A shako is a tall, cylindrical military cap, usually with a peak (British English) or visor (American English), 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, or pompon (also called sultan), 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 of many regiments in many armies. It retained this position until the mid-19th century, when spiked helmets began to appear in the armies of various German states, and the more practical kepi replaced it for all but parade wear in the French Army. 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.
While impressive in appearance, adding to the height of the wearer, the shako was heavy and clumsy in the field, providing little protection against enemy action or the weather. Most models were made of cloth or felt over a leather body and peak. During the period of general peace that followed the Napoleonic Wars, the shako in European armies became a showy and impractical headdress 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, eleven inches across at the crown, with ornamental gold cords and lace. The headdress was topped by a twelve-inch plume and held in place by bronze chin scales. The "Regency" shako was followed in the British Army by a succession of models—“Belltopped”, “Albert", "French” and “Quilted”—until the adoption of the Home Service helmet in 1877.
In 1914, the shako was still being worn in France (chasseurs à cheval, infantry of the Republican Guard, chasseurs d'Afrique and hussars); Imperial Germany (Jägers, Landwehr and marines); Austro-Hungary (line infantry and hussars); Russia (generals, staff officers, and infantry, engineers and artillery of the Imperial Guard); Belgium (line infantry, chasseurs a' pied, engineers, fortress artillery and mounted chasseurs); Mexico (federal troops of all branches) ; Romania (artillery), Italy (horse artillery and military academies); and 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 it was planned to reintroduce the shako as parade dress for all English line infantry regiments - a project interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. The Swiss and Dutch armies wore shakos even for field wear until 1916. The Japanese Army had worn the shako as a parade headdress until 1905, though 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 were the high Napoleonic shako (kiver) worn by the Russian Imperial Guard 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 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, replacing the spiked leather helmet (Pickelhaube) that had become identified with the previous Imperial regime. This new headdress survived several political changes, being 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 still worn.
In Europe, the infantry of the French Republican Guard, cadets at Saint-Cyr, cadets at the Belgian Royal Military Academy , 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, a Regiment (aka Madras Sappers & Miners, Madras Engineer Group) almost 300 years old, also 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 and South Korea also use shakos.
In the United States, shakos are still worn as full‐dress headgear by cadets of the Valley Forge Military Academy, US Military Academy, Virginia Military Institute, The Citadel, and New York Military Academy with their Full Dress Grey uniforms.
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, 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.