Precision Multicam 59fifty Hat - 7 1/4 FittedEstate Find, Id To Usmc Korean Vet. P41 Uniform Hbt,shirt,pants,hat Original Wwii Us Army Engineer Blasting Machine 10 CapWw2 Original P.38 "u" Magazine 7 Round Cap. 9mm Wwii German Mauser Walther JvdCivil War Dug Jeff Davis Hat Pin, Corinth Miss. Camp SiteWwii Us Army Blasting Machine 10 Cap. - White Rogers Elec. Co. St. Louis Mo.