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What is a Kepi Hat? Types, Definition & Photos

Take a close look at the kepi hat, where was it used in history, who uses them now, how to properly wear them, how to make your own and a variation to its style.

A girl wearing a checkered kepi hat to match her scarf.
  • The kepi is a military-style cylindrical headdress with a flat circular top and visor.
  • The kepi was the French Army’s most common hat and is also associated with the American Civil War.
  • Today, the kepi hat and variations thereof are still part of various military groups and events worldwide.

People wear hats for different reasons. I recently had to wear one to a military-themed fancy-dress party. One of my friends suggested the kepi, so I decided to research this hat’s looks and origin.

What Is A Kepi Hat?

This is an antique French military kepi hat on a table on display.

The kepi hat is a military-styled headdress with a cylindrical form, a flat circular top, and a visor. It was commonly worn by the French Army but was also adopted by various other countries, including America.

In 1852, the first proper model of the kepi had a square visor. This slightly oversized visor was referred to as bec de canard (duckbill). This model had no chinstrap, but later designs had chinstraps, smaller visors, and buttons.

By 1900, the kepi had become the standard headdress of most French army units. The kepis had different band colors, crown colors, braids, and logos for various units and ranks.

During the Civil War, Gen. George B McClennan preferred the kepi due to its French look, so it was also often referred to as the McClellan cap.’ Another alternative name to the kepi was the ‘chasseur-style cap.’

What Was The Kepi Hat Made Of?

The ‘body’ of a kepi consisted of a stiff band of pasteboard covered with either cloth, wool, or jean wool.

The visor was made of leather; however, by mid-war, tarred cloth often replaced the leather as there was frequently not enough leather for shoes.

History Of The Kepi Hat

This is a historical reenactment of the civil war with soldiers wearing blue uniforms and kepi hats.

The French nation wore the kepi hat so much that it subsequently became associated with the French. However, it also has a history with several other countries.

In the history of the world, military hats underwent various transformations. At the turn of the 19th century, most caps during the French Revolutionary wars were replaced by the shako: one of the kepi’s predecessors. The Mexicans also wore shakos in North America during the Texas revolution, as did members of various marching bands throughout America.

The shako eventually became bulkier, more ornamented, and unpractical as it was too heavy and somewhat uncomfortable. Many nations adopted softer and simpler hats called forage caps. The French were no different.

During the invasion of Algeria in the 1830s, the shako was so unpractical due to the high African temperatures that the French decided to develop a lighter and more comfortable forage cap called a casquette d’Afrique.

These are cadets in a ceremony of a military school in Italy wearing kepi hats.

In 1852, the casquette d’Afrique eventually evolved into what is known today as the kepi hat. Subsequently, by 1900, the kepi had become the standard headdress of most French army units.

The kepi eventually became so well-known that various other countries also adopted it. For example, in American history, the kepi hat was worn by soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.

Other armies that were fitted out with kepis include the Danish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Even the Japanese and the Italians decided to adopt the French-style kepis for their officers.

Is The Kepi Hat Still in Style?

Although the U.S. Army discontinued the kepi in 1902 when they introduced a new and revised blue dress uniform, this popular headdress didn’t completely disappear. This cylindrical headdress with its visor and the flat circular top is often seen in marching bands all over the country.

Today, the traditional kepi is still part of the uniform of the French Foreign Legion. Fittingly, these members are often referred to as Kepis blancs, which means ‘white kepis.’

Variations of the kepi are also still seen in many military groups all over the world. For instance, apart from the French Foreign Legion, these hats also form part of two French groups’ uniforms for ceremonial duties: the Gendarmerie (a branch of the French Armed Forces) and the customs officers.

Countries like Greece still fit out their officer cadets and NCO trainees with kepis. Likewise, we still see senior staff members of the Swiss Armed Forces wearing these headdresses.

Interestingly, the kepi even features in the world of fashion. In 2014, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld gave the kepi a haute makeover for the Chanel 2014 couture.

How To Make Your Own Kepi Hat

This is a parade of soldiers in formation carrying weapons.

Although the kepi is typically made out of wool and leather, you can easily make your own version using cheaper and simpler materials.

Using only felt, cardboard, paint, and a little creativity, you will be amazed at how easy it is to create your own replica of the kepi hat.

Here is an easy DIY pattern to follow in creating a fashionable masterpiece.

A Variation Of The Kepi Hat: The Peaked Cap

As mentioned earlier, military hats constantly evolved throughout the centuries. Thanks to the invention of the kepi, various other styles of hats started to emerge. One such variation that is still hugely popular, even today, is the peaked cap.

Like the ‘forage cap,’ which later evolved into the kepi, the peaked cap is a soft flap cap with a visor. Its crown consists of various panels that are sewn together.

The peaked cap has been, and still is, an impressive fashion item for models, movie stars, and average Joe’s alike.

Who can ever forget the cool looks of Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby or Cillian Murphy’s character Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders? In a sense, they owe it all to the humble peaked cap.