How Can I Identify an Old Military Uniform?

Written by ronnie daniels Google
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How Can I Identify an Old Military Uniform?
Small details can tell you a lot about a uniform. (confederate officer sword image by Robert Young from

If time is a movie then antique uniforms are stills; they capture fragments of the world as it was in the dark days of wars gone by. Look in your attic or closet, you might have a piece of history in Grandpa's old uniform .

Identifying uniforms from different wars and times requires attention to details such as colour, cut and fabric type. Sometimes the accessories or head gear can provide clues as to when the uniform was worn.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Guidebook for military collectibles
  • Magnifying glass
  • Books on military history
  • Digital camera

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  1. 1

    Step back and observe the overall appearance of the uniform. Compare the colours and cut of the uniform to images from the military history books to determine the time period for the uniform.

    Colonial era uniforms were tapered and tight in jacket and trousers, while uniforms from the Civil War era forward were more loosely cut.

    How Can I Identify an Old Military Uniform?
    The material and stitching are clues to when the uniform was made. (civil war soldiers. image by Kevin Chesson from
  2. 2

    Examine the cloth under a magnifying glass to determine the weave and whether or not it was machine stitched. Handwoven cloth and hand-sewn clothing will have a more irregular appearance and the stitches won't be uniform.

  3. 3

    Examine the buttons on the uniform and any insignia that may still be attached to the sleeves, collar or shoulders of the jacket. The brass buttons will often carry symbols identifying the branch of service and national origin of the uniform. In some cases a complete set of brass buttons on a uniform are worth more than the uniform itself.

    How Can I Identify an Old Military Uniform?
    Patches and tabs can indicate rank or branch of service. (insignia image by pearlguy from
  4. 4

    Look at the colours of the uniform. Many times you can determine exactly what part of a campaign a soldier fought in by the combination of colours on the uniform. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Continental Army uniforms were navy blue with different-coloured, front lapels indicating which region of the colonies the soldier came from.

  5. 5

    Get some professional help by taking some photographs of the uniform with a digital camera. Take pictures from all sides and include close up images of buttons, belt buckles and any insignia. E-mail the images to your local university history department or a military historical society and ask for any references they might help identify the uniform.

    How Can I Identify an Old Military Uniform?
    Use photographs of the uniform to get more information. (digital camera 6 image by Harvey Hudson from
  6. 6

    Question the owner of the uniform carefully to learn any family history or lore concerning the uniform. Letters or other documents can establish provenance and greatly increase the value of the collectable.

Tips and warnings

  • Historical societies and museums can be valuable sources of information. They are glad to share their expertise in identifying artefacts.
  • Antique textiles are fragile. Always wear gloves when handling them to keep the oils from your skin from damaging them. Sunlight can fade the colours in old textiles. Display and store them away from exposure to sunlight.

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