Talking Tradition Thursdays – Dress Blues: Why The Heck Don’t They Match?

Army Dress Blues

Light blue pants and a dark blue jacket, obviously a woman was not consulted when the dress blue uniform was decided upon. If you are anything like me, your first question would be, “Why?”. So here it goes:

When the cavalry was first being formed way back when, Soldiers riding horses would take off their jackets and place them in their saddle bags. With most Soldiers only receiving one uniform a year, the pants took quite the beating while the jacket was protected in the saddle bag. This would result in the fading of the color on the pants but not on the jacket. As an honor to our Soldiers of history, this “faded” trouser idea was kept in the uniform. Thus light blue pants and a dark blue jacket.

Once again, if you are anything like me, you are going to be completely crushed when I let you in on a little secret — this is not the true story. I know I was crushed. Most military historians have proven this legend to be false. Between this myth and the legend of the birth of the bugle call TAPS (do not fret little ones I will write something on that as well), I do not know how much more bubble bursting I can possible take! So sorry gals, our romantic Soldiers on horses theory has been nixed.

The real reason for the contrasting colors is much more dull. We do still honor our historical war counterparts in the contrasting uniform, but its color combination is not because the pants faded on our cavalry.

In 1779, George Washington declared the first official uniform for the Continental Soldiers of the Revolutionary war. He chose blue. Some historians believe he chose this color because the British Soldiers wore red and thus each side would be more easily distinguished on the battlefield. Other historians lean toward the idea that red was a much harder color to find in cloth than the darker more readily available blue, and with little funding and hardly enough supplies fashion was the least of Washington’s concerns. Regardless of the reason behind the color choice, blue became the National Army uniform color and has remained so ever since.

So now we have the blue, but why the variation in color between the pants and the jacket? Officers at the time of the Civil War wore matching blue pants with their jackets, but the rest were issued a light gray blue colored wool trouser. Not only did the lighter blue not fade as quickly (THAT is where the fading part of the legend comes in), the lighter color wool was far cheaper to produce than the darker blue which required an indigo dye that was expensive. The difference in uniform also allowed for easy distinction between the enlisted Army and its Officers. Until the early 1900′s there was not a field uniform and garrison uniform, there was one uniform – the blues – worn all the time. After the early 1900′s the khaki and olive drab uniforms were introduced and the blues were reserved for only dress occasions.

The blue uniform has changed throughout history and for the Enlisted Soldiers stopped being used in 1917, when it was worn only by Officers and Senior Enlisted Service Members. After World War II, the olive drab uniform transformed into what we know today as the Class A’s. Under the new streamline program, the Class A uniform will be phased out and the dress blue uniform will be modified into the Army Service Uniform (ASU – yup get ready, there’s another acronym to learn) which all Soldiers, regardless of rank, will be required to have by 2014.

While I think we would all like the legend of the faded cavalry pants to be true, it does not make our history any less important. Every time my Soldier puts on his dress blue uniform and those pants that just do not match the jacket, I know it was not some color blind wool factory that had no clue the colors were not the same. It was something deliberate, whether to save money so our Continental Soldiers would have more of the important resources they needed to win our nation’s freedom, whether it was to distinguish the leadership from everyone else, or whether it was plainly because our first President of the United States of America said so, a man who never gave up on the idea of honor (and if you think he’s cool you should seriously check our Mrs. Washington! Talk about a dedicated Army wife!). It is a part of our Army history I hope we never lose.

Related posts:

  1. Talking Tradition Thursdays – Retreat and To The Colors
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One Response to “Talking Tradition Thursdays – Dress Blues: Why The Heck Don’t They Match?”

  1. Edward says:

    The reason Washington chose blue for the uniforms of the continental is simple: He didn’t. In fact, the British chose that color for colonial militia units serving with British regulars during the 7 years war from 1754-1763. The colonial militias simply went with the color they were familiar with.

    Additionally, the colors adapted by the Continental Army besides blue, namely buff facings, were those of the Prussian military, which heavily influenced Washington through his aide, Baron von Steuben.

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