The Indefatigable Kepi 25


By Shari Fuller

The kepi hat, which originated in the French army during the 1830s, was adopted by the United States Army shortly after the Crimean War in the 1850s. Wanting to steer away from the gaudy European uniforms that reflected the autocratic traditions, the U.S. Army redesigned their kepi with a wider brim and forward sloping crown that gave it a less formal appearance. Kepi hats were non-military issue until G.B. McClellan, the commander of the Union army of the Potomac, popularized them which led to them sometimes being called McClellan Hats. Soon thereafter, Union officers were issued kepis for fatigue use. The kepi hats became popular among the troops as they were comfortable and easy to make. This hat, worn by both Union and Confederate soldiers, would become one of the most recognizable symbols of the American Civil War.  Leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing for the two Kepi hats shown on the cover of our pattern!

General McDowell and George McClellan, 1862.

General McDowell and George McClellan, 1862.


Kepis were made with a variety of colors and trims that reflected a soldiers rank, regiment, and branch. In the Union army, dark blue hats were worn by all general officers and their staff, light blue hats were worn by the infantry, dark red hats were worn by the artillery (the bright color presumably serving as a warning to those around them that they were working with explosives) and yellow hats were worn by the cavalry. Field officers often decorated their hats in a French-influenced style, with a dark velvet band around the base and black silk braiding on the crown. Some Union regiments adopted their own color and trim variants. The 14th New York wore their hats with a blue base, red sides, and a dark blue top with a red circular insert, the 11th Indiana wore an all red cap, and the U.S. Sharpshooters wore dark green caps. Confederate hats used the same colors to denote each branch of the army. Early in the war, all hats were gray with the designated color on the band and later the designated color was moved to the top of the hat with dark blue bands. Like the Union army, some Confederate regiments also adopted their own style of Kepis. The Winchester Zouave Cadets wore all red hats, the Kentucky Brigade Cavalry wore all yellow hats, and the Alexandria Rifles wore dark green hats. Because of the scarcity of materials, regulations were often ignored and many Confederate kepis were made in plain gray or butternut. Later in the war, to save leather for shoes and other accoutrements, Confederate kepi brims often were made of tarred cloth and chinstraps were sometimes omitted.


General George McClellan in his Kepi with President Abraham Lincoln


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25 thoughts on “The Indefatigable Kepi

  • Carol Bartlow

    What a wonderful addition to the Civil War Uniform. I love these hats. My boys would love to have one or two.

  • gloria buckle

    Thank you for all the great patterns and interesting history information. I’ve learned so much from you while researching historic fashion. Congratulations on the newsletter’s 2nd anniversary. As they say, “You’ve come a long way, baby!!”

  • Marcy Mahle

    Very happy that you have made this pattern. I also enjoy very much the History behind these hats. I have your Civil War Uniform patterns and the Pixie Faire kits for both with all the needed supplies. Hoping they will have the kits for Kepi Hats too.

  • Sheila Ryan

    Shari,Your historical research does you gret credit.I really enjoy reading your newsletter when it comes out.Thank you for the free pattern this month.I like the gigot sleeves the best,too.They were also called Leg o’ mutton sleeves too,though they French is more elegant.

  • Darlene Paige

    How wonderful to win two hats! I think of hats as more challenging, having no experience with them. It would be wonderful to win both. Then, I would be braver trying to make them myself – nothing like holding a sample in your hands to help one make something Love your patterns and giveaways 🙂

  • Candice Lacy

    Another excellent article (and newsletter!). Always something interesting to learn! Hoping I win!

  • Mary H.

    I’m thrilled to see that kits for the Kepi will soon be available! (Of course, it would be even more fun to win one.) And I love reading all of the historical bits in your newsletter.

  • Elsje

    Looking forward to the Pixie Packs for these hats and the availability of the insignia. I have the civil war pattern so the hats would be great to have to complete the outfit

  • Vickie

    Thank you so much for taking the time to have the give aways and writing such informative newsletters each month. 🙂 I enjoy reading them so much. I really enjoyed learning about the history of the Kepi hat. When my boys were young they wore theirs all summer in the backyard .

  • Pam VanOteghem

    As a side note, today’s Army still uses color to denote branches on their dress uniforms and hat bands . Infantry is light blue, armor (aka big boom) is scarlet, and aviation, royal blue. Today’s garrison cap is a throwback to the kepi. This proud army aviation mom has her son’s hat collection on display, from his “Tarbucket” worn at West Point, to a WW2 German field helmet that he tracked to a LT in Rommel’s desert campaign. Hooah! And now, LADY Rangers Lead the Way.

    Army Aviation: Above the Best!

  • Dana

    I enjoy seeing this pattern as a counterpart to Civil War dresses. I didn’t know this was called a McClellan hat. My grandfather, uncle and cousin are all named McClellan. I am trying to find out from a cousin, who does genealogy, if an ancestor served under General McClellan during the Civil War.

  • Sue

    I find it fascinating how differently the hats can be embellished with just colours or trims to indicate which branch/troop the soldier belonged. What great history lessons you have provided this month – but then each newsletter is so delightfully full of history for us, thank you!

  • Eva Salo

    Would love these hats. Have just been reading a series of novels about the civil war so your post was very interesting to read.

  • Penny T.

    I had no idea so many colors were used for these caps. Thanks for the history lesson. I’ve been looking forward to this pattern ever since your released your Civil War era uniform.

  • Janine R

    Who knew these caps came in other colors besides blue and gray? I certainly didn’t. Thanks for the history lesson.

  • Cora Flispart

    Doing the research, I found out that the Indiana Unit and the New York Unit wore red kepis, too. I was also surprised at the different scrolls on the uniforms. The richer the person the more scrolls were on the sleeves and on top of the kepi.

  • janet S

    I did not realize that the hats worn by the soldiers were different colors based on rank/job. I think every picture I have seen of a civil war norther soldier was portrayed with the dark blue hat. Thanks as always for the educational article!

  • Janis Pepper

    These hats are so neat. I don’t have a male doll at present, but I am noticing how popular they are becoming on Etsy. I want to add them to my doll clothes collection that I sell on Etsy. So this hat will fit into my history page for males. Thank you for all you do.

  • Laura Farrell

    I do civil war reenacting and I love to sew outfits for my dolls and your civil war era outfits are so helpful.?

  • jason moore

    Just wondering if this pattern is free or to be paid for . Need to make several of these for a local Australian group who are into civil war stuff .
    Sincerely Jason.