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    

Original Civil War Period Wool Forage CapIdentified Usn Commanders Hat/cap ~ Spanish American War ~ Uncommon Ww2 German Helmet Dak Hat Cap Visor Ww2 Us Army Air Force Military Officer Estate Wool Hat Visor Combat Crusher Cap Ww 1 Us Marine Dress Blue HatRare Original Indian War Era " Uss " United States Scouts - Hat Insignia -excWw2 Japanese Navy Officer Hat And Box.very GoodOriginal Ww2 / Wwii Luger P.08 Magazine 7 Round Cap. German Mauser Military 9mm Italian Fascist Black Shirts Fez Hat Italy Fascista Wwii Original Fascio Badge Indian Wars Us Army Model 1883 Campaign Hat - Complete!!Us Civil War Gar Union Blue Uniform Hat Cap Kepi Bullion Insignia 6 S.vOriginal Wwii Usmc Officer's Hat Ega Sterling H&h Halmarked Ww1 German 17th Infantry Regiment Officer Hat CapRare 122 Code Luger P.08 Magazine Ww2 / Wwii Original 9mm 7 Round Cap. Eagle 37Authentic German Luftwaffe Paratrooper Visor Cap Ww2Trgear Folding Grappling Hook. Special Forces Issue. 1650 Lb Cap On Each ArmCivil War, Civilian Slouch Hat Brown Ww2 Us Army Nurse Corps Office HatItaly Wwii Italian Fascist Musn Officers Bullion Eagle Insignia Cap Visor HatWwi Us Soldier Private Purchase Army Wool Dress Hat Enlisted Military Visor CapWw2 Japanese Naval Officer Hat Cover.Wwi Iron Cross, U.s.s. Leviathan Medals, American Legion 40 & 8 Medal, Pins, CapRare Ww2 U.s. Navy Officer's Visor Cap Hat With Gray Cover And Black Chin Strap.Vintage Original Civil War United States Navy Usn Ammo Patch Fuse Cap Pouch BagWwi Imperial German Jäger Regiments Officer Cap *original*Civil War Reenacting Tim Bender HatWwi/ww1 Usmc Marine Corps HatWw2 Wwii Navy Kriegsmarine U-boat U-boot Captain Officer German Visor Hat CapU.s. Naval Officers Grey Visored Cap With Subdued Fittings ~ Quite ScarceIndian Wars Us Army Model 1876 Hat With Wool Braided Hat Cord - CompleteOriginal Wwii Us Army Aaf B-2 Shearling Bomber Gunner Leather Flight Cap HatCivil War Cdv Cavalryman Dress Uniform ~ Lt Straps Sword, Crossed Swords On HatWwi/ww1 Era Usmc Marine Corps Rain HatOriginal Ww2 Mauser Hsc Magazine 7 Round Cap. 7.65mm German Wwii Half MoonWorld War 1 Officers M1911 Campaign Hat With Chin Strap - Stetson Excellent Ww1Ww2 Japanese Golden Kite Medal Badge Army War Navy Officer Award Silver Wwii CapOriginal Wwii Us Army / Aaf Officer's Knox Brand Visor Hat *excellent Condition*Original Wwii Usaaf Aaf Army Officers Service Gaberdine Peaked Crusher Hat CapScarce C. 1920 U.s. Army Artillery Field Grade Officer Cap Hat Major-colonelRare Circa 1810's, American Militia Cap Plate Insignia 3.4" X 4.7" F+ (9 Pics)Wwii Us Army & Air Corps Officer's Tan Crusher Hat Named Lt. Colonel Size 7 2 Military Hats Usmc Berkshire, S.w. Rice Hat Size 7Wwii / Ww2 U.s. Army Officer’s Service Cap, Od Wool, Made By Lewis, Excellent Pre-civil War U S Army Dragoons Enlisted Visor Cap - Complete!!Post Ww2 / Wwii Walther Pp Finger Extension Magazine 7 Round Cap. 7.65mm .32 CalOriginal Wwii Us Navy Commander's Lot~uniforms, Hat, Medals, Silver Id TagsWw2 Excellent Condition U.s. Army Officers Service CapWw2 Usa Army Field Jacket M-1943 Cap,hat Size 7 1/8 Belt/ Solid Brass BuckleGerman Officer Overseas Uniform Field Cap Wwi Or Wwii Infantry Garrison Army Hat1967 7th Special Forces Group ( Abn. ), Green Beret U.s. Navy Officer's Visor Cap Hat From Vietnam War Era By Bancroft Large 7 3/8Scarce Orig Ww2 Black Canvas Beret Canadian Armoured Corps 1942 Large Morris CapWw2 Us Army Officers HatIndian Wars War Era Armed Cabinet Photo Slouch Hat, Uniform And Krag Rifle / Bay Post Ww2 U.s. Navy Officer's Visor Cap Hat (korean War) BancroftKepi Hat Insignia For General Staff Officer--embroidered Gold And SilverWwi Ww2 Mixed Army Hat And Collar BadgesVintage Leather W/fur Lining Aviator Air Force Helmet CapWwii Us Army Air Corps Peaked Overseas Officer's Visor Cap Hat, Brown LeatherWwii Royal Armoured Corps British Black Beret