The Navy Department Library
Historical Surveys of the Evolution of US Navy Uniforms
Bartlett, Joe. "On the Button: The Crackerjacks' History Isn't Just a Sea Story." All Hands. 903 (June 1992): 12-15.
Conner, Jim and Phillip R. Montgomery. "What's In, What's Out: Navy Uniforms: 200 Years of Change." All Hands. 947 (March 1996): 6-7.
"EM Uniform in the Early Navy a Colorful Affair." All Hands. 388 (June 1949): 52.
"Evolution of Cap Device." Washington, DC: Historical Research Branch, Naval Historical Center, 1978.
"First Enlisted Man's Uniform." All Hands. 446 (April 1954): 45.
Jansing, Tom. "Evolution of Navy Uniforms: Two Centuries of Change and Progress." All Hands. 703 (August 1975): 52-60.
Jones, Mel. "New Cap Devices Okayed." Navy Times. 18 (22 January 1969): 1, 50.
Kalkus, Stanley [Director, Navy Department Library]. Correspondence, concerning ornamentation of cap devices, dated 3 June 1983.
Moss, James A. Officer's Manual. 8th ed. (Menasha, WI: George Banta Publishing Co., 1941): 112.
"Navy Uniform Worn by Commissioned Officers, Warrants and CPOs has Long History Too." All Hands. 460 (June 1955): 30-31.
"Needed: A 5-Button Tradition." All Hands. 347 (February 1946): 9.
"Notes on the Introduction of Gold-Embroidered Cap Visors." Washington, DC: Navy Department Library, 1982.
Ohl, Bob. "Have Bell Bottoms … Will Travel." All Hands. 460 (June 1955): 28-30.
"Present Uniform Favored by 3 to 1, According to 5,000 Letters to BuPers." All Hands. 355 (September 1946): 61.
Price, Chris. "Board of Attire? Your Request Can Change Navy Dress." All Hands. 903 (June 1992): 16-19.
"The Significance of the Uniform." All Hands. 304 (July 1942): 43-45.
"Three Centuries of Tradition." All Hands. 728 (September 1977): 20.
Tily, James C. "Uniforms and Insignia: Engineering and Construction Corps United States Navy." Bureau of Ships Journal. 9, no.5 (May 1960): 2-10.
"Uniform Traditions." All Hands. 703 (August 1975): 61.
United States. Bureau of Navigation. "Uniforms." Bulletin. 13 February 1932.
United States. Chief of Naval Operations. "History of U.S. Navy [Enlisted] Uniforms." OPNAV [Office of the Chief of Naval Operations] Information Bulletin. 11 May 1981.
On the Button: The Crackerjacks' History Isn't Just a Sea Story
Concern has echoed throughout the male ranks of the fleet. It's not concern for their pay they voice, nor complaints of the demanding work load they endure. These guardians of the seas feel threatened by a rumored change in Navy policy - a change that would strike them "below the belt." It's a change of enormous consequence to these members of a Navy associated with hundreds of years of tradition, symbolism and legend. This is a fearful removal of the one thing that supports these seamen and petty officers in their daily mission as members of the world's finest Navy.
These men in blue vocalize distress over the button shortage. Not just any button, mind you - the Navy button. That small, black, anchor-imprinted jewel which, along with 12 of its cousins, comprise the only means used to anchor the lower half of the world's most widely-recognized uniform, the "crackerjacks." This shortage can only mean on thing, according to rumor control - there is a move afoot to install zippers.
Gad! Why all this brouhaha over a button? To a "landlubber" this may appear trivial, but these "salts" depend on this opaque fastener to display a uniform that today contains countless symbols of tradition and American naval history. If the zipper lobby in Washington is successful, it will strip thousands of seamen and petty officers of one of the most priceless articles of Navy lore. This must stop!
Think of what this could do to the American button industry, not to mention those associated with the button - button-holers, button artists, button tailors, etc. - and not to mention Aunt Ruth's button box that's already overflowing with these outdated closure devices. Yes, Navy buttons have held the fleet together for nearly two centuries, while promoting jobs and the economy. And after the button, what goes next? Just look back at what happened before the button to see what an instrumental affect it's had on U.S. maritime security.
In 1817, after 42 years of confusion over enlisted men's attire, the War Department finally dared to enforce a uniform regulation for its rag-clad naval force, demanding that enlisted men wear "blue jackets and trousers, red vest with yellow buttons and a black hat." The War Department neglected to mention shoes, and a largely barefoot and blister-filled enlisted force patrolled the world's oceans until the grandfather of crackerjacks was name the official uniform in 1864.
This uniform is considered the world's most recognized as a symbol of America's strength, good will and dedication to freedom, according to Marine Corps Col. Robert H. Rankin in his book Uniforms of the Sea Services. This popularity has raised questions over the years as to the origins of the crackerjack's design. Many interpretations of each facet of this uniform have been rendered by salts over the years. The buttons are probably the most talked about and revered aspect of naval garb for the past five or six wars.
