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In its military sense the word “uniform,” as a noun, is specifically used to denote the distinctive style of dress and equipment established by governmental regulation and worn by any naval or military organization in order that all of the individual elements of that organization will present a homogeneous appearance. In general all uniforms are divided into two principal classes, dress uniforms and undress or service uniforms, the modern field uniforms belonging to the latter class. Dress uniforms are for use on occasions of ceremony and, as in the case of civilian attire, they are usually more ornate and gaudy than the working service uniforms.
The use of some form of uniform dress for fighting men both on land and sea is common to all civilized nations and this general custom has resulted from a gradual growth during the whole Christian era. In this growth military necessity, convenience, economical considerations and sentiment have all played a part.
The famed Legions of Cæsar were by imperial order all garbed and armed alike, which is one of the first recorded cases of the use of a uniform for soldiers. Some of the regiments of Hannibal also wore distinctive colors practically amounting to a uniform. The galley slaves of ancient Rome, the “motive power” of the man-of-war of that day, were all garbed in a costume of identical cut and color bearing the number of the galley in which they served, but this should be looked upon more as a badge of servitude than as a naval uniform.
As time went by the leaders in command of the land forces perceived the necessity for some mark or badge to designate the members of their forces and to distinguish them from the foe. This resulted in the use of various distinctive badges, such as plumes of a certain color to be worn upon the helmet, initials, numbers or devices in the nature of a coat of arms to be worn upon the front of the helmet, on the breast plate of armor, on the tops of the shoulders or upon the shield, a custom which still prevails in the armies of to-day.
When Gustavus Adolphus, “the Whirlwind of the North,” swept down over Europe with his victorious army of Sweden, he marked the brigades of his army with sashes worn diagonally across the body from one shoulder, a distinctive color for each brigade, and as a result history records the valorous deeds of the “Red Brigade” or the “Green Brigade” of that wonderful army. This species of uniform survives in the General’s sash for the dress uniforms of the present time.
Early in the seventeenth century the King of France by royal decree established a uniform dress for his army and regulations were issued prescribing the color and style of the various articles of dress for officers and men and the occasions on which they were to be worn. At that time in England various princes and lords had armed forces of retainers and each such force was dressed and armed according to the individual taste of its overlord.
When the Great Rebellion in England resulted in the establishment of the Commonwealth under Cromwell as Protector in 1653, the New Model army was established as a national force and, while this force was clothed in the style of the day, distinctive colors were ordered so that the whole force was uniform in appearance. The hat of the period was the high crowned, wide brimmed felt “slouch” hat, and in its various shapes this head dress has been retained down to the present. First its brim was pinned up on one side by a rosette of the colors of the government of the date, then to add to its jauntiness it was pinned up in three places resulting in the three-cornered “cocked hat” of the American Revolutionary period, and to-day we see it again almost in its original form in the modern “field hat” of the United States Army and Marine Corps, a head dress which is also worn by the British Colonial troops from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The wide brimmed hat was not suitable for wear at sea as it “carried too much sail in a gale,” and the naval officers fastened it up against the crown on both sides and crushed the crown together in a “fore and aft” line. In this form the erstwhile “slouch hat” now appears as the chapeau or cocked hat worn with dress uniforms by the officers of all modern navies and by the general officers of the United States Army with full dress uniform.