A salute, of sorts, to iconic military headgear.

IN THE BEGINNING OF The Little Prince, A FANCIFUL children’s fable for adults, the pioneering French Aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry asks: “Why should anyone be afraid of a hat?” The hats shown in these pages–from one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s 120-odd bicorns to the camo-wrapped, name-banded Kevlar helmet worn by U.S. Army general Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. during Operation Desert Storm–may help answer the question. But the bottom line surely is this: If clothes make the man, hats–as often as not–make the soldier. 


  • Douglas MacArthur’s Dress Cap. This cap, custom made for MacArthur after he was recalled to active duty in 1941 as commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, certainly matched his outsize ego and flair for theatrics. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
  • The Duke of Wellington’s Army Staff Cocked Hat. Worn by Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley in or around 1846, this bicorn hat (top) is similar to the one he waved in 1815 to signal the British advance on Napoleon’s defeated Imperial Guard at Waterloo. (National Army Museum, London)
  • Napoleon Bonaparte’s Bicorn Hat. In a word: iconic. The legendary French military leader wore some 120 bicorns throughout his career; only 19 of them—including this one (bottom), which he wore at the Battle of Marengo in 1800—survive. Unlike his contemporaries, Napoleon famously wore his felt black hat tilted to the side. (Chestnot/Getty Images)
  • Robert E. Lee’s Slouch Hat. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, favored slouch hats; he may have worn this one (top) when he surrendered at Appomattox in 1865. (The American Civil War Museum)
  • A. P. Hill’s Campaign Hat. Hill, who commanded the Confederate army’s famous “Light Division,” wore this hat until the Third Battle of Petersburg, where he was killed in 1865. (The American Civil War Museum)
  • William Tecumseh Sherman’s Campaign Hat. Sherman, who in 1864 led more than 60,000 Union troops on his March to the Sea, wore this standard-issue gray-felt officer’s hat. (Smithsonian institution)
  • Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Rider Hat. Roosevelt wore this felt hat from Brooks Brothers while leading his volunteer cavalry unit in the Spanish-American War. (Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, National Park Service)
  • Joseph Stilwell’s Campaign Hat. The sharp-tongued army general known as “Vinegar Joe” wore this “lemon squeezer” (bottom left) while assigned to the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. (Heritage Auctions)
  • Winston Churchill’s MK I Helmet. During World War I Britain’s future prime minister commanded a battalion on the Western Front, where he wore this bowl-shaped steel Brodie helmet. (Alamy)
  • Charles de Gaulle’s Kepi. De Gaulle, who led the Free French Forces during World War II and would later become France’s president, wore this oak-leaf-decorated hat while in exile from 1941 to 1944. (Musée De L’ordre de la Libération)
  • Eddie Rickenbacker’s Visor Cap. With 26 aerial victories in World War I, Rickenbacker was the most successful fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Service. He was issued this cap by the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot. Rickenbacker, who had a lifelong fear of heights, was dubbed “the Ace of Aces,” though he disliked that title, feeling that “it carried the curse of death.” (International Military Antiques)
  • Rino Boeri’s Fez. As a member of Benito Mussolini’s elite corps of personal bodyguards—the “Musketeers of the Duce,” as they were commonly known—Boeri wore this black-felt fez, whose most distinctive feature was a silver-plated skull with bones and swords crossed behind it. (Alamy)
  • Bernard Montgomery’s Beret. Before the brilliant but eccentric field marshal led British forces to victory over Erwin Rommel’s dreaded German Afrika Corps in the Battle of El Alamein, a member of the Royal Tank Regiment gave “Monty” this black beret (bottom), which he wore for the rest of World War II. (The Tank Museum, Dorset UK)
  • Jimmy Doolittle’s U.S. Army Air Corps Hat. Doolittle, who led a daring bombing raid on Tokyo four months after Pearl Harbor, donated this hat to a Navy Relief Fund auction. (Heritage Auctions)
  • Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.’s Helmet. Introduced to U.S. ground troops after the Vietnam War, Kevlar helmets like the one worn by “Stormin’ Norman” saw widespread use during Operation Desert Storm. (Smithsonian Institution)
  • John F. Kennedy’s Navy Officer’s Hat. JFK joined the navy in 1941 and was promoted to lieutenant in 1942; he wore this white-crowned hat before taking command of PT-109. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/Joel Benjamin)


This article appears in the Summer 2018 issue (Vol. 30, No. 4) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Hats Off!