Buttons swiftly replaced the previous trouser's string tie, apparently after years of barefoot sailors hanging themselves - or their friends - in frustration after trying to keep their pants up. Then, in 1864, crackerjack trousers were designed with a "broadfall," or flap, held in place by seven of these easily replaced fasteners. After a slight length increase of the broadfall in 1894 - possibly linked to the average sailor's weight - six buttons were added for symmetrical design and to prevent an unwanted unveiling of the wearer.
Members of the Navy since 1894 have capitalized on numerous explanations for the coincidental number of buttons on the broadfall, the only publishable one being that they represent the original 13 colonies of America defended so efficiently by the Continental Navy. This romantic notion is widely accepted by seagoers, and rebuttal may be swiftly greeted by either heated debate or a knuckle sandwich. The best yarn spinners strengthen their case by pointing out that uniform designers hid the 14th button (known as the stealth button) behind the broadfall so the button-colony connections would still be supported - not to mention their trousers.
Ah, but frustration still ran throughout the now-buttoned-up fleet, as buttons couldn't do the whole job, apparently. So, in memory of those valiant barefoot mariners who had hung themselves two paragraphs ago, a string tie was added in the back. This would effectively cinch the wearer's waist inside a woolen vise, while enhancing physical flexibility and coordination as sailors attempted tightening this shoe-like rearward device without tying their hands behind their backs. Now, really, how can you spin a yarn about a zipper?
Button lore is only one aspect of Navy uniform mystique. The mystery of the bell-bottom trousers is explained by Rankin as merely a design used by Navy tailors in the 1800s to set Navy attire apart from civilian styles prior to introduction of actual uniform regulations. These tailors unknowingly provided a great service with this design, which mariners claim was invented to keep the trousers' legs dry after they were rolled up above the knees during shipboard duties.
A great safety element emerged when it was discovered a water-soaked sailor who happened to find himself no longer aboard could easily remove the 20 to 30 pounds of saturated wool without removing his now-standard shoes, which he would desperately need to protect his feet if he avoided becoming shark bait and made landfall.
The three strands of pristine piping around the cuffs and collar of the uniform's top, or jumper, were added in 1866 as the first clear designation of an enlisted man's rank. Until then, piping was used to break up the color of the uniform, along with stars and other assorted accoutrements. When an 1841 regulation instituted an eagle atop an anchor to designate petty officers, the piping custom continued until the Navy decided to let it add to rank designations. Three strands represented petty officers and senior seamen, and two for second class seamen and firemen. A single strand was used to identify a seaman or fireman third class or coal-heaver (not a very popular rating). The three strands were retained by the Navy when the display of rank went to the upper left arm.
Today the most imaginative of sailors can describe this piping as representative of the three major victories of either John Paul Jones or Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, depending on which sea dog you happen to ask.
Now, I'm sure you've heard that the black neckerchief is a symbol of mourning for Admiral Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest admiral who died at Trafalgar after defeating the French and Spanish fleets in 1805. Good story, but neckerchiefs were around long before Nelson as a bandanna to guard against the scorching sun at sea. The silk neckerchief, with Navy-issue square knot, crept into the uniform as early as 1817.
Even today, many sailors use a coin placed in the center of the square cloth to keep its shape rounded as they meticulously roll it prior to tying. The use of this coin has generated a mystical tale stemming from the ancient Roman practice of placing a coin beneath the masts during shipbuilding. This coin would buy Roman sailors passage from the mythological "ferryman" across the river Styx, between the world of the living and the dead, in case they perished at sea. Referencing this fable, a few salts remark that they're prepared to pay the price, patting the backs of their necks where their toll is snugly hidden.
The one aspect of the crackerjacks that has not been dashed as a yarn is the collar flap. The collar of the jumper was extended to a nine-inch flap in the late 1800s, replacing the previous wide collar to which a flap was fastened by, guess what? - buttons.
This signifies a tradition held over from the days of tall ships, before the Navy employed haircut regulations. Linehandlers would pull their hair back in ponytail fashion and then apply a tarry substance to prevent any strands from flying loose and becoming entangled or ripped out during the complicated and dangerous linehandling maneuvers that kept their ship at full sail. The flap would attach to the collar, thus keeping the mass of tar and hair away from the sailor's uniform. It also protected his girlfriend's furniture by careful placement of the flap over the back of the couch or chair between hair and upholstery. When the flap became a permanent fixture on the collar, the neckerchief came in handy to keep the uniform, and the furniture, tar-free.
Finally, the dixie cup. No, King George or Harry did not wake up one day and issue an edict, "let all Navy enlisted men don a cap that can double as a royal frisbee." Though the gliding properties of a properly rolled dixie cup startle even NASA scientists, this is not how the white hat evolved. In fact, the whole process was not at all entertaining - it makes too much sense.
Remember the "black hat" from 1817 regulation? Well, stovepipe hats were pretty popular early on but tended to fall off a lot, not to mention the cracking and crunching they took when sailors tried to stow them. A smaller version with a full bill followed, but material for its production was expensive, and the bills tended to droop in warm climates. A thick blue visorless hat with an optional white cover, complete with a hat ribbon sporting unit identification was tried and later dropped for a straw hat, which didn't glide at all.
With all this cover confusion, the easiest way to make a hat was to use the most-available resource - sailcloth, or canvas. Canvas flat hats replaced the black, blue and straw headgear and eventually were mass-produced and reinforced into today's form. Naval lore-ists focus on the white hat's bailing properties, but that dixie cup theory doesn't hold water unless it's during a dire emergency.
