U.S. Army Garrison Caps

Garrison caps, or overseas caps, are simple head coverings designed to rest on the head forming triangular peaks when seen from the front and back. Decorative elements of the caps display rank, service branch and specialty. The first United States Army garrison caps were introduced during World War I (1914-1918). Up until WWI the traditional head covering was the service cap (visor cap), or the campaign hat. However, both of these caps took up excessive space and were easily crushed. The United States Army responded to the need for a light, compact, and resilient cap with the garrison cap, a design adopted from rectangular style caps already worn in the French Army.1

The first garrison cap regulations required that officers place rank insignia on the left curtain, the turn up portion of the cap. An officer’s service branch was differentiated by the color of the garrison caps piping. Enlisted men wore the bronze color disk of their service branch, sewn onto the left curtain. Although basic regulations were followed the style of WWI garrison caps differed greatly. Caps were made in both the United States and Europe, and the quality, cut, and material differed from cap to cap.2

Branch

Piping Color

Adjutant General’s Department

Dark Blue

Air Service

Green and Black

Artillery

Scarlet

Cavalry

Yellow

Cavalry (machine-gun)

Yellow and Scarlet

Chaplains

Black

Chemical Warfare Service

Cobalt Blue and Yellow

Corps of Engineers

Scarlet and White

Corps of Interpreters

Green and White

Field Clerks

Black and White

General Officers

Gold

General Staff

Gold and Black

Infantry

Light Blue

Infantry (machine-gun)

Light Blue and Scarlet

Inspector General’s Department

Dark Blue and White

Judge Advocate General’s Department

Dark Blue and Light Blue

Medical Department

Maroon

Motor Transport Corps

Purple

Ordinance Department

Black and Scarlet

Provost Marshall General’s Department

Yellow and Green

Quartermaster’s Corps

Buff

Signal Corp

Orange and White

Tank Service

Grey

Transportation Corps

Scarlet and Gree

Table 1.1 WWI Officers Overseas Cap Piping Colors for Army Officers3

When WWI ended the garrison cap fell out of style until the Army Air Corps revived it in 1925. The garrison caps of that era featured Air Corps piping and insignia. Use spread to air cadets, and in 1933 both the mechanize cavalry and mechanized coastal artillery adopted the plain garrison cap; officers distinguished themselves with piping. By 1937 both the mechanized and motorized units adopted garrison caps and returned to the pattern of placing branch and officer insignia on the left curtain. Only walking infantry, horse cavalry, and fixed emplacement troops continued to use the campaign hat after 1939. Styles of garrison caps made with khaki, as opposed to olive drab, were made for warm weather climates.4

The only major exception to this emerging standardization occurred in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where officers and enlisted men of the experimental mechanized cavalry purchased highly individual designs. This experimentation continued until 1939 with the introduction of cotton garrison caps and the 1940 standardization of all caps by the United States Army. From 1940 on enlisted men were required to display their service branch with piping color. Officers at the time were require to wear both the distinctive piping, branch insignia, and rank insignia from then on.5

Branch

Colors

General Officers

Gold

Other Commissioned Officers

Gold and Black

Warrant Officers

Silver and Black

Flight Officers

Silver and Black

Adjutant General’s Department

Dark Blue and Scarlet

Air Corps

Ultramarine Blue and Golden Yellow

Armored Center and Units

Green and White

Cavalry

Yellow

Chemical Warfare Service

Cobalt Blue and Golden Yellow

Coastal Artillery Corps

Scarlet

Corps of Engineers

Scarlet and White

Detached Enlisted Men’s List

Green

Field Artillery

Scarlet

Finance Department

Silver Grey and Golden Yellow

First Special Service Force

Red, White and Blue

Infantry

Light Blue

Medical Department

Maroon and White

Military Police

Yellow and Green

National Guard Bureau

Dark Blue

Ordinance Department

Crimson and Yellow

Quartermaster Corp

Buff

Signal Corps

Orange and White

Tank destroyer Units

Golden Orange and Black

Transportation Corps

Brick red and Golden Yellow

Women’s Army Corps

Old Gold and Moss-tone Green

Table 1.2 WWII Piping Colors for United State Army Garrison Caps6

The design of the garrison cap changed several times from WWII through the 1950s.The 1938 model had loose folds. In 1940 the internal fold was made shorter. After this change many soldiers purchased private caps without a pleat. This pleat-less style became popular and in 1950 the Army responded by releasing all future garrison caps without the pleat. Piping practices also changed. All standard Quartermaster cloth garrison caps were issued without piping from World War II to 1956. Soldiers were required to sew on their own piping and insignia. In 1956 a green uniform was introduced that ceased all use of piping on enlisted garrison caps and required generals to use gold piping, company and field grade officers used black and gold piping, and warrant officers used silver and black.7

Although garrison caps are on occasion still worn they compete directly with the growing use of fatigue caps, boonie hats, and berets. Because garrison caps are primarily worn with dress uniforms, current restrictions on style, color, and insignia are strict. There are different designs for men and women and today’s regulations require that all garrison caps be made from the same material as dress uniform jackets or slacks, for women this includes the skirt material as well.8 All garrison caps are army green and must adhere to an approved pattern of design, which continued to include colored piping.9 The wear of the cap is also heavily regulated and soldiers must wear the front peak lined up with their nose and two fingers above their eyes. The cut of the hat is designed to make a silhouette with the top line of the cap parallel to the ground. For this reason current regulations forbid any changed to the shape of the cap.10 Regulations governing insignia have also changed. All officers must wear their rank insignia on the left curtain one inch from the front of the cap.  Enlisted men on the other hand are required to wear a Distinctive Unit Insignia, a specially designed heraldic shield for each unit, in place of the rank insignia.11

Garrison Cap 1917

Daniel Roberts