French Uniforms in Wars

Written by alyssa brode
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French Uniforms in Wars
French military uniforms have had many variations over the years. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Though modern combat attire is designed for camouflage and practicality in battle, full military dress throughout history has taken many forms. A look at the evolution of a country's military uniforms over time reveals ties to the fashions, cultural traditions and colours of the country itself and France proves to be no exception.

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French and Indian War

The French and Indian War lasted from 1754 to 1783 and was part of the conflict known as the Seven Years War, a term that encompassed the French and Indian War and other global conflicts of the same time period. French uniforms varied according to regiment. For example, the regiments of Bourgogne, Guyenne, Berry and Bearne differed only in the number and layout of buttons; they all incorporated white trousers and red waistcoats with red cuffs and collars. Some regiments featured blue waistcoats rather than red and several incorporated elements of both colours. Meanwhile, the regiment of Volontaires-Étrangers, or "Fallen Volunteers," uniquely featured green cuffs, collars and waistcoats with their white coats and white trousers. Three pewter buttons appeared on the white coat on a horizontal hip-high pocket flap; three pewter buttons also appeared on each cuff.

Napoleonic Wars

French military uniforms under Napoleon Bonaparte were regarded as being among the most elegant in the world. Materials generally ranged from thick wool and canvas to silk. A new cylindrical hat known as a shako was introduced among the light infantry, such as fusiliers and voltigeurs. Light cavalry -- hussars, chasseurs, etc. -- also implemented a particular style of shakos. Their uniforms featured dark green "capotes" or great coats along with tight Hungarian-style trousers and cloth overalls. Featuring similar colours, heavy cavalry uniforms involved greatcoats as well; these were worn rolled up and crossed over the chest, freeing the soldier for more adept battle and protecting his torso from cuts. Heavy cavalry uniforms also required brass helmets instead of hats and thick breeches.

Franco-Prussian War

Under Napoleon III, the emphasis of the French army uniforms was on lavish elegance, heavily influenced by those of the First Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte. Very specific requirements were set for each type of regiment. The short-lived Zouaves, light infantry, featured short open jackets called "shamas" with false pockets coloured according to the regiment number. Trousers were wide-legged, Turkish in style. Gaiters, generally white, were worn over the boots and lined with 12 buttons and uniforms were topped off with a fez wrapped in a white turban. For the Cent-Garde, meanwhile, uniforms mimicked those of the First Empire Imperial Guard; however, a helmet and breeches were traded for a chapeau and a "pantalon de ville," trousers worn tucked into boots.

World War I

The 1914 uniform of the French Infantry required members of all ranks to wear kepis, short flat-topped hats made of cloth. A typical line regiment uniform of 1914 would, besides the kepi, involve a tunic and a dark blue double-breasted greatcoat with many brass buttons and an embroidered regiment number on the collar. Red trousers were worn along with half-boots. The following year brought the "Horizon Blue" uniform. Trench warfare required helmets be utilised, initially distributed in blue; the old uniforms were gradually replaced throughout 1915 with similar ones in new blue fabric. Late that year, a new greatcoat debuted with more room for ammunition by way of extra pockets on either side, produced in the "horizon blue" colour.

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