These few examples provide a glimpse of the many aspects of the traditions of the Navy, adding to the romance of the sea and a sailor's pride in his uniform and service. BM1(SW/AW/SS) Sal T. Dog (hey, that's with two g's, bub), a former coal-heaver aboard a prototype submarine that never quite made it into the fleet, has spun his share of these tales during his Navy career.
Dogg is well aware of the symbolic impact the crackerjacks have had all over the world. He remembers how the uniform still had magnetism even during and after the Vietnam War, a period of low regard for the military.
"That uniform has always been a great drawing card," Dogg yelped between sips of muddy coffee spiked with diesel fuel. He became more aware of the impact as the recruiter from 1979 to 1981, when the crackerjacks returned following a six-year absence.
While in that position he noticed how the slogan, "It's not just a job, It's an adventure," created the romantic image that drew thousands to recruiting offices in his area. He also felt that the mystique created by the uniform was, and still is, a powerful recruiting tool.
Dogg regards the crackerjacks as the best uniform the Navy has had because of its convenience. The Navy, under Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) ADM Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., changed its enlisted uniform design to a suit-and-tie look in the early '70s. This change was Zumwalt's idea to unite a fleet riddled with retention problems under the slogan "One Navy, one uniform."
After having to bear the expense of the change, Dogg and his shipmates found it extremely difficult to stow the uniforms aboard ship, much less tote the heavier seabag. Many sailors tried in vain to add the revamped uniforms to their already-stuffed shipboard lockers. The most inconvenient was the ill-fated combination cap. Not only did it perform poorly as a frisbee, its height just exceeded the depth of shipboard bunk lockers, causing a curious compression effect throughout the seagoing fleet. The crackerjacks were perfect for stowing in the cramped storage space provided each seafarer.
After years of lamenting from the now-dented enlisted ranks, CNO ADM Thomas B. Hayward recommended the return of the crackerjacks in 1979. This was part of his commitment to increase the attractiveness of a Navy career and promote "pride in professionalism." Thus followed the return to the crackerjacks, and a resurrection of much-missed Navy lore.
Sure, there are other facets of the Navy's uniforms that echo from storytellers - the history of officer uniforms, and of course, the evolution of the women's uniforms since the 1917 introduction of the Yeomanettes - but these were more or less modeled to reflect status, in the officers' case, or parallel women's civilian dress. None of these compare to the yarns spun throughout naval history about the crackerjacks - the one distinctly nautical uniform - and the buttons that keep them all together.
With the button brouhaha explained, and the secret tales of the Navy's best-recognized symbol exposed, maybe you'll feel moved and join the cause to avert this rumored transition to zippers. Warning: This priceless knowledge of Navy lore may cause you uncomfortable confrontation. Just smile when the yarn is spun, and the tradition will happily carry on.
A consoling thought for those nautical navigators who are frustrated with the time consumed by their 13 anchors … try replacing a zipper at sea.
Editor's note: All Hands has it on good authority that there is in fact no zipper lobby, nor any effort being made to replace the crackerjack's traditional 13-button broadfall.
Source: Bartlett, Joe. "On the Button: The Crackerjacks' History Isn't Just a Sea Story." All Hands. 903 (June 1992): 12-15.
What's In, What's Out: Navy Uniforms: 200 Years of Change
There was a time when most enlisted Sailors went barefoot. During the American Revolution, most of the Navy's meager funds were spent on procuring ships and ammunition. Little effort was made to clothe seamen in anything resembling a uniform. Most Sailors wore pantaloons tied at the knee or knee breeches, a jumper or shirt, neckerchief, short-waisted jacket and low-crowned hats.
For nearly 20 years after the end of the Revolutionary War there was no formal American sea service. In 1797, the fledgling republic realized the need for a Navy to protect its political and commercial interest, and re-established the U.S. Navy.
With the War of 1812, the Navy earned a fine reputation and began to build a cadre of volunteers who elected to remain in service. The Navy made its first attempt at a prescribed uniform in 1817, providing winter and summer uniforms. However, since federal funding was very limited, enlisted dress was rarely standardized or enforced and Sailors added their own accessories such as buttons and striping as they wished.
The first official enlisted uniform regulations, published in 1841, not only contained a description of the first official enlisted uniform, but also the first grooming standards. The uniform was a blue, woolen frock with white collars and cuffs, blue trousers, blue vests, black handkerchief and shoes. The regulations also provided another first for enlisted Sailors, a distinctive mark for petty officers.
In 1862, masters-at-arms, yeomen, stewards and paymaster stewards, who were considered important and valuable leading petty officers, were authorized to wear a double-breasted coat, like the one worn by officers. This was the first step toward the identification of future chief petty officers.
As the Navy expanded, specialized leading petty officers became more important. They became identified with management. Revised uniform regulations in 1874 modified the dress of principal petty officers, by making their uniforms even more similar to those of commissioned officers.
