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Mr Vinh Dinh Dam - Viet Nam

The pith helmet (also known as the sun helmet, Topee, or Topee) is a lightweight helmet made of pith typically from the Sola or a similar plant, with a cloth cover, designed to shade the head from the sun

Crude forms of pith helmets had exixted since the mid-nineteenth century, as early as the 1840s, but it was around 1870 than the pith helmet became popular with military personal in Europe's tropical colonies: the Franco-Prussian War popularised the German Pickellhaube, and that had much influence on the definitive design of the pith helmet. It was made of pith with small peaks at the front and back; it was covered by white cloth, and had small holes for ventilation. It had a metal insignia at the front, and may be decorated with a brass spike or ball-shaped top. The chin strap could be in leather or brass chain, depending on occasions. The pith helmet soon became synonymous with the British Empire and its 'Soldiers of the Queen".

However, the pith helmet was used  by all European colonial powers, and for some time by the United States.

During the Anglo-Zulu War, British troops dyed their white pith helmets with tea for camouflage. Soon khaki-coloured pith helmets became standard issues as well. Pith helmets were worn operationally by European military personal until the end of World War II, such as a version used by the African Corps.

Such was the popularity of the pith helmet that it became a common civilian headgear for Westerners in the tropics from the end of the 19th Century. The civilian pith helmet was typically less decorative and more practical, not as tall as the military counterpart, and with a wide brim all round. It was worn by men and women, old and young, both in formal and casual occasions, until the Second World War.

During their occupation , the French people taught Vietnamese craftmen to turn the pith tree available in Vietnam  into full advantage. It was to use the low density/lightweight pith wood to make hats. The unique of the pith lies in the fact that the material has properties that make it both a good sun and rain shield.

Pith is a light substance that is found in vascular plants. It consists of soft, spongy parenchyma cells, and is located in the center of the stem. It is encircled by a ring of xylem (wood tissue). In most plants the pith is solid, but some plants, e.g. grasses and umbelliferous, the pith has a hollo center forming a hollow tube except at hte points where leaves are produced, where there is a solid plate across the stem. Afew plants, e.g. walnut, have distinctive chambered pith with numerous short cavities in the pith.

The pith varies in diameter from about 0.5 mm to 6-8 mm in solid pith, and up to 150 mm or more in the stems of some plants with hollow pith, e.g. some bamboos. Freshly grown pith in young new shoots is typically white or pale brown, commonly darkening with age. In woody plants (trees, shrubs), the pith becomes surrounded by successive annual layers of wood; it may be very inconspicuous but is always present at the center of a trunk or branch.

The cells in the peripheral parts of the pith may in some plants (e.g. Hedera helix) develop to be different from cells in the rest of the pith. This layer of cells is called the perimedullary region of the pith.

Pith can become electrically charged through static electricity. The pith of the Sola or other similar plants is used to make the pith helmet. The pith of some plants is edible to humans, e.g. Sago.

If you dunk a pith helmet fully into the water the pith material will retain some water for a short period of time. When dry, the hat retains its stiffness and shape

An NVA pith helmet worn during the Vietnam War. After the war, the Viet Minh of Vietnam copied the pith helmet from the former French coloniser, and adopted it as its own. Today it is still widely worn by both civilians and the military forces in Vietnam; it is similar to the pre-WWII civilian type, but covered in jungle green cloth, sometimes with a metal insignia at the front or back.

Ouside Vietnam the pith helmet is now worn mainly by the British and Thai military, as well as "the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince"of Monaco, on ceremonial occasions. The pith helmet has also seen use as a form of identification by US. Marin Corps rifle range instructors at Paris Island and San Diego, similar to the Campaign hat worn by drill instructors. 

For more facts about hats please take a moment  to visit http://www.fiddlersgreenstudio.com  : Our special thanks to Jim Hatzell for the fantastic photopraphy

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