Military and wartime antiques and memorabilia include an enormously wide variety of objects. From the battlefield, there are the uniforms, wristwatches, medals, buttons, and trench art worn, used, and created by those on the front lines. On the homefront, there are the war and propaganda posters produced to keep morale high in difficult times, the postcards mailed to and received by loved ones, and the memoirs and history books written during and after conflicts for the benefit of future generations.
Many pieces of militaria were created for the protection of military personnel. Literally at the top of the protection pyramid are helmets, which evolved from the armor worn by knights in days of old. Like those helmets, some early military helmets protected the head, neck, and face. Other helmets put their emphasis on the visual impression they’d have on the enemy, with nasty-looking spikes on their crowns, as seen in the Pickelhaube, which was worn by members of the Imperial German Army beginning in 1842.
For their part, British troops of the late 19th and early 20th centuries repurposed the medieval kettle hat into a safari helmet made from pith, a lightweight material derived from an Indian swamp plant. Though pith helmets appear stylish to contemporary eyes, metal provided better protection, which led to the grey, blue, or green helmets of World War I. Examples of these easily mass-produced helmets include the French Adrian helmet and the German M16. World War II helmets were simpler still, mostly consisting of plain metal domes such as the American M1 or “steel pot,” which was made from a single metal sheet with an adjustable plastic liner and two metal loops for a chinstrap. The M1 was so versatile, it was used by U.S. troops through 1985.
Hats were not required to be as hard working helmets, but they still had to be practical. The brims of the 18th-century tricorn, or tricorne, were designed to direct rainfall away from the face and shoulders. During the American Civil War, the forage cap, or kepi, featured a flat-topped cylindrical crown to keep the head cool and a black leather visor to shield the eyes from the sun. Navy-blue Union caps were decorated with a crossed sword or golden bugle emblem, while Confederate kepis were grey, yellow, red. Officers wore slouch hats, so named for their wide, circular brims which sometimes attached to the crown on one side.
Also in the 19th century, the beret was popularized by the elite French Chasseurs Alpins, who wore the wool caps for their water resistance and warmth in cold, wet conditions. A century later, a green version of this venerable headpiece was worn in Vietnam by a secretive Army Special Forces Unit called the Green Berets, who were lionized as much for their actions in the field as the caps on their heads.
Military jackets and coats, which are also collected, fall into two general categories, dress and fatigue. The first American Army uniform policy of 1779 called for a “blue, open waistcoat” for American troops, while the British were clad in red-colored jackets with white or blue facings. Similarly, in the Civil War, Union troops wore blue while Confederate fighters wore gray. Eventually, though, military strategists realized that they would do better to call less attention their soldiers, which is one reason why in the late 1800s, British troops donned drab khaki uniforms during the Second Boer War. Khaki-colored jackets would be worn in every major conflict of the 20th century.
Trench coats are another 19th-century military invention, though clothiers Burberry and Aquascutum of England are still fighting over their dueling claims to the style. Regardles...
The most collected jacket of World War II is easily the leather bomber or pilot flight jacket, which evolved from the U.S. Air Force’s Type A-2 jacket of 1931. Companies such as Werber Sportswear and Aero Leather Clothing Co. manufactured the garments, which featured brown horsehide leather, knitted wristlets, and a waistband. High-altitude crews favored the B-3 Shearling Bomber Jacket, originally designed in 1926 for the British RAF by a parachutist. During World War II, these jackets were offered in electrically heated versions, too.
Fatigue jackets and many types of hats are often decorated with embroidered military patches, designating the wearer’s squadron, division, or vessel. Some patches show active rank while others signify prior service and status as a veteran. Medals and pins for service and conduct are typically worn on dress jackets. While medals can hang from ribbons, the word also refers to the colorful decorations awarded during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and wars in the Middle East, when U.S. servicemen and women were given ribbons affixed to bars, which, collectively, are sometimes described as “fruit salad.”