U.S. Navy Visor Hats
The United States Navy dates to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Through most of its early history, Navy officers and petty officers wore similar uniforms to those used by the English and other European powers, including the iconic fore and aft, or cocked hat. It was not until 1841 that the visor hat made its first appearance. The hat was made from blue cloth and included a lace edging, transferred from the cocked hat, around the crown. This hat eventually evolved into the Navy officer’s visor hat worn today.1
The hat remained largely unchanged during the American Civil War (1861-1865). A star with wreath was used as the cap device for officers. In 1864, the Secretary of the Navy issued an order to regulate all uniform items to those prescribed in the uniform regulations of the Navy. After the war, the Navy made a few major changes to the visor hat. In 1866, the gold lace brought over from the cockade hat was changed to a gold chinstrap fastened to the front by a set of small gold buttons. The hat’s cap badge also changed. An eagle over a set of crossed anchors replaced the star and wreath. The Navy also cracked down on privately purchased uniforms, especially hats that did not adhere to the dimensions required by regulations.2
Near the turn of the 19th century, the U.S. fought in several conflicts around the globe, including several in tropical climates. After conflicts in Korea and China in the late 1800s, the Navy realized that a tropical uniform was needed. A white uniform was issued in 1886, which included a white-topped hat. After World War I (1914-1918), a new uniform was necessary for aviators, who required something more durable and comfortable to fly in than the white or blue uniform. The Navy allowed them to wear the Marine Corps khaki uniforms. This was eventually expanded to submariners, and finally, any officer as long as they had permission from their superior. Included with this khaki uniform was a khaki-topped visor hat.3
World War II (1939-1945) saw another set of changes to the Naval visor hat. Officers of flag ranks were allowed two rows of embroidered oak leaves on their hats, while captain and commander ranks were given a single row. Lower ranks had a plain black visor. The officer’s cap badge was also slightly modified, adding a shield over the anchors with the eagle mounted on top. Warrant officer’s received a distinctive cap badge that consisted of a spread wing eagle and a wreath. Chief petty officers and midshipmen also received their own cap badges. The chief petty officer wore a single fouled anchor with the letters USN set above it. The midshipman had a single fouled anchor with no letters. These changes were made to every type of uniform: blue, white, and khaki.4 A gray uniform, with matching hat, was also introduced for a time during the war.5
Though the Navy has tried to reduce the amount of uniforms required for service, the visor hat of World War II has remained the same.6 The visor hat continues to be worn today by all officers, petty officers, and midshipmen.