Uniforms of World War One: The Clothes That Made the Men

The Great War resulted in a rise in national feeling and a further rise of the nation state. On the field of battle, standardised uniforms were used to instil discipline and esprit de corps, while new technology enabled advances in mass production, wear, comfort and suitability to a variety of climates.

What follows is a description of some of the uniforms warn in Europe during the First World War.

Britain

The British wore khaki uniforms throughout World War One. The uniforms had originally been designed and issued in 1902 to replace the traditional red uniform and remained unchanged by 1914. The tunic had large breast pockets as well as two side pockets for storage. Rank was indicated by badges on the upper arm.

brit-recruits-alder1

Variations on the standard uniform were issued depending on the nationality and role of the soldier. In warmer climates soldiers wore similar uniforms but of lighter colour and made from thinner fabric with few pockets. The Scottish uniform featured a shorter tunic which did not hang below the waist, enabling the wearing of a kilt and sporran.

France

The uniform of the French army had been a point of political contention before the war. Unlike many other armies they had retained a colourful uniform of the 19th century kind with a bright blue tunic and striking red trousers. In 1911 soldier and politician Adolphe Messimy cautioned ‘This stupid blind attachment to the most visible of colours will have cruel consequences.’ He was right.

french-early-uniform

After disastrous losses at the battle of the frontiers the decision was made to replace the conspicuous uniforms. A uniform in drab blue, known as horizon blue, had been approved in June 1914, but it was only issued i 1915. France was, however, the first nation to introduce helmets and French soldiers were issued with the Adrian helmet from 1915.

WW1-French-soldiers-autochrome

Russia

Russians typically wore a brownish khaki uniformm though this could vary depending on where they were from, where they were serving or even on simple shortage of materials.

brusilov

Cossaks in particular continued their tradition of having a uniform distinct from the majority of the Russian army. They wore traditional Astrakhan hats and long coats.

Germany

At the outbreak of war Germany had not long begun a series of reforms of its uniforms and this would continue throughout the war. Up to that point each German state had maintained its own uniform, leading to a confusing array of colours, styles and badges. This was simplified in 1910 by the feldgrau or field grey uniform which gave greater regularity in the military’s appearance, although the traditional regional uniforms were still worn on ceremonial occasions.

ww1-german-dress-up

In 1915 a new uniform was introduced which further simplified the 1910 feldergrau kit. Details on the cuffs and other elements were removed thus making uniforms easier to mass produce. The expensive practice of maintaining a range of regional uniforms for special occasions was dispensed with.

In 1916 the iconic spiked helmets were replaced by the stahlhelm which would also provide the model for German helmets of the Second World War.

Austria-Hungary

In 1908 Austria-Hungary had replaced the blue uniforms of the 19th century with gray ones similar to those worn in Germany. The blue uniforms were retained for off duty and parade wear and those who still had them in 1914 continued to wear them during the war. They had summer and winter patterns of uniform which differed in weight of materials and collar style.

hungarian-moustaches

The standard headgear was a cloth cap with a peak with officers wearing a similar but stiffer hat. Units from Bosnia and Herzegovina wore fezzes instead; gray ones when fighting and red ones off duty.

Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.