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A French Naval Fusilier's shako dating from c. 1830

A shako (/ˈʃæk/, /ˈʃk/, or /ˈʃɑːk/) is a tall, cylindrical military cap, usually with a visor, and sometimes tapered at the top. It is usually adorned with some kind of ornamental plate or badge on the front, metallic or otherwise, and often has a feather, plume (see hackle), or pompom attached at the top.


The word shako originated from the Hungarian name csákó, which was a part of the uniform of the Hungarian hussar of the 18th century. Other spellings include chako, czako, schako and tschako.

From 1800 on, the shako became a common military headdress, worn by the majority of regiments in the armies of Europe and the Americas. Replacing in most instances the light bicorne, the shako was initially considered an improvement. Made of heavy felt and leather, it retained its shape and provided some protection for the soldier's skull, while its visor shaded his eyes.[1] The shako retained this pre-eminence until the mid-19th century, when spiked helmets began to appear in the army of Prussia, which influenced armies of the various German States, and the more practical kepi replaced it for all but parade wear in the French Army. The Imperial Russian Army substituted a spiked helmet for the shako in 1844-45 but returned to the latter headdress in 1855, before adopting a form of kepi in 1864.[2] Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, military fashions changed and cloth or leather helmets based on the German headdress began to supersede the shako in many armies.

Although the mid-19th century shako was impressive in appearance and added to the height of the wearer, it was also heavy and by itself provided little protection against bad weather as most models were made of cloth or felt material over a leather body and peak. Many armies countered this by utilising specially designed oilskin covers to protect the shako and the wearer from heavy rain while on campaign. The shako provided little protection from enemy action as the most it could offer was in giving partial shielding of the skull from enemy cavalry sabres.

George Anthony Legh Keck

During the period of general peace that followed the Napoleonic Wars, the shako in European armies became a showy and impractical headdress that was best suited for the parade ground. As an example, the "Regency" officers' shako of the British Army of 1822 was eight and a half inches in height and eleven inches across at the crown, with ornamental gold cords and lace. Lt.Col.George Anthony Legh Keck can be seen in a portrait from 1851 wearing a 'broad topped' shako that was topped by a twelve-inch white plume and held in place by bronze chin scales.[3] The "Regency" shako was followed in the British Army by a succession of models —"Bell-topped", "Albert", "French" and "Quilted" — until the adoption of the Home Service helmet, in 1877.


Reenactment of British infantry of 1815, with line infantry wearing the Belgic shako, followed by light infantry wearing the earlier "stovepipe" style

The "stovepipe" shako was a tall, cylindrical type with a brass badge attached to the front. The stovepipe was used by the infantry of the British Army from around 1799, and its use was continued until the end of the Peninsular War. From then on it was used only by the light infantry.

The "Belgic" shako was a black felt shako with a raised front introduced in the Portuguese Marines in 1797 and then in the Portuguese Army in 1806, as the barretina. It was later adopted by the British Army, officially replacing the stovepipe shako in 1812, but was not introduced completely until 1815. The Belgic shako was decorated with silver or gold lace for officers, according to regimental practice.[4][5]

The kiwa (also kiver) was a style of shako introduced into the Imperial Russian Army in 1812; its distinguishing feature was the dished or concave top.[6] This style of shako was worn by the Black Brunswickers alongside shakos of the Austrian pattern.[7]

The bell-top shako was a large and elaborate type which became popular in the 1820s and 1830s when there was little warfare between the major European powers and practicality on the battlefield became less important than appearance on the parade ground. It featured a crown that flared outwards towards the top, giving a distinctive bell shape, and was often adorned with decorative cords and plumes.[8]

The Albert shako was a British design introduced in 1844, which was intended to be more practical than previous models. It featured a lower crown that tapered inwards at the top, and a second peak at the back intended to protect the wearer's neck from the sun. It is named after Prince Albert who supposedly designed it. It was not popular, and during the Crimean War a round "undress cap" was often worn instead. It was eventually replaced by a smaller, lighter version,[9] but the shako was finally superseded for most regiments by the home service helmet in 1878.[10]

The Bengal Native Infantry of the British East India Company's army worn a version of the bell-top shako as described above, although lacking a vizor or peak. Frequently portrayed in contemporary illustrations as being worn by mutinous sepoys during the Great Indian Rebellion of 1857, this headdress was actually replaced by the Kilmarnock cap ten years before.[11]

Final period of extensive wearEdit

In 1914, the shako was still being worn in France (by chasseurs à cheval, infantry of the Republican Guard, chasseurs d'Afrique and hussars); in Imperial Germany (Jägers, Landwehr and marines); in Austro-Hungary (full dress of non-Muslim line infantry [12] and hussars in both full and field dress); in Russia (full dress of generals, staff officers, and infantry, engineers and artillery of the Imperial Guard). In Belgium the shako was official field dress for line infantry, chasseurs à pied, engineers, transport/ambulance, administration, fortress artillery, and mounted chasseurs, although after the outbreak of war it was usually discarded in favour of the "undress" cap. In Denmark it remained part of the full dress of Guard Hussars; in Mexico (full dress of federal troops of all branches); in Portugal (military cadets); in Romania (full dress of artillery); in Italy (horse artillery and military academies); and in Spain (line infantry, cazadores, engineers, and artillery). The Highland Light Infantry and Scottish Rifles of the British Army retained small shakos for full dress and the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica states that there were plans to reintroduce the shako as parade dress for all English, Irish and Welsh line infantry regiments - a project that was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. The Swiss and Dutch armies wore shakos, even for field wear, until after 1916. The Japanese Army had worn the shako as a parade headdress until 1905, although a form of high-sided kepi had been the normal wear.

