• Weird History

A Visual History Through 24 American Military Uniforms

The history of the American army uniform is a fascinating subject. You might wonder how the military went from wearing tri-corn hats to using Kevlar. After nearly 20 years of collecting original historic military uniforms and equipment, reading books, talking to historians, and doing research, I have realized that all uniforms descend from others in one way or another, somewhat like a family tree. 

For the sake of clarity and coherence, this list will focus on the campaign (combat) clothing and personal equipment of the average enlisted soldier in the United States Army from the American Revolution to the present.

The history of all American army uniforms for both men and women is too vast to condense on this platform as it includes the history of the cavalry, artillery, dragoons, medical personnel, scouts, officers, engineers, dress uniforms, other specialists, and privately purchased uniforms in the army. Equally vast are the uniforms and equipment of the United States Marines, the Navy, Special Forces, the Coast Guard, and the Air Force.

Now, enjoy the pictorial history of the American army combat uniform...

  • Revolution! The Continental Army

    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    The American Revolution flung colonial Americans into war without a universal, standard uniform. As a result, clothing and equipment varied greatly. The ideal basic uniform and equipment kit consisted of:

    • Knee-length navy blue coat with red facings
    • White or off-white breeches
    • A linen or cotton pullover shirt
    • A waistcoat (vest) of cotton, linen, or even wool

    Civilian and hunting clothes were also used due to shortages. A tri-cornered hat was ideally used, but a wide variety of similar military and civilian headgear was worn. 

    The most common long arms were the British Brown Bess flintlock musket. Other weaponry might include:

    • French flintlock muskets
    • Hunting rifles (muskets) 
    • Leather cartridge boxes with leather slings (others used a "belly box" cartridge pouch carried on a belt)
    • Cotton or linen haversacks
    • A triangular socket bayonet and scabbard with sling
  • The War Of 1812: The Age Of The Shako Headdress

    The young United States was ill-prepared to fight Great Britain in 1812, but US regulars and state militia units went to war with what they had on hand. Substitute clothing and equipment items were used when no other alternatives were available. The ideal basic uniform and equipment kit consisted of:

    • Model 1812 blue and red coatee
    • Model 1812 wool-felt shako
    • Broadfall-front white cotton trousers
    • Gray wool broad fall front trousers
    • Tarred canvas button up spatterdash gaiters
    • Low-quarter lace up shoes. 
    • Shoes and lace up boots, brought from home or purchased
    • Model 1813 blue wool coatee
    • Model 1813 leather shako
    • Cotton or linen shirt
    • Models 1797 and 1808 flintlock muskets
    • Lherbette knapsack
    • Wooden or metal canteen, cork and linen or leather sling
    • 1808 leather cartridge box and leather sling. 
    • Cotton haversack and sling with pewter buttons
    • Triangular spiked bayonet with scabbard and sling
  • The War of 1812: Late War Grey Short Jackets

    Photo: H. Charles McBarron, Jr. / via Wikimedia Commons

    As the War of 1812 progressed and the Americans realized that it was going to be a difficult fight, resources became scarce. To cut costs and production time, a waist-length, gray roundabout/shell jacket began to be issued when the older pre-war and war time blue wool coatees ran low. 

    The expediency model short gray roundabout jacket is pictured above during the Battle of Chippewa. 

    Equipment seems to have not changed significantly in this period. 

  • 1814 To The 1830s: Tailcoats To Shell Jackets

    Photo: H. Charles McBarron, Jr. / via US Army Center of Military History

    After the war with Britain was over, the US Army collected itself and returned to producing coattees, but without the red trim and with a somewhat shorter coattail in the back. The dark gray trousers continued in service. 

    • The 1825 dark blue coatee, which replaced the war time 1814 blue coattee
    • A privately purchased shirt
    • White broadfall cotton trousers followed by 
    • Sky blue or dark grey broadfall front trousers
    • Pattern 1822 lace up boots and low quarter lace up shoes 

    Equipment seems to have not changed significantly in this period.