What is a Kepi Hat?

The kepi hat is a cap with a flat circular top and a peak, or visor. Etymologically, the term is a loanword of French: képi, itself a re-spelled version of the Alemannic German: Käppi, a diminutive form of Kappe, meaning “cap”. In Europe, this headgear is most commonly associated with French military and police uniforms, though versions of it were widely worn by other armies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[ In North America, it is usually associated with the American 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. These were intended as alternatives to the heavier, cloth-covered leather French Army shako. As a light and comfortable headdress, it was adopted by the metropolitan (French mainland) infantry regiments for service and daily wear, with the less practical shako being relegated to parade use.

In 1852, a new soft cloth cap was introduced for the campaign and off-duty. Called bonnet de police à visière, this was the first proper model of the kepi. The visor was generally squarish in shape and oversized and was referred to as bec de canard (duck bill). This kepi had no chinstrap (jugulaire). Subsequent designs reduced the size of the cap and introduced chinstraps and buttons. The kepi became well known outside France during the Crimean War and was subsequently adopted in various forms by a number of other armies (including the U.S. and Russian) during the 1860s and 1870s.

The Origin and Evolution of the Kepi in Military Dress

A kepi hat is a light military cap with a peak of leather or cloth and a chinstrap of leather or cord. The kepi originated during Algerian war in the nineteenth century but was then was named a casquette or bonnet de la police à visière. The casquette (képi) was modelled on, and developed from, a fifteenth-century bonnet with a peak and the cap called a montera or boukinkan worn during the reign of Louis XIII (1601–43). In the nineteenth century, the peaked cap became pervasive as military headgear in many different forms. In the twentieth century, it has assumed many forms and uses beyond the military in a wide range of sports, professional and other civil uniforms.

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