Skip to main content

Glengarry: Headgear of the Highlanders

Following the Napoleonic wars, many nations in Europe began a series of reforms to update and modify their armies' uniforms and equipment. This lengthy process addressed the basic headdress, which had evolved into tall shakos or other lavish hats that might look good on parade but were ill-suited for use in the field. In the decades of this relatively peaceful time in Europe, numerous hats and caps came and went. While some continued their natural evolution, most of the styles of headgear from the early 19th century have been relegated to history. However, one has managed to stand the test of time, inspiring new patterns, and is even still used by active British military units today. It is the Glengarry cap.

A current issue Glengarry featuring the traditional black and white dicing of the Argyll & Sutherland Highland Regiment with the distinctive red "bobble" on top. Author's collection



Designed by Alasdair Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry, the cap has close ties to the Scottish Highlander units. MacDonnell considered himself to be among the very last of the Highland chiefs. He lived the part in his daily life, dressing in traditional Highland attire, and of course being followed by his appropriately dressed servants. As part of this Highland uniform, MacDonell crafted a new style of cap (which has since become known as the "Glengarry"). Highlander units throughout the United Kingdom quickly adopted MacDonell's cap.

Up to this time, British Army Highlander regiments typically marched into battle wearing various flat bonnets, including the Balmoral bonnet, of which the modern beret is an obvious descendent. These were brimless caps with high-walled rims and a soft crown. From the reign of King George I onward (and to this day), a black bow was worn on the side, and this was to symbolize the wearer's loyalty to the House of Hanover (the rulers of England), along with the regimental or clan badge.

This is an early Victorian example of a Black Watch Regiment Glengarry. Prior to the First World War, the Black Watch Regiments did not typically wear the black bowtie on their caps. William H. Unland

Blackwatch Glengarry 1.jpg

The other typical highlander headdress was the feather bonnet, which also evolved from the basic bonnet and grew upward in size--believed, in part, to make the soldiers appear taller. While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into the history of the feather bonnets, it is worth noting that this particular headdress was a military invention and had no prior traditions with the Highlanders or Scotland!

The cap that MacDonell of Glengarry created can also be regarded as a modified version of the popular bonnet. The shape is not entirely dissimilar, and his designs clearly were meant to compliment the rest of the traditional Highland garb. The cap is more boat-shaped than round, but still is made without a peak. Thick-milled woolen fabric was used--the same that had been used in creating the bonnets. The Glengarry retained the traditional bobble (or torrie) on top and a set of ribbons, or tails, hung in the back--evoking a sense of the tails seen on the tall feather bonnets.

Note the "St. Edward's" crown on the close-up of the Victorian era Black Watch badge. This style crown was used throughout the reign of Queen Victoria until her death in 1901. William H. Unland

Blackwatch Glengarry 2.jpg

The biggest benefit of this style cap was that it could be folded flat, something the bonnets were unable to do in this era. This aided in storage and transportation for soldiers that had far too many items to carry.


The exact year of its creation is unknown, but it was likely in the first decades of the 19th century, and the Glengarry quickly became adopted by a number of Scottish Regiments. These units in turn modified the cap to suit their needs, notably adding the diced band above the brim, where it remains to this day.

"Glengarries and field service caps were a quartermaster's dream as they were so easy to store," says British militaria collector and author Chris Mills. "Compared to helmets, they were also very cheap to make, and soldiers could not damage them in the field as easily as helmets."

The Glengarry cap was prescribed in 1852 for Highland and Scottish Regiments. In 1874, a plain Glengarry without the diced border had been adopted for all regiments of the British Army as an undress cap. As with many other caps and hats of the Victorian era, the Glengarry evolved into an even more simpler version. Today this is recognizable as the "Field Service Cap."

"The style was very long lived," adds Mills. "At least from the late 19th century to beyond World War II." Mills further offers a tidbit that Lord Roberts, the commander of the British forces in numerous Victorian era campaigns around the world, was a well-known devotee of the Field Service Cap. Even today in the British Army, the legacy of the Glengarry lives on. The 1937 amendment to the Dress Regulations for the Army saw the adoption of the updated universal pattern Field Service Cap, which was based on a shape similar to the Glengarry. This cap was used throughout World War II and to the present day.


The Glengarry's influence has stretched far and wide. Prior to the First World War, most nations had a variety of undress caps, but experiences in the trenches led them to consider a simple form of undress headgear. The United States turned to the overseas cap, while even rival nations such as Germany adopted their own version of the famous cap.

This World War I era Glengarry of the Black Watch Regiment may have been used by an officer as it features the traditional red hackle. Black Watch soldiers wore these on various headgear including sun helmets. Note the presence of the bowtie, which period photos suggest was used by the Regiment during the First World War. Author's collection

The basic design even made it to Soviet Russia, where it would become the symbol of the Great Patriotic War a generation later. Throughout the world today many European nations still use variations of the Field Service Cap, with an equal range of official and non-official names (some of which aren't even printable in this magazine!).


The manner of wearing the Glengarry has also evolved, being driven, largely, by the Highlander Regiments. As with other Scottish headgear, the Glengarry had been worn at a steep angle, almost touching the ear with the opposite side (badge side). But, today, military tradition has dictated that the cap be worn flat and level on the head.


Whereas it started out as a cap for traditional Highland attire, it remains so today. Many civilian pipe bands utilize the cap today, and it is considered an appropriate form of attire for males with Highland casual or evening dress. Because the cap has these ties with civilian uses, collecting Glengarries can be a bit difficult.

While regiments wore Glengarries with dicing, many civilian bands have adopted this style as well, making it even more difficult to judge a military cap from a civilian one. Likewise, the merging of various Highlander Regiments has further added to the confusion.

That being said, Glengarries are still very affordable, and not typically faked in mass numbers, at least when compared to other types of headgear. Collectors do need to be watchful for civilian-made pieces. These generally lack the quality of the military versions.

The rule of thumb remains: "Older is typically more expensive." World War I era caps are available for around $100. The best way to judge these is to look for a cap with the appropriate era badge. Some research is needed to distinguish the styles of badges, but there are numerous excellent books on the subject.

And finally, given that MacDonell of Glengarry was something of a Highland elitist, we can only wonder about what he would have thought about the evolution and adoption of his simple, yet effective and affordable, cap design. Would this Scotsman have been proud to see that it remains in use today, or outraged at how it has evolved?

Brigadier General Silver Star.jpg

Frontline Feature


Kramer Auction Service

Our knowledge in firearms, advertising, auctions, and technology are why we are Wisconsin’s premier firearms auction center. If you’re looking to buy or sell guns, military items, and others, Kramer Auction Service will help you every step of the way.