THE CAV STETSON
In 1865, with $100 in his pocket, John B. Stetson rented a small room in Philadelphia, bought the tools heneeded and $10 worth of fur .............. the John B. Stetson Hat Company was born.
The most distinctive uniform item worn by air cavalrymen in
was the Cav Hat. This tradition is believed to have been originated in early 1964 by LTC John B. Stockton (Commander of 3/17 Cavalry) at Vietnam . The hat was adopted in an effort to increase esprit de corps in the new air cavalry squadron and was meant to emulate the look of the 1876 pattern campaign hat worn by cavalry troopers long ago. Once units deployed to Fort Benning, Georgia , the custom slowly spread to other air cavalry units, and by the cessation of hostilities, many air cavalry units had adopted the Cav Hat. Vietnam
The Cav Hat was a private purchase item that cost a wallet-stretching $29 in 1972. It was most often supplied by the Stetson Hat Company, which is how the name "Stetson" became interchangeable with Cav Hat. While unit commanders did not mandate the wearing of the hats, there was considerable peer pressure to conform, and most troopers quickly added the Cav Hat to their wardrobes. Just as World War 11 paratroopers were fond of their jump suits, wearing them long after issue had ceased, so too did the Cav Hat instill fierce pride and loyalty in the units where it was worn.
Stetsons were constructed of a high grade fur felt with an interior leather sweatband and a silk hat ribbon around the base of the crown. The manufacturer provided a black leather chin strap, which also held the hat cord in place. The type of hat cord worn varied according to rank, as follows: general officers, all gold braid; officers, gold and black intertwined braid; warrant officers, silver and black intertwined braid; enlisted men, yellow wool or nylon. The cord was a copy of the acorn-ended 1899 pattern, worn on the 1885 pattern campaign hat.
The Cav hat was remarkably durable and was easily cleaned of dirt and lint by buffing with a shoe brush. The tradition of "Breaking in a Stetson" has many various forms - most consist of pouring some form (or forms) of alcohol in it and having the new wearer drink from it. This is actually an old tradition which began when riders, upon reaching a steep river bank, would dismount and fill their hats with water for their horses to drink!
Many units have specific requirements regarding the wear of the Stetson (Spurs also!). Some are memorandums and some are created as an addition to the Army Regulation 670-1 - Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia. Here is an example:
Department of the Army
Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Division
Fort Hood, Texas 76544
SUBJECT: Memorandum of Instruction (MOI) on the Wear and Appearance of the Stetson
1. PURPOSE: This MOI defines the general guidelines concerning the wear and appearance of the Stetson.
2. APPLICABILITY: This MOI applies to all soldiers and authorized civilians in the division.
3. BACKGROUND. Stetson (Cav Hat)
a. The tradition of the "Cav Hat" began in the early days before the Vietnam war. The 11th Air Assault Division’s cavalry scout
pilots adopted the Model 1876 campaign hat. By the time the 11th Air Assault Division was reflagged the 1st Cavalry
Division (Air Mobile), 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Division, commanded by LTC John B. Stockton, were all wearing the hat.
b. Lieutenant Colonel Stockton transferred the “Cav Hat” tradition to the 1st Cavalry Division in
. By the end of the Vietnam
Vietnam war, many air and ground units were wearing the hat. The tradition was continued after
and has become the Vietnam
standard for all cavalry units in the Army.
4. POLICY. Stetson
a. Who may wear the hat?
(1) All personnel, military and authorized civilians, assigned to cavalry units.
(2) All former members of any cavalry unit.
b. Appearance and proper wear of the Stetson.
(1) The “Cav Hat” will be the standard black cavalry hat, Stetson or other appropriate brand, with a 3-inch brim. Owners
of 4-inch brims will be “grandfathered” into this MOI; however, all personnel purchasing their "Cav Hats: from the
date of this policy forward will only buy 3-inch brims.
(a) The hat will present a clean, neat appearance at all times.
(b) The hat will be blocked or formed so that the front and rear of the brim are either straight or slightly turned
(c) The crown crease should remain as manufactured. Dimples toward the front of the hat are acceptable, so long
as they are not creased and present a neat appearance.
(2) The black leather chin strap is optional, but encouraged for wear. The chin strap will be worn behind the wearer’s
head unless mounted. When mounted, the chinstrap may be worn under the chin to maintain the hat’s position on the
(3) Hat cords shall be worn by all personnel according to rank and branch.
(a) General officers shall wear solid gold hat cords.
(b) Company and field grade officers shall wear black and gold hat cords.
(c) Warrant officers shall wear black and silver hat cords.
(d) All enlisted ranks shall wear cords designated for their branch (yellow: cavalry; red: artillery; green/white,
medical, etc.). If hat cords are not available in a particular branch color, the yellow (cavalry) cord or the
primary color cord of assigned unit May be worn. Black hat cords are not authorized.
(e) Authorized civilians (those designated by the commanding general) will wear cords commensurate with their
civil service rating.
(f) Hat cords from various historical periods may be worn including Civil war, Indian wars, and modern era. Cords
may be knotted, but in no way distinguishes combat service.
(4) Branch and rank insignia is worn centered on the front of the hat. Rank is worn over the branch insignia. Branch
insignia includes standard or regimental branch insignia. Embroidered or metal “period’ branch insignia from the
Civil war, Indian wars, or modern era are authorized. The distinctive unit insignia (DUI), more commonly referred as
unit crest is worn centered on the back of the hat. Care should be taken when selecting insignia to avoid gaudiness.
(5) Additional insignia or decorations such as unit, division, regimental pins, miniature combat infantryman badges, etc.
may be worn on the side of the hat, above the hat cord at the wearer’s discretion. When worn as authorized headgear
for parade only branch insignia, rank and DUI are to be worn.
c. Occasions for wear.
(1) The hat may be worn at all official 1st Cavalry Division functions, i.e. promotions, parades, formals, as directed by the
commanding general. The “Cav Hat” shall not be worn in the following instances:
(a) At formations or other functions where the prescribed headgear is the Beret, Patrol cap or Kevlar helmet.
(b) During operations in vehicle maintenance or parking areas (i.e., motor pool).
(c) During all field operations and deployments, unless specifically authorized by the commanding general.
(d) Hats will not be worn at III Corps or Garrison sponsored functions unless directed by the III Corps
(2) Hats may be worn at the wearer’s discretion when in civilian attire. However, care should be taken when wearing the
hat with civilian attire to avoid bringing discredit on the hat and the tradition it symbolizes.
(3) During invocations, participants will follow the example of the person delivering the invocation when it comes to
determining whether the headgear should be left on or removed. Those participating in parade ceremonies will not
remove their headgear during prayers but instead will slowly bow their heads.
(4) The hat shall not be worn during the consumption of indoor meals.
(5) The hat will be worn during the presenting and retiring of the colors.
(6) Hats may always be worn in a smoking room or bar area.
(7) Hats are optional when dancing.
(8) Hats will be removed when entering a residence unless the head of the household is wearing a hat or the occasion
(1) Commanding General; Overall authority for approving exceptions to this policy.
(2) Museum Director:
(a) Proponent for this policy.
(b) Update and maintain this policy.
(c) Provide historical advice to the commanding general on all aspects of wear and appearance of the “Cav Hat”
Wear Your Cav Hat or Stetson With Pride!
(Original document signed by COL John L. Ballantyne, Chief of Staff and dated 1 June, 2007)
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Howard Patrick Jeff Duvall