Hat Cords

Yellow Hat Cord

What are hat cords?


Hat cords are a decorative accessory worn on the Cavalry Hat and other uniform hats. The cords are to sit on the bottom of the crown, on top of the brim.  Cavalry hats have loops on the bottom of the crown to hold them in place. 

Hat cords were originally to be worn on campaign hats, so are sometimes referred to as campaign cords.  They were initially used by the U.S. military in the 19th century, during the Indian campaigns.  Legend has it that the acorns at the end of the cords were designed to bounce off the brim of the hat to keep riders awake.  Another possible reason is they helped keep the hat on the wearer.  The hat cord tradition continued through World War I and II, and even in Vietnam.  They are still worn to represent the rank of the wearer, or the wearer's function in the military.  Legend also says that “in the olden days”, there were no such thing as combat patches, so the units had soldiers tie their acorns in a knot to show they were combat experienced. This is done by tying a half-hitch knot on each side of the "keeper" (or slide). The knots are referred to as “Combat Knots.”


Who wears hat cords?

Many Cavalry soldiers wear hat cords on their Stetsons, designating their rank and position in the military.  This custom began in the 1800s and continues today.  It remains part of the rich Cavalry tradition.  Many in the police force also wear hat cords and that remains part of their uniform in most states.


Cavalry hat cord color meaning

The most common hat cord color in the Cavalry is yellow, for the enlisted Trooper.  Officers wear solid gold hat cords, warranty officers wear black and silver hat cords, and company grade officers wear black and gold hat cords.  The chart below shows all the different colors, what position they represent, and the year the color was instated.

All the hat cords available at CavHooah are found here.

Army Branch of Service Colors

Below is a table of the hat cord colors and their meaning.  This also shows the dates each were established.
Adjutant General’s Corps Dark Blue Scarlet 1936
Air Corps Ultramarine Golden Orange 1920 Air Corps Hat Cord
Armored Center & Units Green White 1942 Armor Hat Cord
Cavalry Yellow   1855 Yellow Hat Cord - Cavalry
Chaplains Black     no enlisted men
Chemical Warfare Cobalt Blue Golden Yellow 1918  
Coast Artillery Scarlet   1902 Atillery Hat Cord
Corps of Engineers Scarlet White 1902 Corps of Engineers Hat Cord
Detached Enlisted Men Green      
Field Artillery Scarlet   1851
Finance Dept. Silver Gray Golden Yellow 1921  
Infantry Light Blue   1851 Infantry Hat Cord
Inspector General’s Dept. Dark Blue Light Blue 1936  
Judge Advocate General’s Dept. Dark Blue White 1936  
Medical Dept. Maroon White 1916 Medical and dental Corps Hat Cord
Military Intelligence Golden Yellow Purple 1936 no enlisted men
Military Police Yellow Green 1922
National Guard Bureau Dark Blue   1921  
Ordnance Dept. Crimson Yellow 1921 Ordnance Hat Cord
Permanent Professors USMA Scarlet Silver Gray 1936 no enlisted men
Quartermaster Corps Buff   1902  
Signal Corps Orange White 1902  
Specialists’ Reserve Brown Golden Yellow 1936 no enlisted men
Tank Destroyer Golden Orange Black 1943  
Transportation Corps Brick Red Golden Yellow 1942  
Warrant Officers Brown   1936 no enlisted men (1)
Women’s Army Corps Old Gold Moss Green 1942 Women's Corps Hat Cord
Table Courtesy of Dr. Howard G. Lanham –  http://www.angelfire.com/md2/patches/other/abranchcolors.html


One site visitor submitted the below information regarding his search for the history of the hat cord:

"I saw your post concerning combat knots on a couple of different forums and thought I’d offer you what little info I know. I’m one of those dreaded non-19D Stetson wearers. I served in the 1st Cavalry Division as an 11M for a number of years, including Desert Storm.

Although we were Infantry, our Commissioned Officers often wore unit-specific Cavalry brass (or sew on) on their collars, and our unit guidons were red and white Cavalry guidons rather than blue Infantry guidons.

Researching Cavalry Stetsons a little less than a year ago and using “combat knots” as a search term, I found an online auction selling what was described as a WWI peaked campaign hat. It was brownish in color and resembled a modern day Drill Sergeant’s hat. The auctioneer claimed it had been worn overseas by the auctioneer’s ancestor, and had been recently found in an attic. By way of establishing the authenticity of the hat, the auctioneer specifically mentioned the knots and said that the ancestor had explained when the auctioneer was a child that the knots signified combat service.

The hat itself was out of shape and looked moth-eaten, but I saw the knots that had been tied in the cord very clearly. Each cord end had been tied into a half hitch by running them under and back up behind both cords, then back forward and through the loop it had created. The half hitches were snugged together toward the little sleeve that retains the cords in the front.

As I was only looking for an example of how to tie the same knots into mine, I didn’t bother to save a copy of the images. It didn’t occur to me that I’d ever need or want to provide any verification on the subject. Unfortunately, I’m unable to find those pictures again and I haven’t found any others like them. Hope this helps you. First Team!”
The site visitor who submitted the above information also included this image.


Purchase a hat cord for your Stetson HERE

Warranty Office Hat Cords from Cavhooah.com