Boys' Caps: The Kepi

Figure 1.--This kepi was a French military style adopted by both the Federal and Confederate Armies during the American Civil War. It was not a major style for boys at least as reflected in stydio portrait. We suspect it was more widely worn by boys when dressing up duting am immeiately after the Civil War era. We see boys wear them as late as the 1890s. This American boy wore a Fauntleroy suit with a kepi about 1890. Note that it is a grey cap, meaning the boy was probably from the South. This was not always the case as some military schools in the North had grey uniforms--including West Point. We suspected this changed after the War.

The kepi was of French origins. It translates as "small cap". A reader writes, "The word kepi (I believe) was also Yiddish for prayer cap." I'm not sure how that figured into etimology of the word. The kepi was first worn by French soldiers in North Africa about the 1830s. The French Foreign Legion wore them. It gradually was adopted as the main headwear for the French Army. The French Army after the Napoleonic Wars was considered the best run military in the world, depite Napoleon's defeat. Thus French styles influenced other countries, including America. The kepi became the primary military cap during the Civil war (1861-65). There were several stylistic variations. The basic cap had a flat circular top whih was often decorated. The Civil War caps had the top slanted forward. It has a small leather visor or peak. Calvalry soldiers might wear it with a chin strap. It was not a major style for boys, although we do occassionally see boys wear them, We note them being worn in America We see them less commonluy in Europe. We suspect that quite a few were available to American boys after the Civil war. They were the primary uniform cap at American military schools through the 1880s. Agood example is Frank Stearns. We note them occassinally for boys as late as the 1890s. A good example is the Smith boys. The French continued using them in World War I. We note an unidentified German school using the kepi as a school cap as late as the 1910s.


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Created: 6:36 PM 7/4/2007
Last updated: 4:54 AM 1/22/2009