By the late 19th century, modern warships demanded diversity and specialized skills for effective operation. Officers were no longer able to handle all the management tasks, so the rank of chief petty officer was established in 1894. The new rank recognized principal petty officers who had attained a higher level of knowledge, responsibility and skill. Length of service was considered a source of pride among Sailors and service stripes were also introduced during that year.
As Sailors spent more and more time at sea, they needed a more suitable uniform for dirty work. The 1901 version of the Navy's uniform regulations authorized the first use of denim jumpers and trousers as a working uniform.
The mobilization of 1917 for America's entry into World War I brought about a new requirement for enlisted uniforms - for women. While the men's uniforms were distinctly nautical and evolved in relation to maritime needs, enlisted clothing for women closely followed civilian trends.
The first enlisted women's uniform was a single-breasted coat, blue in winter and white in summer, long gull-bottomed skirts and a straight-brimmed Sailor hat. Some pictures of the period show Navy women wearing the neckerchief to give some identity with their male counterparts. After the war, all women except nurses were released from active duty. It was not until World War II, when the Navy established its women's corps (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), that a new women's uniform was designed.
The sudden entry of the United States into World War II had no impact on Navy dress uniform styles. For the majority, the bell-bottom trousers and jumpers remained unchanged.
In 1973 the most sweeping change in the history of enlisted dress occurred. In a survey conducted in 1970, Sailors said they wanted a different, more distinguished dress uniform. Their traditional uniforms were replaced with a suit and tie which corresponded to the officer/CPO-style uniform.
But the break with tradition was short-lived. In 1980, the Navy re-issued the jumper-style uniform to recruits. The service also made a sweeping change to women's uniforms, making them more practical and similar to the men's uniform.
Another major change took place in women's uniforms in October 1991. Since enlisted women had no service dress white uniform, the Navy began issuing white jumpers as part of their sea bag in boot camp. However, the only women authorized to wear the dress blue jumpers are those assigned to the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington, D.C.
Although today's Navy is immersed in space-age technology and is light years ahead of our ancestors of two centuries ago, portions of our uniform such as the jumper and neckerchief have survived the test of time and tradition. Today's Sailor is viewed as a consummate professional whose uniform reflects the proud tradition of the most power fleet on earth - the U.S. Navy.
Source: Conner, Jim and Phillip R. Montgomery. "What's In, What's Out: Navy Uniforms: 200 Years of Change." All Hands. 947 (March 1996): 6-7.
EM Uniform in the Early Navy a Colorful Affair
The enlisted men's uniform seems to have come in for little attention in the early Navy.
A Navy Regulation of 1802 instructed ship's pursers buying clothes for the men in foreign ports to "procure them of the kind prescribed for the Navy." But nowhere have historians been able to discover exactly what was prescribed.
Ship captains often had their own ideas of what their men should wear. Captain Edward Preble USN, of the USS Constitution, ordered each enlisted man on his ship to buy two jackets, four shirts, two pairs of stockings, one hat and cap, two pairs of gloves, two waistcoats, two pairs of blue trousers, two pairs of white trousers, two black silk "handkerchiefs" or "neck cloths" and two pairs of drawers.
A standard enlisted man's uniform is first found in a Navy Reg of 1818.
Sailors in that day were to sport a blue jacket and blue trousers, red vest, yellow buttons and a black, tarred, straw hat with the name of their ship lettered prominently on the hat band!
Source: "EM Uniform in the Early Navy a Colorful Affair." All Hands. 388 (June 1949): 52.
There seem to have been three phases in the evolution of the present hat-band device design. The eagle and anchor emblem was adopted in the uniform regulations of 1797 to be used on uniform buttons. From then until 1866, the device was used without much consistency on petty officer uniform rating badges, officer sword-hilts and sword-belts, captains' epaulettes and finally on officer caps. According to James C. Tily, The Uniforms of the United States Navy (1963), left-facing eagles were used on the uniform buttons of captains (No. 1 button), while right-facing eagles were designated for masters commandant and lieutenants (No. 2 button), in the regulations of 1820. This practice ended in 1830 when all officers were ordered to wear the "No. 1" button.
In the uniform regulations of 1841, petty officers were ordered to wear the eagle and anchor device on either the right or left sleeve, according to rate. This eagle was to have faced left, but examples have been found with that eagle facing right. The eagle in the medallion of the officer's sword-hilt of 1852 faces to the right, but the sword belt buckle medallion shows an eagle facing left. The eagle on a captain's shoulder epaulette of 1852 faces to the right.
The uniform regulations of 1866 prescribed, for the first time, an eagle-anchor device to be worn on a visored cap, with the eagle facing left. But the enclosed illustration from Tily captioned "Cap Ornament," [not included] which was introduced in 1869, shows the eagle facing right. In general, though, the eagles in decorative use from the 1860's through 1940 faced to the left. You will find enclosed [not included] a copy of a memorandum from the Director of Naval History to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe of 13 December 1963. It contains an explanation of the change in uniform regulations that occurred in 1941, which prescribed the right-facing eagle that has been used since that year. The shift of the eagle's aspect to right-facing from left-facing is logical from the perspective of heraldic tradition, since the right side (dexter) is the honor side of the shield and the left side (sinester) indicates dishonor or illegitimacy.
