A Brief History of Military Uniforms

In 2018, the United States Army began a testing and roll-out plan for an update to the standard uniform. The changes have not yet been finalized, pending the results of wear testing. This latest update could signal slight changes to everything, from hats to military belt buckles. Military uniforms have evolved along with the military itself. Current uniforms are a far cry from the knee breeches of the revolutionary era.

Blue Coats

The Continental army of the Revolutionary Period wore blue coats similar in style to the British red coats. The blue coats had distinctive facings to indicate each soldier’s regiment. After the Revolutionary War, there followed a period of confusion about the official United States uniform. By the War of 1812, the Army issued a standard dark blue wool coat with a stiff collar and a single rows of buttons.

Frock Coats

The uniform had a few minor changes to hats and decorations over the years. The next major change came in about 1851, when the blue coat was exchanged for a frock coat. The frock coat featured colored accents to indicate where the soldier served.

This basic style remained in place during the Civil War, although uniforms varied by state and sometimes featured homemade items. The amount of variation made it difficult to pin down an “official” uniform during this period and for several decades after.


Khaki uniforms first appeared during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The uniform style remained similar through World War I, although the color changed from khaki to olive drab. During World War I, soldiers also started wearing spiral puttees, or leg wraps, from knee to ankle.


During World War I, the United States purchased helmets from Britain for their troops in Europe. The “Brodie helmet” became a common feature of the WWI era uniform. By World War II, the helmets were redesigned so that the wide brim was removed and the helmet covered more of the soldier’s head. The military also introduced specialty uniforms during WWII, such as cold weather coats specifically for airborne personnel.

Utility Uniform and Camouflage

In the 1950s, the Army rolled out an olive green utility uniform. This uniform was used during the Korean War and by most troops in Vietnam. Some personnel in Vietnam wore specialized camouflage. In the 1980s, the Army introduced the woodland camouflage pattern still seen in many uniforms today.

Since the 1980s, camouflage patterns have been updated with desert-specific colors and enhanced digital patterns.

The Army continues to change over the years with changes to colors, styles, patterns, and even accessories like military belt buckles. The clothes soldiers wear indicate the evolving role of the military.

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