Word of the Day - Thursday, January 10th

Contact Us



Word of the Day


Clever Clue of the Month

The Cruciverbalist


Daily Email

KEPI (KAY-pee)

A French military cap with a flat circular top and a visor.

Common clues: De Gaulle's one-time hat; French military hat

Crossword puzzle frequency: once a year

Video: Warriors of the French Foreign Legion

The kepi is a cap with a flat circular top and a visor. The word came into the English language from French, in which it is written with an acute accent: képi. It can be translated as "small cap".

1942 portrait of Charles de Gaulle in the Free French Forces wearing a kepi.

It was formerly the most common headgear in the French Army. The kepi's 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 heavy shako being relegated to parade use. In 1852, a new soft cloth cap was introduced for 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.

In 1876, a new model appeared with a rounded visor, as the squared visor drooped when dry and curled up when drying out. The model used in World War I was the 1886 pattern, which was a fuller shape incorporating air vents.

By 1900 the kepi had become the standard headdress of most French army units and (along with the red trousers of the period 1829-1914) a symbol of the French soldier. It appeared in full dress (with inner stiffening and ornamental plume or ball ornament) and service versions. Officers' ranks were shown by gold or silver braiding on the kepi. The different branches were distinguished by the colours of the cap - see the table. Cavalry normally wore shakos or plumed helmets, reserving red kepis with light or dark blue bands for wear in barracks. General officers wore (and continue to wear) kepis with gold oak leaves embroidered around the band.

In 1914 most French soldiers wore their kepis to war. The highly visible colours were hidden by a blue grey cover, following the example of the Foreign Legion and other North African units who had long worn their kepis with white (or more recently khaki) covers in the field. With the adoption of sky blue uniforms and steel Adrian helmets in 1915 to replace the conspicuous peace time uniforms worn during the early months of war, the kepi was generally replaced by folding forage caps. Officers however still wore their kepis behind the lines.

Following the war the kepi was gradually reintroduced in the peacetime French army. The Foreign Legion resumed wearing it during the 1920s; initially in red and blue and then in 1939 with white covers on all occasions. The bulk of the French army readopted the kepi in the various traditional branch colours for off-duty wear during the 1930s. It had now become a straight sided and higher headdress than the traditional soft cap. This made it unsuitable for war time wear and after 1940 it was seldom seen being worn except by officers. An exception was the Foreign Legion who, previously just one of many units that wore the kepi, now adopted it as a symbol.

The decision following the first Gulf War to end conscription in France and to rely on voluntary enlistment has led to a smartening up of uniforms and the reappearance of various traditional items for dress wear. This has included the reappearance in the army of the kepi which is now widely worn by all ranks on appropriate occasions. The French National Police have however discarded their dark blue kepis, adopting a low peaked cap. The reason given was that the kepi, while smart and distinctive, was inconvenient in vehicles.

French customs officers (douaniers) and the Gendarmerie still wear kepis for normal duty. Within the army, particularly notable are the kepis of the French Foreign Legion, whose members are sometimes called Képis blancs (white kepis), because of the unit's regulation white headgear. Former cavalry units wear light blue kepis with red tops and silver braid (for officers) and insignia. Other colours include all dark blue with red piping (for artillery units), dark blue with red tops (line infantry) and crimson with red tops (medical). The "dark blue" of officers' kepis is actually very similar to black.



This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kepi".