Military Uniforms in the 18th Century

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Military Uniforms in the 18th Century
Unlike today's uniforms, military clothing of the 18th century was brightly coloured. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The 17th century saw the widespread adoption of military uniforms in England and France, with other nations following suit. Prior to this period, soldiers wore mainly civilian clothing with identifying badges, sashes or other marks. In the 18th century, standard national uniforms became common, including the iconic British "redcoat."

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Coats and Jackets

The dominant uniform of the 18th century was based on civilian dress: a long-tailed coat with turnbacks and cuffs in contrasting colours. The dominant colour of the coat was usually the national uniform colour, such as red for Britain and Denmark, grey or white for France, green for Russia and blue for Prussia. The colour of the cuffs, turnbacks, and other decorations usually indicated the regiment. Drummers or other musicians sometimes wore uniforms with the colours reversed, with turnbacks the colour of other troops' coats and coats the colour of their turnbacks. Cavalry troops wore shorter coats to make riding easier.

Breeches and Footwear

Most soldiers wore breeches which went to the knee. Cavalry troopers wore riding boots, while infantry wore gaiters or stockings which covered the lower legs. Shoes were simple and similar to civilian shoes of the period. Some units had distinctive exceptions, notably Highland regiments in the British army, whose members wore kilts and long stockings which left the knees bare. Some infantry wore high boots like cavalrymen, particularly grenadiers, whose uniforms were intended to be intimidating and convey the impression of size.

Headgear

Military headgear in the 18th century was extremely varied. Most infantry wore some variation of the tricorne hat, which was also a common civilian hat. However, many regiments wore distinctive headgear of various types. Highland regiments in the British army wore small caps, sometimes plumed, while other regiments wore tall bearskin hats called busbies. These massive hats were associated with the elite Guards regiments. Grenadiers often wore tall, pointed hats called mitres. Cavalrymen wore a variety of headgear, including helmets which could be plumed or decorated.

Other Items

Military uniforms were completed with a number of accessories. Large belts worn across the body and around the waist were used to carry ammunition, canteens, and other supplies. These were often white or a contrasting colour, with highly polished brass buckles. Officers often wore brightly-coloured sashes around their waists to distinguish them. Crescent-shaped metal decorations, called gorgets, were worn around the neck by officers as another badge of rank. Officers could often afford to spend the extra money to have their uniforms tailor-made.

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