We find no indication in the historical record that the officer cap device was ever in any way related to the Great Seal of the United States either in periods of war or peace. Early variations may have been mere accidents of design-makers or the personal whim of the officers when ordering uniforms.
Source: "Evolution of Cap Device." Washington, DC: Historical Research Branch, Naval Historical Center, 1978.
If you have ever wondered how the well-dressed sailor looked back in the early 19th century, you might be surprised to know that he didn't look radically different from the way Uncle Sam's modern Navy dresses.
Prior to 1817, files of the Navy Department show no regulations providing for enlisted men's uniforms. But it is noted that in January 1813, upon the arrival of Commodore Decatur at New York with the frigates United States and Macedonia the city feted the crew with a splendid dinner. Reports say that the crew, numbering about 400, was dressed in blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats, blue bell-bottomed trousers, and glazed canvas hats with stiff brims decked with streamers of ribbons.
The first regulation covering enlisted men's clothes that can be found appears in the regulations of the Navy issued by Secretary Benjamin W. Crowninshield in September 1817. These regulations provided for both the enlisted man's summer and winter dress. White duck jacket, trousers, and vest, made up the summer uniform; while the colorful winter outfit included blue jacket and trousers, red vest, yellow buttons and black hat.
These regulations also provided that when the men swabbed the decks, they were to be barefooted and their trousers were to be rolled up. This regulation is often quoted as being the reason for the sailor's bell-bottomed trousers, that is, they were made so as to facilitate pulling the bottoms up over the thigh. The real reason for this cut of trousers is not known.
Source: "First Enlisted Man's Uniform." All Hands. 446 (April 1954): 45.
Evolution of Navy Uniforms: Two Centuries of Change and Progress
The Navy uniform, developing over a period of 200 years, is a living tradition, and like all living traditions it has experienced a continuing series of changes. Each one of the changes has undergone the tests of time and, sometimes, of controversy.
Many people think of the uniform of the song, "bell-bottom trousers, coat of Navy blue," as the unchanging uniform of two centuries, but as can be seen from the pictures on these pages [not included] the uniform has gone through many changes over the years, each one adapting itself to changing needs or the trends of the times. The changes have not always come easily, and that is good, because past customs and traditions, if they are worth anything, have been built on sound foundations.
But tradition survives as part of a way of life, and it must adapt itself to the changing ways of society. So it has been with the Navy uniform. The flared bell-bottoms first came into being because they could be more easily rolled up when swabbing the decks, and more easily removed if the ship went down in a storm or in combat.
Most items of the uniform came into being for reasons such as this, while others had their origins in earlier customs that had become obsolete but were retained for decorative reasons.
Let's take a look at the uniform down through the years.
When the Navy was just getting underway 200 years ago, there was no prescribed uniform for ships' crews. They wore whatever clothing they had when they enlisted, or a uniform the skipper had decided would be appropriate and kept aboard in his "slop chest." More often than not, the early seaman's uniform consisted of bell-bottom trousers, a frock (or jumper), short jacket, vest and narrow-brimmed hat (straw in summer, tarred canvas or leather in winter).
Chronologies say that the Navy adopted its first uniform on 5 Sep 1776, but it did not go so far as to spell out the items of wear by the enlisted members of the crew.
One of the earliest recorded descriptions of enlisted men's clothing comes from the personal papers of Commodore Stephen Decatur. While in the frigates United States and Macedonia, in the first decades of the 1800s, his sailors wore "glazed canvas hats with stiff brims, decked with streamers of ribbon, blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats and blue trousers with bell-bottoms."
In 1817, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield issued the first rules covering enlisted men's clothing to be covered in Regulations of the Navy. These specified that all Navymen in summer would wear a white duck jacket, trousers and vest; in winter-a blue jacket, trousers, red vest, yellow buttons and black hat.
The "Regulations for the Uniform and Dress of the Navy of the United States," first Uniform Regulations, were approved in February 1841. These specified: "The outside clothing of petty officers, seamen, and ordinary seamen, landsmen and boys, for muster, shall consist of blue woolen frocks, with white linen or duck collars and cuffs, or blue cloth jacket and trousers, blue vests when vests are worn, black hat, black handkerchief and shoes, when weather is cold; when the weather is warm, it shall consist of white frock and trousers, and black or white hats, as the commander may direct, having regard to the convenience and comfort of the crew, black handkerchiefs and shoes. The collars and breasts of the frocks to be lined or faced with blue cotton cloth, stitched with white thread or cotton."
These regulations generally describe enlisted men's uniforms since the beginning of the U.S. Navy. What changes were made affected rating insignia, color combinations, decorations and material; the basic idea of bell-bottoms and jumpers persisted - until just recently.
Since 1841, some description of enlisted men's uniforms has been carried in all uniform instructions. In spite of this, a great deal of individuality appeared until the end of the Civil War. Each sailor then had to make his own uniforms and, naturally, each wanted something a little different than his shipmate.
In 1852 new uniform instructions stated that "Thick blue cloth caps, without visors, may be worn by the crew at sea, except on holidays or at muster." This was the forerunner of the famous flat hat.
