Although the military wore special clothing and armor as early as Ancient Greece and Rome, most soldiers fought in their civilian wear and perhaps some form of helmet and other protection. Many of the helmets were also decorated with a colorful plume to distract the enemy and identify friends and foes. In the late 1600s, different branches of the military began designing their own unique uniform styles. Over the years, a wide variety of hats and caps have been worn with these uniforms for design, warmth and protection from the elements.
According to a book by John Whiteclay Chambers II, the British Army foot guards started wearing tall grizzly bearskin fur hats in the 1670s. The military thought these hats would make the men look taller and more intimidating during battle. In 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo, all soldiers were allowed to wear fur caps. Even today, each battalion receives a bearskin hat on loan when assigned to ceremonial responsibilities at Buckingham Palace in London. In the past, each man owned his own hat, but now the guards only receive one when necessary. Some of the hats, kept in storage when not used, are more than 100 years old. The newest ones are made of synthetic fur due to complaints from animal activists.
Civil War Hats
Hats were were worn with both the Union and Confederate Civil War uniforms. The first Union hats were made of heavy black wool felt. They were controversial because they looked too much like civilian hats. Although many of the officers continued to wear these earlier wool hats, the lower ranks began wearing kepi, or the billed caps seen in most Civil War photographs. The Confederate soldiers also wore kepi, with different colors depending on rank. The fez was worn by those American Union and Confederate soldiers who modeled themselves after zouave soldiers, North African troops fighting with the French Army. However, this hat was also not adequate for the battlefields. The fezes did not shield the soldiers' eyes from sunlight and were impractical during the winter.
When Israel was first partitioned as a separate country in 1947, the new government ordered hats from New York manufacturers. These first hats were made by a company called Hitelmacher, or Yiddish for "hat maker." From then on, the hats were named after this manufacturer. These straight-sided round hats, which had an unbendable visor, leather chinstrap, sweatband and drop-down cloth on the back to protect the soldier's neck, were very practical. They were worn to the Sinai Campaign in 1956.
The wide-brimmed boonie hat was first worn by the Vietnam War soldiers. They either were olive drab, woodland or tiger-striped. The tiger stripes were best for camouflage. The boonie was ideal for the tropical weather, with its hot, humid and rainy days. Many soldiers from all of the U.S. military branches continue to wear this hat today because of its practicality.
New Army Uniforms
In 2008, the United States Army made the blue Army service uniform (ASU) the official mandatory wear. All Army personnel must wear this uniform as of July 2014. The ASU takes the place of two previous uniforms – the "Army Green" and "Army White." It is based on what is now called the "dress blue" uniform, which goes back to the Revolutionary War. The Continental Army wore blue in contrast to the red British coats. It also is indicative of the blue Civil War Union uniform, which led to the term "the Blue and the Gray." The beret is the standard headgear, unless a commander directs corporals and above to wear the service cap. ROTC/JROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) cadets wear a gray beret with their uniform. The black beret is now standard for all soldiers.