The Evolution of Army Uniforms


2018 saw a new variation of the army combat uniform introduced and mandated by the US Military, and while it brings some changes to the standards of what a soldier should wear, it’s not the first change the military uniform has undertaken over the legacy of America’s existence. 

And it’s not just the guns they carry into combat either. Uniforms have had to change to accommodate both new battlefields and new tactics.

The Days of the Union

The Revolutionary War was obviously the first war fought by the fledgling American republic, but they took their inspiration from the most visible source they could: the army of the military they thought to expel. 

The uniform of Revolutionary soldiers was essentially the same as redcoats with the red just swapped for blue. 

This continental model remained the standard for military uniforms well past the Revolutionary War, but some major changes were made over the intervening years. The color scheme stayed the same, but the traditional European coats were replaced with wool jackets with notably high collars. 

Minor changes would be implemented over the series of largely smaller conflicts that would follow, but that blue color scheme and general design would remain the same.

The Rise of Industrialization

The Civil War brought about not just a schism between the states but also fell squarely in the middle of an Industrial Revolution. 

The sudden and conflicted nature of the war – as well as the sheer scale of it – meant that standards of dress largely went out the window. While the newest uniforms built off of earlier designs by incorporating new hats, many soldiers were forced to scrounge for whatever leftover uniforms they could requisition.

At the same time, the Civil War saw the development of a more formal approach to military design. While Revolutionary soldiers may have risen up out of a sense of budding patriotism, life as a soldier had become a respectably stable job by the time of the 19th century. 

Union and Confederate soldiers would enter the battlefield with handmade patches that could help identify their bodies while more well-heeled officers wore brass branch insignia that identified their position within the military hierarchy.

The World Wars

Chances are that you’re already familiar with the fatigues that are worn by the doughboys of the first World War, but you may not be familiar with the fact that these uniforms were largely introduced in the Spanish-American War. 

With the implementation of more advanced industrialization techniques, creating formally structured uniforms was much easier. The Spanish-American War saw the implementation of four different khaki patterns for soldiers deployed in different environments.

Apart from the fact that the fatigues were transitioned from brown to olive, World War I soldiers fundamentally wore the same dress into battle as their Spanish-American forebears. These uniforms would remain the standard through World War II, but new variations on the uniform would be introduced to account for specialized positions like parachute jumper coats.

The Cold War and Beyond

The khaki field dress has become an iconic symbol of American power, and it’s a standard that’s remained a critical part of the military uniform for nearly two centuries now. While the core uniform hasn’t changed greatly, the move to more specialized uniforms that was seen in World War II has only expanded. 

Today’s soldiers have a number of different combat uniforms to choose from depending on their environment, and the US has introduced countless new camo patterns to account for our increasingly global military engagements.

Fortunately for collectors, the rise in prominence of the American military throughout the world is a huge boon. As America engages in conflict zones throughout the world and comes to employ soldiers in increasingly broad and creative ways, there is a countless procession of uniforms and army medals to seek out and collect.

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