Since today is Memorial Day, we thought we’d take a look at hats in the military.
Berets have been a part many uniforms in the armed forces throughout the world since the mid-20th century. Military berets are usually pushed to the right to free the shoulder that bears the rifle on most soldiers, but the armies of some European countries have influenced the push to the left.
Berets have features that make them very attractive to the military: they are cheap, easy to make in large numbers, can be manufactured in a wide range of colors, rolled up and stuffed into a pocket or beneath the shirt epaulette without damage, and they can be worn with headphones (one of the reasons why tank crews adopted the beret). As you could imagine, the beret is not very useful in field conditions for the modern infantryman, whom require protective helmets.
The beret was found particularly useful as a uniform for armored-vehicle crews. The British Tank Corps (later Royal Tank Corps) adopted the headdress as early as 1918, despite complaints that the beret was “too foreign and feminine”.
The kepi was worn by both the Europeans and Americans. It is a cap with a flat circular top and a visor (American English) or peak (British English). In Europe, this headdress is most commonly associated with French military and police uniforms. In North America, it is usually associated with the United States Civil War, as it was worn by soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
The kepi was formerly the most common headgear in the French Army. Its predecessor originally appeared during the 1830s, in the course of the initial stages of the occupation of Algeria, as a series of various lightweight cane-framed cloth undress caps called casquette d’Afrique. As a light and comfortable headdress, it was adopted by the metropolitan (French mainland) infantry regiments for service and daily wear. The kepi became well known outside of France during the Crimean War and was subsequently adopted in various forms by a number of other armies (including the U.S. and Russia) during the 1860s and 1870s.
In the United States, the kepi is most often associated with the American Civil War era and continued into the Indian Wars. Union Officers were generally issued kepis for fatigue use. A close copy of the contemporary French kepi, it had a sunken top and squared visor. It was often called a “McClellan cap”, after the Union commander of the Army of the Potomac, G.B. McClellan. For field officers, the caps were often decorated in a French-influenced style, with a dark velvet band around the base and black silk braiding on the crown. The kepi was also popular with various state units and as privately purchased headgear. It was standard issue in 1861 for New York infantry regiments.
A campaign hat is a broad-brimmed felt or straw hat with a high crown pinched symmetrically at the four corners (the “Montana crease”). It is associated with the New Zealand Army, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the World War I ground forces of the United States Army, contemporary U.S. Military drill instructors, state police forces, park rangers (and from them, their logo-cartoon and mascot – Smokey the Bear), Boy Scouts and others.
In the past, a campaign hat was referred to as a Stetson – which is a company that manufactured campaign style hats in the late 19th century. A campaign hat should not be confused with a Stetson cowboy hat, which is more commonly meant by the term “Stetson” today.
Special thanks to those who have served and those who are serving in the armed forces. The crew at the Village Hat Shop greatly appreciates your services. Happy Memorial Day!
About the author
Kimi Sakamoto is the Social Marketing Coordinator for Village Hat Shop, an online retail leader in headwear and fashion accessories. In addition to managing the company's social media presence - including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram - she is a regular contributor to The Hat Blog and its sister site - Less Chat, More Hat. Born and raised in California, Kimi enjoys spending time outdoors. You can find her on Google+ and Twitter.