Soldiers' and Sailors' Hats - Form follow function?

I like to believe that, for the most part, form follows function. What, then, is the function that has prescribed the shape of the classic sailors’ hat? It doesn’t have a brim to shade the eyes or back of the neck. It isn’t especially good at keeping the head warm. I suppose it would be very good at catching rain water, although I can’t imagine why THAT would be a good thing.

As for the soldiers, what about those hats that are known as ‘c**t caps’, in the style that looks like an envelope? What function to they serve?

Are these styles simply head coverings? Under different circumstances, might they just as easily have been scarves?

The other thing is the brush on the shoulder look on every band uniform. At one time most soldiers were wearing those, some sticking out 3-4 inches from the shoulder.

As far as Navy headgear is concerned,

Wooden ships had low deckheads (ceilings to you landlubbers) in the days of Nelson,result headgear had to be low too.

They also store easily too since they can stack on each other in a locker a beak would probably catch the wind at sea and blow away plus if you were climbing up rigging and therefore looking up you would want no obstructions.

As for the Army, there just has to be a reason for those hard hats.

Here’s a link to an excellent, highly detailed history of the development of USN uniforms, both enlisted men and officers:

He states that the little white “gilligan” hat goes back to the 1880s:

White was used for hats (or for hat covers) prior to this because of its smart appearance, and its high reflectivity of heat (although it didn’t always work).

There are also details given of the bell-bottom pants, fancy collars, etc.

The USN’s uniforms were, generally (but not always!), based on the British Royal Navy uniforms. Here’s a site which gives a good comparative chart, and has illustrations of RN officers’ uniform insignia through the years:

Now, the wedge cap, also known inelegantly as the c**t cap;
you probably already know that that fine old four-letter word comes from the latin for “wedge”, which is **cuneo **.

I believe that the US Army referred to these wedge caps as “overseas” caps. They have been worn in the British army since about 1880s, called at the time a Torin pattern cap. Officers in the British (and Canadian) Army wore these as part of the Patrol Blues uniform. Other Ranks (enlisted men) did not get the khaki wedge cap until about 1939.

I know that the wedge cap fit perfectly under the shoulder strap epaulette of the British and Canadian battledress, if you were working on something and didn’t want your hat falling off (if the sergeant wasn’t looking, of course!). It was a measure of dandy pride to see how far over on your head you could wear your wedge cap without it falling off…again, when the sergeant wasn’t around! An expression referring to this was “wearing your wedge cap on three hairs.”

If you’re really keen, here’s a site with zip downloads of the British Army dress reg illustrations from the 1890s:

The cunt cap to which you are referring is now, and always has been, officially the garrison cap.

Thanks, Rodd.

The best explanation any sailor ever gave me was, “Well, when you go in, it’ll float where you sank…”

>> the latin for “wedge”, which is cuneo

Makes sense to me. In Spanish that part of a woman is “coño” and wedge is “cuña”. I never thought they may be related. After all, I would think the wedge is what I have between my legs, not what she has. :wink:

Sounds like the previous posters have the gob cap – as I’ve heard it called – and the C-word cap situation well in hand, and I have nothing to add on that front (pardon the pun-ishment).

But I did want to pass along two other interesting military uniform origins I once read. I can’t swear they’re true… so I’d love to know the skinny (oops, wrong thread).

  1. The original purpose of the sashes worn by officer cadets at West Point was to serve as an emergency hammock for carrying wounded soldiers.

  2. The origin of the aiguillette supposedly comes from the Duke of Alba who, in the 16th century, made every soldier wear a stout noose around his left shoulder; if the grunt exhibited cowardace in battle, he could be hanged on the spot.

(Even if the business about hanging “on the spot” was not literally true, perhaps it was a very clever motivating device to remind the troops that cowardace was a no-no in that-man’s-army. Witness the origin of the word decimate: Roman legions – or some such grouping of said soldiers – who exhibited cowardace or mutiny were punished my summarily killing “every tenth man”; the theory being that an “inspired” legion at 90% strength was better than a cowardly one at 100%.)

This last practice is the origin of the word decimation.

The Navy seems to specialize in uniform items with no discernable practical use. The round officers’ hats seem to best serve the purpose of flying off in heavy wind, and being a nuisance when trying to put it somewhere while eating. And the enlisted dress blue pants have a flap with thirteen buttons instead of a zipper in front. Also, white is simply not a practical color for clothing, especially when added to the fact that CNT (certified Navy twill, the material many items are made from) seems to attract dirt particles from everywhere in the vicinity.

The Navy also has the market cornered in the number of uniforms and variations. Unlike the other services, sailors below the level of Chief Petty Officer have different uniforms than the officers and chiefs. For the enlisted, there are: dungarees(long and short sleeve), summer whites, winter blues, dress whites, and dress blues. For the chiefs and officers there are: working khakis (long and short sleeve), service khakis, summer whites, winter blues, dress whites, and dress blues. The summer whites and winter blues are similar for everyone, while the dress uniforms are very different. And that’s not including the mess dress and evening dress or the tropical uniforms.

For the sake of comparison, as far as I can tell, in the Air Force there’s cammies (or battle dress uniforms, to speak like one of them), the navy blue pants with the light blue shirt (long and short sleeve), and the same thing plus a navy blue dress jacket. And their “blue” actually looks blue, as opposed to the Navy’s “blues” which are for all intents and purposes black.

waterj2, regarding “decimate,” isn’t that what I said?

In regards to the question about the garrison (c**t) cap in the OP, it is merely a head covering. Its shape is dictated by convenience in storage since you can stuff it in an epaulette (not an officially prescribed method of stowing) or in a pocket or dufflebag with no ill effect on its appearance when worn. The current US Amry utility cap, which looks like a flat-topped baseball cap, has the same general attributes although many soldiers block (starch and iron) it for a neater appearance when worn.