Why do they not use the chinstrap properly?
October 24, 2012 11:00 AM   Subscribe

What is the deal with the chin strap resting in front, rather than going under the chin, in a lot of ceremonial hats? Like the typical British Bearskin hat. Having the strap sitting in front like that seems totally useless and impractical.

It seems even the WWI British helmet was also worn like this? It is bugging the shit out of me.
posted by Meatbomb to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is the example that reminded me how much I need to know the answer.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:01 AM on October 24, 2012

THIS WAS best answered in the Audie Murphy (most decorated American G.I in World War II ) Biopic "To Hell and Back". Murphy (playing himself in the movie) was told to undo the strap to stop the blast of explosions not only tearing off his helmet but his head along with it. "Well how do I keep it on then?" asks Murphy. "You don't" was the cheerful reply. He then goes on to lose his helmet, win the war and get shot in the backside - which, while painful, certainly took his mind off loosing his hat.


IT IS TRUE that in some cases soldiers really were killed by concussion due to a buckled chinstrap (in the event of an explosion nearby) and for this reason the US Army developed a new chinstrap release, T1, that would allow the chinstrap to unhook under a pressure superior to 15 pounds. This development came in late WWII, too late to help the GIs then, but it was standardised ever since and all helmets refurbished and produced after WWII have (or should have) been fitted with this new device. During the Korean conflict many commanders wanted their soldiers to fasten the chinstrap (as it was meant to be) also because, as an officer [Col. Cawthon] stated, "a soldier wearing a helmet unbuckled looks about as martial as a tomcat with his head in a can of salmon". The T1 fastening hook allowed it to be done without fear of terrible injuries. It must be also noted that a blast near and strong enough to break a neck by concussion will probably cause many other serious injuries. Anyhow, the GIs didn't like to "buckle up" their helmet (M1) at all, fearing a very unlikely injury, and preferred to fasten the chinstrap over the back rim of their steel pot or hook it on the camouflage net, but the helmet was not stable: it wobbled and danced over the head of the running soldier, and (US Army veterans have told me), it was quite usual to see a soldier running with one hand holding his rifle and the other over the helmet. Furthermore, let's face it, a well fastened helmet is not a comfortable thing to wear. The British WWII helmet (MkII) was even less stable than the American helmet (the US Army had a similar shaped helmet until 1941-2) and it had to be worn with its chinstrap under the chin not to fall off immediately when running (but many pictures show soldiers marching or at rest with the strap pulled over the rim, tuched inside the shell or, as also prescribed, worn behind the neck). Its shape was the same of its predecessor, the MkI, which was designed for trench warfare, where soldiers had to be careful about what came right down from the sky - that's why it was wide and flat.


posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:11 AM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

NotMyselfRightNow, makes sense for the actual combat helmets. The Bearskin would predate all that and it looks like the "proper" way to wear it is with strap in front of face.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:18 AM on October 24, 2012

NotMyselfRightNow: I've read that explanation as well, it doesn't really fit with history though as British bearskin military helmets with on-the-chin straps date at least to the 17th century. This question was a thread on reddit a while back and no one really had a definite answer.
posted by Cosine at 11:18 AM on October 24, 2012

IIRC they had cannons in the 17th century.
posted by Gungho at 11:28 AM on October 24, 2012

On of the methods of sentry stalking/silent kill is to put a forearm across the sentry's shoulders, and with your ohter hand, reach over the top of the helmet (grab it by the lip), and yank straight back, breaking the sentry's neck. You can't do that if the strap isn't buckled under his chin. If the strap isn't fastened, then you hit him with the helmet a few times. The American army put a beaded clasp designed to slip loose under such circumstances, or, for example, if a soldier fell from a boarding net when descending from a ship deck to a landing craft (dropping feet first into the sea, the helmet could snap the soldier's neck).

Paratroopers have chin straps that are similar to football helmets, so that the busywork involved in leaping out of an aircraft at 100 miles an hour won't cause them to lose their hats. They are told to undo the chinstrap on the way down if it looks like they're going to land in the water.

Those furry British hats, though, have nothing to do with all this. They just think it looks neat.

Go figure.
posted by mule98J at 11:43 AM on October 24, 2012

posted by Jahaza at 11:57 AM on October 24, 2012

It's just one of those things that history has all but erased the meaning of. Like how you don't button the bottom button of men's jackets, of how those jackets don't have functional lapels.

Also, police officers wear clip-on ties for the same reason- so they can't be a weapon.
posted by gjc at 3:52 PM on October 24, 2012

gjc: Like how you don't button the bottom button of men's jackets
Pretty sure that's because many jackets ride up if you try to sit with it fully buttoned.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also - saw this on Reddit earlier today:

"The reason for its shape was when the enemy cavalry used to charge at the guardsman, the bearskins meant they had difficulty gauging where the head started. It meant they usually aimed high as, as you can see, he wears the chin strap under the bottom lip. It sits on the head very securely, like any cap or hat that is all nice and snug around the crown. The inside of the fur is like a light basket weave to it is not top heavy. With regards to aiming at the face. Note the fur resting over the eyes in the picture, the face is nicely obscured but still very easy to see through.

From a distance, when the cavalryman will begin to aim, a midst the smoke, the bouncing on a horse, disorientating noise, the head is in-distinctive and when one wears the chinstrap under the bottom lip, the head will seem higher to the cavalryman who does not know any better, he will be aiming for the head and aim high."
posted by redthread at 7:58 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

From a Straight Dope thread - an 1823 New York militiaman, so it's been going on for a while.
posted by unliteral at 8:00 PM on October 24, 2012

redthread, link to the source please? Sounds like an interesting discussion.
posted by vsync at 11:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Paintball sans bruises?   |   Help me find a YA Halloween book? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.