The term military jacket can mean different things to different people. For someone who has spent any time in a military service, be it sea, land or air-based, their thoughts would probably be a particular type of jacket that was used in their branch of the military. Even in one particular service branch there may be a wide range of jackets in use, ranging from the very formal parade or evening-wear (almost a suit) style through the more work-oriented styles to those made of special harder wearing materials. Then there is the extreme conditions type of jacket designed to be used as a very tough hardwearing outer garment which can withstand rough conditions, rough handling and exposure to some of the more nasty ground conditions, liquids and even gases.

This of course assumes that it is the present-day garment that is under discussion.

A very well-known type of jacket is the leather (in some cases cow-hide) jacket used by the early settlers in what is now the United States of America. Often these jackets were fringed rather that having straight cut edges and it was very common for them to be featured in “western” style movies.

Frontier scouts working for the army wore them a lot – both during the day and also to sleep in at night.

Most “modern-day” army uniforms seem to have originated in the early 1600’s. At that time most of the known world’s population was concentrated in Europe.

China and Japan were closed to the western world and were unknown quantities – if in fact they were known at all. The uniforms of the armies of continental Europe tended to have a lot in common.

Very often neighboring countries had similar uniforms. The Belgium uniform of 1831 was closely modeled on the French uniform of the time.

Despite this, there has still been a great variety in the style of uniforms. It is noticeable that the uniform jacket in particular has drifted in and out of military fashion seemingly randomly. The colour, style, length and even the type of fastening has varied a lot from one country to another as well as from one period of time to another in the same country.

In Europe up until about 1670, the military jacket was an important part of a uniform. From then on it started to develop into more of a waist-coat, still initially made of leather, but then more commonly made of cloth. A garment used as a cloak started taking its place. This garment evolved into what is now a coat.

Jackets came in a vast range of colours. In the 1830’s the Argentine jacket was turquoise with a red collar and cuffs. By 1865 it had become a turquoise blue tunic with green collars and cuffs.

In 1799 the French Coptiz Legion was wearing light-green jackets. The 1842 French Volontars de la Charte wore a dark-blue jacket.

The 1650 German infantry jackets were made of elk leather and had blue cuffs. From 1735 the yellow German cavalry jackets were replaced by yellowish or straw-coloured cloth jackets. However the yellow jackets were still used by the 2nd Regiment until 1806, although as they were cleaned with whiting, they tended to get lighter in colour the longer that they were used. At one stage, white jackets were used.

It was not until during World War 1 that the colour of the jacket began to standardize to camouflage colours such as earth-brown, khaki and grey-green.

At that time the French infantry still wore coloured uniforms and had suffered heavy casualties. They changed to a “horizon blue” (very light grey-blue) colour, which was an improvement even though it still had yellow metal buttons on it. Around 1930 they changed to khaki colouring.

Although the military jacket has had a varied past, by comparison, modern jackets are very dull. Most are black or a shade of brown and are styled similar to each other.

Gone are the turquoise and yellow jackets, which is probably a good thing for the continued well-being of the wearer in combat.

Further detailed uniform descriptions can be found in “Uniforms of the World (Army, Navy and Airforce Uniforms 1700-1937)” by Richard Knotel, Herbert Knotel and Herbert Sieg.

© 2009-2017

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