During this final period of elaborate and colourful traditional uniforms, the shako varied widely from army to army in height, colour, trim and profile. Amongst the most distinctive of these were the high Napoleonic shako (kiver) worn by the Russian Imperial Guard[13] and the low streamlined model (ros) of the Spanish Army. The Swiss version had black-leather peaks at both front and rear - a feature that also appeared in the shako-like headdress that was worn by British postmen between 1896 and 1910, and New Zealand policemen of the same period.

Most German police forces adopted a version of the Jäger shako, after World War I, which replaced the spiked leather helmet (Pickelhaube) that had become identified with the previous Imperial regime. This new headdress survived several political changes and was worn by the civilian police forces of the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, East Germany, and West Germany. It finally disappeared in the 1970s, when the various police forces of West Germany adopted a standardised green and light fawn uniform that included the high-fronted peaked cap that is still worn.

Modern useEdit

French Republican Guard at the Bastille Day Military Parade
Argentine Mounted Grenadier, guarding the Casa Rosada

In Europe, the infantry of the French Republican Guard, cadets at Saint-Cyr, cadets at the Belgian Royal Military Academy,[14] cadets at the Portuguese Colégio Militar and Pupilos do Exército military schools, the Italian Horse Guards Corps, Horse Artillery and cadets at the Military Academy of Modena, the Danish Guard Hussar Regiment, and the Spanish Royal Guard and 1st King's Immemorial Infantry Regiment all have shakos as part of their respective ceremonial uniforms. Various Latin American armies, including those of Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay and Argentina, retain shakos for ceremonial guard or military academy uniforms. In Russia, the historic kiver has been reintroduced for wear by the Kremlin Guards for ceremonial occasions. In India the Madras Sappers & Miners of the Madras Engineer Group wear dark-blue visorless shakos as part of their ceremonial uniform. An Indonesian ceremonial unit as well as the cadet corps of the military academies of the Philippines[15] and South Korea[16] also use shakos.

In the United States, shakos are still worn as full-dress headgear by cadets of West Point (where it is known colloquially as a tarbucket), Virginia Military Institute, The Citadel, Marion Military Institute, New York Military Academy, and Valley Forge Military Academy and College (in a modified form) with their Full Dress Grey uniforms.[17][18] Many college and high-school marching bands feature shakos as part of their dress uniform.

In the Canadian Forces, Les Voltigeurs de Québec are authorized to wear dark green shakos with full-dress uniforms.[19]

Non-military useEdit

In the US and the Philippines, shakos are frequently worn by civilian marching bands and drum corps. In the latter country, the cadets of some civilian institutions such as the Philippine National Police Academy,[20] and some colleges and high schools, also use the shako, although peaked "service cap" styles have become more popular in recent years. Those shako styles still in use in marching bands are generally quite tall and have elaborate plumes. For example, at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, the kilted Irish Guard wear tall black fur shakos with bright yellow plumes, bringing their total height in uniform to almost 8 feet (240 cm) tall. These shakos are typical of marching band drum majors, however the Irish Guard shako is unique in its size, color, and design.

In drum corps and corps-style marching bands, the chin strap is rarely worn under the chin; instead, it is worn just under the lower lip, in the style of cadets at West Point.

In Canada the shako is worn by volunteers in various historical forts wearing 19th-century period uniforms.



  1. ^ John R. Elting, page 445 "Swords Around A Throne - Napoleon's Grande Armee", ISBN 0-7538-0219-8
  2. ^ Boris Mollo, Uniforms of the Imperial Russian Army, ISBN 0-7137-0920-0
  3. ^ Morgan-Jones, G. (2008) "The Prince Albert's Own Yeomanry - Leicester Yeomanry"
  4. ^ Colonel Robert H. Rankin, page 21 "Military Headdress - a pictorial history of military headgear from 1660 to 1914", ISBN 0-85368-310-7
  5. ^ René Chartrand, page 45 "The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars (3)", ISBN 1-84176-157-5
  6. ^ Haythornthwaite, Philip (1987) The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (1): Infantry 1799-1814 Osprey Publishing, ISBN 0850457378 (p. 23)
  7. ^ Von Pivka, Otto (1985), Brunswick Troops, 1809-15, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 0850456134 (p. 47)
  8. ^ Kannik, Prebben (1968), Military Uniforms in Colour, Blandford Press, ISBN 0-7137-0482-9 (p.206)
  9. ^ Kannik p. 212
  10. ^ Kannik p. 232
  11. ^ W.Y. Carman, page 100 "Indian Army Uniforms: Infantry", Morgan-Grampian: London 1969
  12. ^ James Lucas, page 162 "Fighting Troops of the Austro-Hungarian Army 1868-1914, ISBN 0-87052-362-7
  13. ^ Mollo, Boris. Uniforms of the Imperial Russian Army. pp. 130 & 143. ISBN 0-7137-0920-0.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-04-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ West Point – Maureen Oehler DuRant, Peter E. Carroll – Google Books. Retrieved 2015-10-20.
  18. ^ "West Point grad a 1st for Northern Cheyenne". Billings Gazette. 2010-07-03. Retrieved 2015-10-20.
  19. ^ A-DH-265-000-AG-001 – Canadian Forces Dress Instructions. Ottawa: National Defence. 2011. p. 6B-3. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
  20. ^