Collectible Military Uniforms
Collectible Military Uniforms are an area of militaria collectibles encompassing items of standardised dress worn by various armed forces throughout history.
Collectors of military uniforms often focus their collection on a particular time period or event, such as a war or battle in which uniforms were worn.
Previous ownership has a huge bearing on the value and desirability of uniforms. Those previously owned by a famous figure are very sought-after.
Some of the most popular items include military belt buckles, American Civil War Confederate uniforms, Zouave uniforms.
Collectors may obtain military uniforms through antique auctions, antique fairs, antique shops, and inheritance.
Type, model, mark or variant and manufacturer, size, and date are usually indicated on the labels of military clothing.
Reproduction or replica military uniforms are common, produced for re-enactments, media purposes or historical interest. Anyone looking for the real deal with a military uniform must be wary of replicas as there are many available.
Recorded use of standardised dress for military groups going beyond similarities of tribal dress is mostly found beginning with the legions of the Roman Empire. They wore similar colours of red and off-white, and had several distinguishing features such as crests, ornaments and plumes. The sailors of Imperial Rome wore blue-green tunics. However, complete standardisation was impossible due to a lack of unified production, differences in origin of cloth and metal, etc. The first known soldiers to have regimental or unit identification were the troops of the Byzantine Empire, who wore plumes in varying colours.
Feudal Medieval Europe saw distinguishing features of dress indicating allegiance to one or another lord, usually just colours and patterns painted onto shields of embroidered onto coats. Later in the Medieval period, standardised clothing was issued for various campaigns, such as white coats worn by Norfolk levies in 1296, and the green and white dress of the Cheshire archers in the 14th century.
The Ottoman Empire was highly organised, and very clearly used distinctive dress to distinguish classes of soldier, corresponding to the social class from which they were drawn.
It was not until the end of the 17th century that Swedish King Karl XI reformed his army with tactics, equipment, formations, and possibly what were the world’s first standard issue army uniforms.
Uniform dress became the norm with regimental systems from this point, though not expected. Therefore, uniforms truly began to be employed with earnest by the national armies such as that of Gustavus Adolphus, and during the English Civil War. The 1645 Long Parliament’s New Model Army clothed themselves in a standardised form of civilian dress, but in a uniform and distinctive red and grey, and with a broad-brimmed hat. Their coats later evolved into the 19th century tunics, and the hats into cocked hats. The scarlet colour became khaki for Indian service in the 19th century. The premise of a uniform coat endured.
During the 18th century, normal military uniform in Europe was a tricorn hat, long-skirted coat, waistcoat and breeches, and buttoned gaiters. These uniforms were surprisingly similar across all European armies, the distinctions being in colours.
Officers did not accept uniforms until later on. They paid for their own, and tended to dress according to their own taste and means. Uniform dress was considered livery, defining a servant and demeaning to officers. They were marked by gorgets – a steel or leather collar designed to protect the throat, and later, by epaulettes. This latter, officers were ordered to adopt by 1768.
The first fifteen years of the nineteenth century was vastly influential on military uniforms. The French in particular became creative, producing beautiful and elegant wear for their armed forces. Cavalrymen of the Guard had 10 different uniforms. Bicorne hats were replaced by feathered or crested helmets. The Napoleonic Wars saw a menagerie of colourful and decorative uniforms, and the peaceful years that followed even more embellishment. These ornamental uniforms were not particularly practical. Dyes would run and leaves troops appearing to be varying shades of a colour. British soldiers, or Redcoats, were known by their red uniforms.
During the American Civil War, plans were drawn up for Union and Confederate troop uniforms, in blue and grey respectively. However, in practical terms, these colours could not always be observed. A wide variety of styles and colours were worn, the French zouave style widely imitated. Even when the Union managed to conform their troops to blue, the colour faded and appeared grey. Confederate states could not supply enough uniforms, so often wore captured Union clothing.
Until 1914, armies tended to wear very colourful uniforms for all ranks. Russian troops wore the dark green introduced by Peter the Great in 1700, German infantry the dark Prussian blue of the previous two centuries, Bavarians light blue and British troops in scarlet tunics. By 1914, while these colours were brought out for formal occasions, drab colours began to be introduced for active service. The British had worn khaki in India and Africa since the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and this was adopted for home service field wear in 1902. The same year, the American army adopted Khaki. Italians introduced grey-green in 1909 and the German and Austrian armies grey.
Drab coloured uniforms remained in use, yet armies in World War II were distinguishable by the varying styles of uniforms, the cut and outline. Today, armies generally have several uniform types, such as combat dress, working dress, service duty uniform and ceremonial full dress. They also employ the use of camouflage uniforms, most of these similar across armies. Colourful traditional uniforms are now generally worn for parades and ceremonial purposes.
World’s most expensive military uniform
A complete American Civil War Zouave uniform and accoutrements, worn at the Battle of Gettysburg by W. Beriah Chandler, sold for $125,475 at Heritage Auctions in June 2007.