Did the traditional navy sailor hat have any practical uses?

Sorry, I can’t find the hat’s proper name. It’s like a white bucket hat with the rim turned up, and it’s worn by enlisted men. Does that style of hat have any practical uses or did it at one time?

Well, I’m going back 40 years to Navy boot camp, but I seem to remember that in the event of falling off your ship (and you had the presence of mind to hold onto it) the hat could be used as a flotation device. You opened the hat all the way, held it above your head with both hands, and rapidly pulled it down to water level. The air that was captured in the hat could hold you up for a while. Repeat as needed.

Going back 20 years -

We called it a ‘Gilligan’ cover or a Cracker Jack cover.

It was very handy to turn the brim down to protect (already sunburned) ears and the front made a nice little visor to keep the sun out of a swabbie’s eyes.

I still can’t rationalize the 13-button trousers with bell-bottoms.

Thats what a few of us have called it. Usually we just refer to it as our “cover.”

I second the flotation device theory, you wet it, and slap it on the water to capture air, and hold it with your hands to help keep you afloat. The next time I go swimming I’ll try it.

As far as its origin, if I remember correctly, the brim is flipped up so that water won’t stream down our faces from rain or waves. This is what I was told in boot camp. They told us a lot of things in boot camp.


Also, it folds very flat for storage, important aboard a ship.

naval uniforms for enlisted ranks is a relatively recent concept. Sailors pretty much wore what they had on when the press gang grabbed them off the street. As these clothes wore out, they were replaced by items sewn from spare sailcloth. This might explain why sailor jerseys and pants are more simply cut than soldiers’ uniforms.

Back in the golden age of marlinspike seamanship, nimble-fingered sailors would weave straw hats. In colder climates, these were coated with black tar to make them even more sturdy. Eventually, mass-produced cotton caps replaced straw for all navy personnel except the female yeomanettes of WWI (who also wore lead weights in the hems of their skirts to keep them from blowing up). While the navies of Europe favored both a white and blue version of the beret (flat caps for British jack tars, berets stiffened with a walebone hoop and topped with a pompom for French matelots, etc.) The US navy had the white cotton brimmed cap for summer and a blue wool flat beret for winter. As the ranks were swelled by enlistees at the start of WWII, the blue flat cap was discontinued. It was replaced with a dark blue version of the cotton “dogbowl” that showed less dirt than the white, but this itself was phased out in favor of the blue ballcap still worn today with the working uniform.

If you look at photos of sailors from the 1890’s, you’ll see the ancestor of today’s white cap. It had a wider brim, more useful against the sun. But this made it floppier than its straw ancestor, and harder for sailors to look as much alike as possible (something that always seems to somehow vex the officers,) so their brims were shortened to become the silly item that Admiral Zumwalt was nice enough to phase out in the 1970’s, and Ronald Reagan phased back in in the 1980’s.

?!? Whose navy had female personnel in any capacity during WWI?

The US Navy and Marine Corp had over 13,000 women serving in positions other than nurse during WWI.

Here’s a funny little story regarding the discharge of the last women from the navy following WWI.
During WWI the US Navy made temporary use of women in uniform as clerks, typists, etc, the first time this had happened. They were quickly discharged at war’s end. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who was notoriously strait-laced, gave a farewell address to the last few. Amidst his other remarks was “We loved you while you were in uniform, and we will love you when you are out of it.”

One can make an improvised floatation device using your trouser quite easily(and it works pretty well too) if find yourself in the water, and the bellbottoms make the trousers easier to take off, while your shoes are still on, when you are struggling in the water.

“You have thirteen chances to change your mind”

“If I was a Marine I wouldn’t have to f*** with no 13 buttons … I’d just take my hat off.”

Oh, duh. :smack:
I should have thought of that. The term “yeomanette” threw me; it sounded like an actual shipboard rank.

It’s 'cause zippers make too much noise in movie theatres.

Actually, going back almost 40 years, I was told that the thirteen buttons represented the original 13 colonies. The idea that somebody would go to the trouble to incorporate such obscure symbolism into a uniform seems absurd to me, but humans are pretty absurd at times. Also, the business about hats and trousers being flotation devices was another thing they taught us. The hats didn’t work so well, but the trousers would hold air for a few minutes.

Personally, I always thought the hats were just to give the officers another thing to feel superior about.

I can’t think of a “practical” use for any part of a dress uniform of any service. Ok, the shoes keep your feet from getting sore and the pants save you from arrest. But the rest is just show. In the army the billed garrison cap is the dress cap. What good it it? I preferred the overseas cap because it can be folded up and put in your pocket but it isn’t very good cover in either sun or rain. It does stay on pretty well in the wind though.

::: that pants with the legs tied shut at the ends don’t make a pretty good flotation device, you just ain’t swum far nuff out yet…

YMMV :cool:

I just wanted to say thanks for the informative and interesting replies.

Thanks to an old Regular navy freind of mine- here is it’s “proper” name: hat, white, enlisted.

Or- normally called the Navy White Hat.

It always made a pretty good barf bag…