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What is a Slouch Cap?

C. K. Lanz
C. K. Lanz

A slouch cap is a distinctive hat with a wide brim and chinstrap that is typically made with wool or other animal felt. It is usually part of a military or police uniform and the brim can be worn turned up on either one or both sides of the hat. The brim may have originally been turned up to accommodate a rifle and bayonet held over a soldier’s shoulder or a lance carried in a stirrup cup.

Variations of the slouch cap have been worn by soldiers for several centuries including those from Britain, New Zealand, France, the United States and Germany. The style is most strongly associated with the Australian military.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Although the slouch cap has become one of Australia’s national symbols popularized by soldiers or diggers in World War II, a version of the hat was worn much earlier by the army of King Charles I during England’s 17th century civil war. At times armies opted to adopt this cap for practical reasons like when the British soldiers fighting in the Second Boer War donned the hat because there were no cork helmets available.

It is believed that the Australian military first adopted the slouch cap in the late 19th century and it remains an important part of parade and battle dress. The Australian Defense Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Australian Armoured Corps and the Royal Australian Navy are all known to wear these types of caps decorated with badges, colored ribbons and/or feathers specific to their branches.

The United States military and its soldiers have also officially and unofficially adopted the slouch cap at various times. In 1972, female United States Army drill sergeants and United States Air Force training instructors were allowed to wear this style of cap. This style of hat was worn without authorization by some soldiers who fought in the China Burma India Theater during World War II. During the Vietnam War, many American troops discarded the standard issue field cap in favor of a slouch cap made locally because it protected better from the sun.

In addition to official military personnel, the slouch hat has also been worn by Indian state police officers and the Irish Volunteers. In India, the slouch cap displays the police unit’s particular colors and the individual police officer’s number on its brim that is turned up. In Ireland, the slouch cap became the subject of an Irish republican song called “The Broad Black Brimmer” about a man who dies fighting in the Irish Republican Army and leaves his son behind.

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