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]

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    

Orig Us Ww2 Brown Cap-toe Service Shoes Dated March 30 1942 Mint Unused Unworn 2 Ww Italian Royal Air Force Officer Blue Peaked Cap.regia Areonautica2 Ww Italian Chemistry Officer Peaked Cap.Ww1 Trench Art Officers Cap Made From German 1917 Shell.Us Civil War Kepi Cap Bugle Pvt S North, 1st Va Inf Reg Co HCivil War Csa Belt,north Carolina Buckle,cap Pouch,enfield Bayonet Group #3-used2 Ww Italian 2nd Ltn Peaked Cap.26th Artillery Rgt.el Alamein North AfricaWwii Nurse Officers Hat Size 22 1/2 By Knox Near Mint Condition Part Of UniformBeautiful Ww1 1910 Dragoner Nr.5 Officers Field Gray Blouse+cap!! Rar!!!Original Wwii Era Us Army / Usaaf Officer's "thunderbird" Brand Visor Hat *nice*Ww2 Usmc Marine Corps Canteen W/ Cover And Cup Wwii Field Gear Flat Cap Rare Ww1 Wwi Marine Usmc Collar Disk Hat Cover Pennsyvania Railroad Medal LotSouth Vietnamese Arvn Ranger Bullion Badged Maroon Wool Beret Original VietnamUsaaf Type B-2 Fleece Flight Hat Size 7 1/2 Original Nice Ww1 British Royal Navy Blue Cap Hms DreadnoughtCivil War Csa Belt,buckle,cap Pouch,enfield Bayonet Group #2-old Campaigners*very Nice Early U.s. Marines Usmc Visor Hat E.g.a. Eagle Globe Anchor Insignia*2 Ww Italian Medical General Peaked CapWwii Usmc Rubberized Rain Hat Dated November 30, 1943 Vietnam War U.s.m.c. Erdl Camo Hat Size 7-1/4" IWw2 German Luftwaffe Elite Overseas Hat OriginalCivil War Csa Belt,buckle,cap Pouch,enfield Bayonet Group-old CampaignersWwii Wool Combat Uniform Visor Cap Us Army Air Corps Force Officer Crusher HatOriginal German Ww 2 - M44 Dutch Volunteer Overcoat With A Cap - Very RareBeautiful Civil War Csa Enlisted Mcdowell Style Forage Cap - Accurate!!C.ww2 , Original Australian Army Officers Peaked Cap And Badge With Storage BagA2 Usaaf Wwii Officers Crusher Cap (amazing Reproduction Flighter By Bancroft)2 Ww Italian Chemistry Officer Field Cap Bustina Side CapAntique Pith Helmet 15bl Hat Cap 56 Estate Find Perretti Margeille Military OldWwii Japanese Army Justice Official Visor Cap-original-nice Kanji CharactersIdentified Civil War Yankee Soldier In Bummers Cap Set In Mint Union Case !!!Original Us Wwi Army Enlisted Visor Hat W/ Rare Rain Cover Idd To 8th InfantryRare Texas Made Wwi British Rfc Officer's Visor CapMvsn Black Visor CapWwii Us Army Wool Ike Jacket Uniform (tie, Belt, Garrison Cap)Ww2 Japanese Army Abbreviation Hat For Officers.very GoodUs Army Engineer Special Brigade Ike Jacket Group W Patched Wool Shirt And HatOriginal Early Wwii Khaki With Od Mohair Army Officer's Summer Weight Visor Hat Named Us Navy Officers Hat & Squadron Jacket Patch Lieutenant Commander Wwii Japanese Army CapAuthentic Civil War Hardee HatWw2 Crusher Cap Sz. 6-7/8, Ww2 Officer Usaaf Pilots Visor Hat, No ReserveVietnam War Army Chaplain Class A Green Uniform With Insignia & Service HatWw2 Officers Chocolate Dress Tunic With Bancroft Cap,named With Essayon ButtonsWw 2 5th Aaf Tunic And Overses CapVintage Lot Of 10 Cap Hat Badges Military Institute Academy VirginiaUsmc Marine Corps White Officer Hat New Size 7 And 5/8Wwii Usmc Jacket Aircrew Wings Sharpshooter Pins Sweetheart Fmf-pac Marines HatWw2 Vintage Army Boots Brown 11 1/2 R Cap Toe Boots Paratrooper JumpWw2 Khaki Paratrooper Garrison Oversea S Hat With Airborne Infantry PatchWwii Japanese Army Captain Guam Unif Medal Grouping In Ship Cont. Hat More++++M1 M2 Carbine Disconnect Lever, Selector, 9 Spring, Disconnector Cap And SpringOfficers Cap Usaaf Wwii 'crusher' TypeWwii U.s. Army Officers Overseas Cap Captain Bars Marked Luxenberg Size 7-1/4"Old German Ww2 Air Force Offizier Gabardine Field CapWw2 German Fire Polce Feuerpolizei M43 Hat Cap - No ReserveWw2 German Kriegsmarine Sailor CapWwii Wh Ww2 Officer General Allgemeine Elite Infantry Visor German M32 Hat CapNew Us Navy Usn Hat Military Dress Cover Cap White W/carry Storage CaseOriginal Civil War Percussion Cap Pouch Baker & Mckinney New York