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How US Army Uniforms Have Changed Throughout History

The Revolutionary War (1775)

The Revolutionary War (1775)

The Revolutionary War was the one that started it all. At first, the United States Army uniform was based on the British military, but it quickly gained a distinguishable blue coat. This is why the British were often called “Red Coats.” The uniforms were also paired with white overalls and waistcoats.

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Regulations Published (1779)

Regulations Published (1779)

Regulations were published in 1779 that would define the United States Army uniform as blue coats with colored facings that denoted region. White would be New England, red for Mid-Atlantic, and blue for the South. Musicians also had their own uniforms, but the colors were reversed. That being said, this didn’t last long. In 1782, blue coats faced with red became standard for everyone except generals and staff officers.

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The War of 1812 (1812)

The War of 1812 (1812)

Outfits began to change quite a bit at this point out of necessity. A shortage of blue cloth meant uniforms were made out of a variety of colors including drab, black, brown, and gray. This made it difficult to tell one soldier from another, so regulations were revised in 1813. The US Army dropped the red color and swapped to blue and gray coats. Now, they featured high-necked collars and front-facing buttons. This is the same time that the “tombstone” shako caps made their appearance.

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The Mexican-American War (1845)

The Mexican-American War (1845)

By the time the Mexican-American War rolled around in 1845, US Army uniforms were looking a little different. This is when roundabouts appeared and were most often made of blue wool. Pants now featured vertical stripes while sleeves had chevrons that marked rank. The tombstone cap didn't last long as it was replaced with forage folding caps. Frock coats were also introduced and became mandatory for Americans, but there was still a lot of work to do.

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Frock Coats (1851)

Frock Coats (1851)

In 1851, there was another set of changes. Some ideas stuck around while others were quickly replaced. The frock coat had become standard by now, but colored accents were added that would distinguish one branch from another. For example, blue indicated infantry while red meant artillery. The frock design was based on the French version.

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The Civil War (1861)

The Civil War (1861)

The Civil War was unlike any war up until this point. Uniforms varied quite a bit because of the nature of the conflict. That being said, the biggest change occurred with hats. Soldiers used brass branch badges to denote their units. Since many of the uniforms were homemade, it’s difficult to nail down a “typical” Civil War attire today.

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The Spanish-American War (1898)

The Spanish-American War (1898)

It was time to become more uniform -- pardon the pun. Uniforms were replaced by khaki field outfits that were inspired by the British. They were no longer made of wool, and special campaign hats were issued. Over the span of a year, at least four different patterns were released for coats.

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World War I (1914)

World War I (1914)

World War I was the first major war that America participated in, and it's also one of the most recognizable uniforms in history. Fatigues remained largely unchained, but khaki was ditched in favor of olive. Soldiers also wore puttees around their legs, and the British inspired our army to adopt the classic Brodie Helmet. The Brodie Helmet provided more protection from overhead artillery.

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World War II (1939)

World War II (1939)

Onto the second major World War. The United States didn't change their uniforms too much during this time. The Brodie Helmet was replaced with the M1 helmet because it provided more protection on the sides, as well as protected the top of the head better. Instead of the wool jacket, soldiers received windbreakers. In some cases, a specialized uniform worn by those that had specific jobs, like parachute jumpers.  During this time, the US Army began specializing roles, and the uniforms had to display that. 

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The Korean (1950) and Vietnam War (1955)

The Korean (1950) and Vietnam War (1955)

Uniforms during these two wars were very similar. The olive-green utility uniform became common by 1952. The color remained the primary choice until 2010 when it was swapped to blue ASU. However, by 2015, the color would be completely phased out. The most significant change during this era was the introduction of the Combat and Cargo Packs.

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Battle Dress Uniform (1981)

Battle Dress Uniform (1981)

On October 1, 1981, the Army introduced the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). This was designed from the tropical combat uniform used during the Vietnam war. The coat was made out of a blend of nylon and cotton in the woodland camouflage pattern, and soldiers would be issued matching caps and trousers. Unfortunately, the BDU uniform was too hot for tropical climates, so the Army authorized the use of the old uniform until adjustments were made. 

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Desert Storm (1990)

Desert Storm (1990)

Olive green obviously wasn't going to work when your soldiers were fighting on desert sand. By the 1990s, the Army had adopted a range of camouflage patterns to help conceal troops. At first, the patterns included the woodland and the three-color desert designs, but it quickly expanded. The new uniforms also had a few stylistic changes, which introduced a new, smaller collar.

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The Army Combat Uniform (2004)

The Army Combat Uniform (2004)

Since 1991, the Army had gone through several camouflage patterns. The Army Combat Uniform was introduced in 2004 and was modeled after the Marine's digital pattern uniform. Soldiers were also happy to see the introduction of moisture-wicking socks, T-shirt, coat, pants, combat boots, and patrol cap.

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The Operation Enduring Freedom Pattern (2010)

The Operation Enduring Freedom Pattern (2010)

In 2010, it was time for another change. The Army Combat Uniform was converted to the Operation Enduring Freedom pattern, also known as “Multicam.” This pattern was far more effective in Afghanistan's terrain. They also prevented third-degree burns and were treated with permethrin to protect soldiers from insect-borne diseases like malaria.

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The Operational Camouflage Pattern (2015)

The Operational Camouflage Pattern (2015)

Multicam didn’t last long, however. In 2015, the Army changed the ACU pattern to the Operational Camouflage Pattern. The colors vary by location – some need dark forest patterns while others need desert patterns. That being said, it generally has a four-to-six color palette that incorporates greys, tans, browns, beiges, and greens.

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Pinks and Greens (2018)

Pinks and Greens (2018)

Announced on Veteran’s Day 2018, the US military announced that it was bringing back an iteration of the WWII “pinks and greens” uniform. The original was introduced in the 1920s, but the new version will be redesigned for the needs of soldiers today. The reason for this change is because it was “one of the flashiest and most striking uniforms ever authorized by the Army.” This uniform will have a complete “phase-in” by 2028.

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