Seven years later, in 1859, the white duck cuffs and collars were removed from the blue frock, making the enlisted winter uniform all blue. The winter uniform was bell-bottom trousers (some with buttoned front flap, others with button fly and slash pockets), jumper, jacket, black shoes, neckerchief and flat hat. The summer uniform was white bell-bottom trousers, long-sleeve white jumper with blue collar and cuffs, white flat hat with black band, black shoes and neckerchief.
After the Civil War, some of the individuality of the home-mades was lost when, in 1866, Uniform Regs were issued. Two stars were added to the jumper collar and white piping was added to the sleeves and collar to indicate rank. Petty officers, seamen and first class firemen had three piping stripes; ordinary seamen and second class firemen had two stripes; landsmen, coalheavers and boys had one stripe.
These regs (1866) also specified that masters-at-arms, yeomen, surgeon's stewards and paymaster's stewards - all petty officers - wear "blue jackets with rolling collars, double-breasted; two rows of medium-size navy buttons on the breast, six in each row. Slashed sleeves or cuffs, with three small navy buttons. Plain blue caps with visors." They were allowed to wear white cotton or linen shirts (in place of duck frocks with turned-over collars) and uniform vests, with six small navy buttons. The regs also gave them straight trousers for the first time. The MAA wore a star and anchor on the cuffs of his double-breasted coat. This was the first step in giving the yet-to-be-established chief petty officer rate a distinct uniform. In 1874 this coat for principal petty officers was changed to a single-breasted, sack coat similar to the type then worn by officers.
Collar piping was eliminated in 1869 and replaced by stitching of "white thread - two rows, one-eighth of an inch apart, the first row close to the edge." The stars and cuff piping were retained. In 1876 the piping was again changed to three rows of three-sixteenths-inch-wide tape on the jumper collar. It was purely decorative - the sleeve piping indicated a man's rate.
The 1869 regs are also notable because they prescribed the first enlisted working uniform. Until this time, sailors wore their oldest dress uniform to work in, now they were permitted to wear overalls and a jumper of white cotton duck. This was probably because of the dirty work created when the Navy converted to steam and coal.
Distinctive first, second and third class petty officer rates were established in 1885, and differentation came in 1886 Regs. First class POs wore a dark blue or white duck, double-breasted sack coat similar to officers. Other enlisted men wore jumpers with the blue one tucked into the trousers and the white one hanging loose. The collar and cuffs of the white jumper were covered with thin Navy-blue flannel. Both jumpers had piping and stars on the collar and piping on the cuffs. Three rows on the cuff now indicated second and third class petty officers and seamen first class; two stripes second class seamen; and a single stripe seaman third class.
The pea coat, first mentioned in the Regs. of 1841, became a regular part of the enlisted uniform in 1886. Aside from the sack coats of petty officers, it was the first overcoat to be made a part of the uniform since the short seaman's jacket prescribed in the 1841 regulations.
By 1886 a new type of white hat had also been introduced. It had a spherical crown with a narrow, turned-up brim. By the end of World War I, this hat changed into the familiar "dixie cup" white hat. The 1886 Regs also included a description of enlisted men's shoes.
Eleven years later, in 1897, enlisted men's shoes were standardized as follows when SecNav John D. Long issued this directive: "Shoes - for all enlisted men; of black calfskin; both high and low; heels broad and low; soles broad and thick; strongly curved on outside and straight inside; thin leather lining; the high shoes to have full tongue stitched watertight to the flaps; shoe strings to be of strong leather." Until this time, sailors wore whatever shoes they had; in earlier days they might have gone barefoot.
The uniform worn in 1886, and the 1897 shoes, were essentially what the U.S. sailor wore when he went off to fight WW I.
From WW I until shortly after the end of WW II, few changes were made to enlisted uniforms. The blue jumper was now worn outside of the trousers, some changes were made to rating badges (all rates were switched to the left arm) and cuff piping as a rate indicator was discontinued with the establishment, in 1948, of the seaman stripes on the left arm vs. the right shoulder stripe. Cuff piping's only function became decorative. The neckerchief grew a bit longer, too. One major change was that the white jumper was completely white, rather than having blue collar and cuffs. The blue wool was causing problems in manufacture, comfort, laundering, shrinkage, lint and fading.
Toward the end of World War II, a lot of people talked about the need to modernize the enlisted man's uniform. Many recommendations were made in favor of the officer-type uniform and, as a result, the Permanent Naval Uniform Board developed one. But the time was not yet right for a one-uniform Navy. There was much resistance to the idea just as there were many proponents of the change. The uniform fell flat.
In 1948, and again in the late 1950s, the old 13-button pants came under fire and were to be replaced by bell-bottomed trousers with a zipper fly and slash pockets. That idea never got into full swing either. It was not enough of an improvement and so it was too much of a change. Such a howl arose from the Fleet that the old 13-buttons were "better fitting and more Navy looking" that the zipper was abandoned. But the demand for some change continued.
In the early 1950s, a proposed cuffless blue jumper was given a short test; a new type neckerchief, similar to the existing one but prerolled, was tried; and the old pre-WW II white jumper with blue collar and cuffs, improved so it could be laundered without shrinking, was again put back on the drawing board but died there. None of these changes caught on. Navymen stubbornly hung onto their beloved bell-bottoms.
