How Do I Identify 18th Century British Military Uniforms?

Written by geoffrey st. marie
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How Do I Identify 18th Century British Military Uniforms?
Britain fought many wars during the 18th century including the French and Indian War and the American War of Independence. (Union Jack Flag of Great Britain image by Dan Marsh from

There are many reasons why you might want to identify a piece of uniform clothing. Perhaps you are a collector and have come across an interesting specimen. You might be a military re-enactor who is trying to be as authentic as possible in producing a uniform. Like all periods, 18th century British uniforms will follow consistent guidelines that will prove time of origin. While some uniforms within the British military were very diverse (i.e. cavalry), there are still these almost certain identifiers.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Examine the stitching. All true 18th century pieces will be sewn by hand. The sewing machine did not really come into being until near the mid 1840s. This does not mean the stitching will be uneven or crude nor does it mean it will be a masterpiece. But you should be able to tell the difference between machine stitching and that done by hand.

  2. 2

    Count the pieces used to make the coat. British coats from the 18th century will be in four pieces, or "panels." Typically you will find that there are two front panels and two rear panels.

  3. 3

    Study the hat--18th century European soldiers usually wore the cocked hat or tri-corn. If you have a British uniform with a "stove-pipe" style shako or hat, then it is probably a later model from around the Napoleonic period. Also, most countries decorated the tri-corn with a cockade which could be made of ribbon. The British wore a black one where as the French wore a white one. Americans during the Revolution first wore black too, but switched to a black and white one around 1778.

  4. 4

    Observe the colour. British coats from this period will be "madder" red wool. They later became more of a scarlet colour. The only arms of land service that did not wear red were the artillery, rifleman and some units of light cavalry. Artillery wore royal blue and the riflemen usually wore green. Cavalry colours could be varied and may require further research of individual units.

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