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    

Antique Silverplate French Solider W/ Shako Hat, Mahogany Shaft Cane, NrWwi German Army M.1910 Feldmutze Hat Cap-original-beautyGerman Officer Hat Original War Of 1812 Or Napoleonic War Era Bicorne Chapeau Officers HatWwii Italian Army Officer Bustina Cap-original-excellentRare Original Pre-wwi Usmc Us Marine Visor Cap Hat Kepi Ega Buttons See Photos AWw2 Army Slouch Hat With Artillery Colour PatchOriginal Vintage Wwii U.s. Cadet Nurse Named Wool Uniform And Cap Hat DeviceRare 2 Original Ww2 German Uniform? Hat? Wwii Medal Badge Tag Pendant Pin PatchWw 2 German Political Leaders Visor Cap HatWwi U.s. Army Officer Stetson Campaign Hat Size 7-3/8 In Great ShapeOriginal Wwii Usn Maroon Ball Cap Marked "66" Size 7-1/8Ww2 Japanese Hat Of A Navy Land Battle Corps.good*no Res* Lot 32 Antique Mostly Us Army Hat Helmet Badges Insignia Plates EaglesWw2 Army Slouch Hat With Colour Patch For Artillery Ww1 Us Pilots Lot-gloves,overseas Cap, Binoculars, Original Roundel From PlaneWw2 Army Slouch Hat 1944 Dated, 16th BattalionWw2 Luger P.08 Magazine 9mm Military Mauser Eagle/63 Waffen 7 Round Cap. WwiiWw2 Italian Navy Officer Visor Cap Device Badge Patch Insignia Rsi Fascist LotWw2 Raaf Slouch Hat 1944 DatedWw2 Italy Cap Device Badge Insignia Rsi Fascist Uniform Pin Lot Wwii ItalianVietnam War 1st Marine Recon Boonie Hat With Direct Embroidered InsigniaWw2 Japanese Army Officer Hat 45 Type.1935.no.7 Very Good.Ww2 Police Luger P.08 Magazine Wwii 9mm German Military 8 Round Cap. OriginalOriginal Wwii Army Sergeant 185th Infantry Wool Tunic Uniform Jacket And CapWw2 Us Army Officers Od Private Purchase Visor Hat Sz 7 1/8Original Vietnam 1969 Rifle Green Beret W/ Tassle Wool 6 7/8 Vintage No ReserveWwii Army Officers Khaki Visor Cap Eagle Emblem Military Estate Uniform HatGerman Wool Waffen Ss Visor CapRare Orig Indian War Era Quality West Virginia Colonel Kepi / Hat - Exc CondWw2 Walther P.38 Magazine Eagle 359 9mm 7 Round Cap. Wwii German Military 9mmWwi Usmc Ega Hat Insignia Ww1 Us Officer Visor HatVietnam War -us Marine Corps- Vintage Senior Officers Id'd Dress Uniform Hat/capNorth Korean Kpa Army Field Cap-guaranteed Original-scarceGerman Officer Visor Hat With Eagle Cockade Insignia, Black With Gold CordingWw2 British Royal Artillery Beret Scarce World War One Usmc Hat/helmet BadgeRare -us Marine Corps- General Officer's Dress White Uniform Visor Hat/capOriginal Ww 1 Or 2 Flight Cap Aviator Helmet Head Gear Type B-5 Leather Hat BombWw2 Authentic Hj German Cap / HatSpecial Forces/ Green Beret Group/lot. Salty To Mint Condition.erdl Jacket/beretArmy Air Corp Pink Dress Hat World War TwoVintage Ww2 M43 German Green Wool Button Front Cap Visor HatCivil War Era Cap Pouch, Attributed To Member Of 92nd Ohio InfantryWw I Canadian 2nd Queens Own Rifles Of Canada Fur Officer Busby Shako Hat CapWw2 Era U.s. Military Survival Reversible Boonie Hat Or Cap ~l@@k~German Wwii Original Army Elite Guards Aluminum Metal Hat Tk Skull Halmrk 315/40Ww2 Fn Model 1922 Browning Magazine 8 Round Cap. Wwii 7.65mm Original GermanUs Army 5th Special Forces Group Green Beret, 1963, 7 1/4Huge Lot Of 57 Vintage U.s. Military Shoulder & Hat Badges, Mid CenturyFrance French Army Napoleon War Shako Hat Movie Memorabilia Ww2 Japanese Army Officer Field CapMounted Rifleman Hat/ Cap Insignia Pin Dug Collierville Tn- Id'd 3rd Us CavalryRare Original Ww1 Officers' Gor Blimey Cloth Hat CapI.s. 1943 Wwii Anti Aircraft Shell With Tracer Cap - 20mm Mk - 2 W/ Brass Casing Vintage Ww2 Seabee Veterans Group: Patches, Winter Hat, Medals & More German Wwii Army Winter Fur HatUs Army 4 Star General Officers Stetson Cavalry Hat Size 7Original Wwi Campaign Felt Hat - Excellent Condition