All was not rejected, however. The short-sleeve white shirt was accepted in 1959, and a new style double-breasted raincoat for E-6s and below was brought in.
More changes were on the way. In 1963, the blue flat hat went out and tests were again begun on a suit-type enlisted uniform when a poll showed that 70 per cent of Navymen below CPO wanted a change. There were many different opinions among that 72 per cent as to what they wanted, some said a CPO-type uniform, others wanted only a "wider choice of material for the present uniform." A thousand PO1s and PO2s in both sea and shore commands were given a uniform for testing which was almost identical to the new one now coming in. The only difference was the cap device - a miniature fouled anchor, yet easily distinguishable from the CPO's. Tests also included white and khaki uniforms in addition to the blue one.
As might have been predicted, the new uniform stirred up a beehive of controversy on all sides. For one thing, a sizable number of uniforms were involved. For another, we were not yet sufficiently far into the era of the new fabrics, such as wash-and-wear, polyesters, etc. In the end, the idea was shelved.
But the new uniform question never really ended. The push for change continued and the suit-type uniform was always in the running. In mid-1969 another new uniform was tried, again a suit-type, but with a single-breasted, three button jacket. The hat was a CPO type, but with a blue cloth-covered bill, a silver rating device (chevrons and "crow") and the words "U. S. NAVY" in gold across the front of the black hatband.
Tests continued, with various modifications being made. In December 1970 a poll was taken among 4000 Navymen of all ranks and rates. Those queried were scientifically selected so their views would represent the majority of Navymen. Results showed that 80 per cent of all enlisted men E-6 and below preferred a coat-and-tie style. Since 92 per cent of the officers and chiefs who were queried had a favorable opinion of their dress blues, the Navy decided to use it as the basic uniform for all men to symbolize one organization striving for common goals. At the same time the blue uniform was changed, the white CPO-style trousers were also authorized.
After questions such as what type of buttons, rating badges, cap devices and the like were cleared up, the uniform was sent to the Fleet for testing. It finally reached its finished form and recruiters were authorized to wear it in November 1972. PO1s followed in January 1973 and the rest of the enlisted men in July 1973.
The transition period had begun, but the uniform controversy was still not over - and in a society where controversy is a way of life it can be expected to continue. There are some who still insist that "it ain't like the old Navy," - which it ain't. Or is it? After all, it's the uniform that has been worn by a sizable component of the sea service, officers and chiefs, with only modest changes for more than half a century. Understandably, the nostalgia for the old bell-bottoms and jumper uniform will continue to exist with many. Surveys indicate, however, that the majority of sailors like the new uniform and agree with what one PO2 wrote All Hands in 1959, during that period's suit-type uniform uproar: "I wonder how long it's been since [the chief] has had to wear the miserable uniform issued to enlisted men below E-7. Surely, it hasn't been so long that he has forgotten what it was like.
"Doesn't he remember how absurdly uncomfortable it was (and I cannot be convinced that it is comfortable) and how maddening it was to find a place for such common items as cigarettes, lighter, comb, etc.?"
He asked the chief (mythical, though collective) how he felt about the times he's been in a restaurant and had to reach to get his cigarettes from his sock, "of all places;" and the time he's had a cab waiting while he ran into a drugstore to buy something and had to dig a quarter "out of that watch pocket" while the cab meter ticked away; and the times he had dinner at a friend's house and "as he bent over to sit down found that 'cute' neckerchief dunked into the gravy."
And so it goes. After 200 years the enlisted Navyman is getting a completely new dress uniform. But it wasn't something that somebody dreamed up overnight. As you have seen, the discussion of a coat-and-trousers type uniform goes back some three decades, and probably was a subject for taffrail talk long before that. In the photo files of All Hands are pictures of enlisted men wearing test uniforms 15 years ago that look mighty like the uniform that went into effect Navywide as of 1 Jul 1975. As we said, the Navy uniform is a living and changing tradition.
Source: Jansing, Tom. "Evolution of Navy Uniforms: Two Centuries of Change and Progress." All Hands. 703 (August 1975): 52-60.
By Mel Jones
WASHINGTON-The Navy's senior and master chiefs will soon be wearing stars on their hard hats and overseas caps, while all other petty officers will have grade insignia pins for their working caps.
Those were two of four types of insignia approved by the latest meeting of the Uniform Board and okayed by the CNO. The new insignia devices are shown below, with those for the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, master chief and senior chief at left, and the working-cap device for petty officers at right. The latter is shown for a first class petty officer; the others will be similar with fewer rockers below the crow.
Other changes okayed were:
1. An identifying design for explosive ordnance disposal warrant officers.
2. Academic achievement starts for notably proficient collegians enrolled in various officer candidate programs.
Faced with a spiraling number of requests for new insignia, particularly breast pin-ons, the board also agreed on a set of guidelines it will follow in okaying uniform devices. Details of this new policy will be in next week's issue.
The new super-CPO cap grading is a composite of existing collar and hat devices. Retained is the present size and design of the cap insignia, but to it will be added stars arranged like the collar pin-on. Senior CPOs will have a silver star centered in the stock of the anchor and master CPOs two stars, atop the stock.
The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy will have three stars crowning the anchor, for as long as he holds office.
