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A Shako of a French Navy uniform of the 19th century.

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 pompon attached at the top.


The word shako originated from the Hungarian name csákós süveg ("peaked cap"), 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 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-nineteenth 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.

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 only used by the light infantry.

The "Belgic" (or "Waterloo") shako officially replaced the stovepipe shako in 1812, but was not adopted completely until 1815. The black felt Belgic shako had a raised front, and was decorated with silver or gold lace for officers, according to regimental practice.[4]

The Kiwa (see kiver below) was a style of shako introduced into the Imperial Russian Army in 1812; its distinguishing feature was the dished or concave top.[5] This style of shako was worn by the Black Brunswickers alongside shakos of the Austrian pattern.[6]

Final period of extensive wear

In 1914, the shako was still worn in France (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 [7] and field dress of hussars); in Russia (full dress of generals, staff officers, and infantry, engineers and artillery of the Imperial Guard); in Belgium it was official field dress for line infantry, chasseurs à pied, engineers, transport/ambulance, administration, fortress artillery, and mounted chasseurs, although, in practice, usually discarded in favour of the "undress" cap; in Denmark (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 Encyclopaedia Britannica indicates that there were plans to reintroduce the shako as parade dress, for all English 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[8] 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 grey uniform that included the high-fronted peaked cap that is still worn.

Modern use

French Republican Guard at the Bastille Day Military Parade.

In Europe, the infantry of the French Republican Guard, cadets at Saint-Cyr, cadets at the Belgian Royal Military Academy,[9] 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 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[10] and South Korea[11] also use shakos.

In the United States, shakos are still worn as full-dress headgear by cadets of the Valley Forge Military Academy (in a modified form), US Military Academy, Virginia Military Institute, Marion Military Institute and The Citadel with their Full Dress Grey uniforms. 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.[12]

Non military

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 National Police Academy,[13] plus 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, IN, the kilted Irish Guard wear tall black fur shakos with bright yellow plumes, bringing their total height in uniform to almost 8 feet 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. Haythornthwaite, Philip (1987) The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (1): Infantry 1799-1814 Osprey Publishing, ISBN 0850457378 (p. 23)
  6. Von Pivka, Otto (1985), Brunswick Troops, 1809-15, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 0850456134 (p. 47)
  7. James Lucas,page 162 "Fighting Troops of the Austro-Hungarian Army 1868-1914, ISBN 0-87052-362-7
  8. Mollo, Boris. Uniforms of the Imperial Russian Army. pp. 130 & 143. ISBN 0-7137-0920-0. 
  12. A-DH-265-000-AG-001 – Canadian Forces Dress Instructions. Ottawa: National Defence. 2011. p. 6B-3. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 

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