The use of beret-like headgear by the military of Europe dates back hundreds of years, the first example being the Scottish Blue Bonnet, that became a de facto symbol of Scottish Jacobite forces in the 16th and 17th centuries. As an officially required military headdress, its use dates back to the Carlist Warsof Succession for the Spanish Crown in the 1830s by order of Carlist General Tomás de Zumalacárregui who wanted a local and non-costly way to make headgear that was resistant to the mountain weather, easy to care for and could be used on formal occasions.
The French Chasseurs alpins, created in the early 1880s, were the first regular unit to wear the military beret as a standard headgear. These mountain troops were issued with a uniform which included several features which were innovative for the time, notably the large and floppy blue beret which they still retain. This was so unfamiliar a fashion outside France that it had to be described in the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1911 as "a soft cap or tam o'shanter".
Berets have features that make them attractive to the military: they are cheap, easy to make in large numbers, can be manufactured in a wide range of colors, can be rolled up and stuffed into a pocket or beneath the shirt epaulette without damage, and can be worn with headphones (this is one of the reasons why early tank crews adopted the beret). The beret is not so useful in field conditions for the modern infantryman, who requires protective helmets, and non-camouflage versions are seldom seen on operations.
The beret was found particularly useful as a uniform for armored-vehicle crews, and the British Tank Corps (later Royal Tank Corps) adopted the headdress as early as 1918.
German AFV crews in the late 1930s also adopted a beret with the addition of a padded crash helmet inside. The color black became popular as a tank-crew headdress, since it did not show oil stains picked up inside the interior of a vehicle. Black berets continue to be worn by armored regiments in many armies (see details below).
An unusual form of beret is the camo beret, mostly issued to special forces. Countries that have issued camouflage berets include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, PRC, Denmark, Ecuador, Israel, Paraguay, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, and Thailand.
Berets have become the default military headdress of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, just as the morion, tricorne, shako, kepi, and peaked cap were each common headgear in their own respective eras. As recorded below the beret is now worn by many military personnel of the majority of nations around the globe.