French military cap with a flat circular top and a visor.
clues: De Gaulle's one-time hat; French military cap; Foreign
Legion cap; Visored cap
once a year
at “French”-looking US Marine hats
of the French Foreign Legion
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
portrait of Charles de Gaulle in the Free French Forces wearing a
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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