Board officials predict the new cap devices will be available in exchanges "as soon as managers start ordering them."
Other petty officers will have their own cap chevrons and for the same reason super-CPOs got theirs - to be able to distinguish rank when coats or jackets are worn.
There's a lesser reason, but you won't find it printed in directives. Petty officers have worn "port-call-made" cap insignia wherever and whenever commanders have condoned them. The new device merely standardizes the practice.
A silver replica of the sleeve chevron, the pin-on will be optional with the present dungarees and required when the new work cap comes into being.
Source: Jones, Mel. "New Cap Devices Okayed."Navy Times. 18 (22 January 1969): 1, 50.
In response to your recent inquiry, the ornamentation of cap visors for naval officers of the rank of commander and above was first authorized on 20 November 1878. Before the directive could be implemented, however, it was cancelled without explanation. It was not until 12 June 1897 that an order was issued finally bringing the change into effect. Gold-embroidered oak-leaves and acorns had first been adopted by the American Navy in 1830 as an embellishment for other features of officers' uniforms; it is not surprising, therefore, that the same design elements were extended to the visors once the decision had been made to decorate them. The fact that the British Navy had sanctioned gold oak-leaf embroidery for the visors of caps of executive officers of the rank of commander and above as early as 1860 may also have been a determining factor. The oak-leaf and acorn were used prior to the nineteenth century in decorating British and other European military uniforms, and can be traced to heraldic devices of an early period.
As to why a decision was made to decorate the visor, we can probably best quote from Rear Admiral A.S. Crowinshield, USN, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, who made the following statement in recommending other embellishments of the naval officer's uniform in 1897: "One of the main objects of the uniform is lost if the rank of the person wearing it can not be readily distinguished. Discipline in the military and naval service depends largely upon respect obtained for the officers in such service and nothing conduces to a more proper observance of such respect than instant recognition of the rank of the officer."
I trust the foregoing information will prove useful to you.
Navy Department Library
Orig: B. Lynch
Typed by C. Tillery
*see US Naval Institute Proceedings, April 1932, p. 526 [handwritten on the bottom of the page]
Source: Kalkus, Stanley [Director, Navy Department Library]. Correspondence, concerning ornamentation of cap devices, dated 3 June 1983.
206. The origin of the aiguillette. The several origins which have been attributed to the aiguillette possess no authenticity; the following is however, the most probable:
"The Duke of Alva, a Spanish General, having had cause to complain of the conduct of a body of Flemish troops, which had taken flight, ordered that any future misconduct on the part of these troops should be punished by hanging the delinquent, with regard to rank or grade.
"The Flemings replied that to facilitate the execution of this order, they would hereafter wear on the shoulder a rope and a nail, which they did, but their conduct became so brilliant and exemplary, that this rope was transformed into a braid of passementerie, and became a badge of honor, to be worn by officers of princely households, the pages, and corps d'elite," etc., etc. (Translated from Larousse's Grand Dictionary of the XIX Century)."
The following is another version:
In the very early days before knights wore metal armor, they wore coats of thick bull hide or sole leather which laced up the back. At it was impossible for them to "button" such a coat, the act had to be performed by their squires, who were required to carry a supply of stout leathern thongs pointed with the "tooth-pick bones" taken from the leg of a buck, or some kind of metal point such as our common shoestring has at this day. The story goes that the squire carried these thongs in a small roll or bundle hanging over his shoulder and from this has gradually developed the idea of an aide or adjutant wearing the aiguillette as the badge of his office.
Source: Moss, James A. Officer's Manual. 8th ed. (Menasha, WI: George Banta Publishing Co., 1941): 112.
Navy Uniform Worn by Commissioned Officers, Warrants and CPOs Has Long History Too
The uniform worn by officers and chief petty officers is, like the bluejacket's outfit, one of the most distinctive in the world.
Down through the years this uniform, which is shared by commissioned officers, WOs and men in the highest enlisted grade, has rated tops in prestige. And like the enlisted uniform, it is immediately recognized as the garb of the sea-faring man, not only in this country but by citizens in all corners of the globe.
While there is a lengthy tradition in the badges and insignia representative of the officer's and CPO's uniform, the uniform itself has undergone a great deal of change over the years, and many of the changes have been major ones which have completely altered the appearance of all concerned.
It is doubtful if a naval officer, vintage 1776, would be recognized if he were to step on aboard one of today's Navy ships. He would be dressed in an outfit made up of a blue coat with red lapels, a standing collar, flat yellow buttons, blue breeches and red waistcoat. This was the first uniform for officers of the Continental Navy as prescribed by the Marine Committee during the Revolutionary War.
In those days of low pay, when a captain made less than a seaman does today, it is doubtful if many of the officers ever gathered together a complete outfit as prescribed. For the most part, in those early days, the captains dressed pretty much as tastes dictated.
Following the British surrender the Navy was put under the office of the Secretary of War and the first official regulations concerning the dress of an officer of the US Navy were issued.
That uniform was described as a blue coat with buff lapels and gold epaulets. The buttons were of yellow metal having a foul anchor and the American eagle on them. The trousers were to be of the same material as the coat. A few years later laced gold, for decoration only and not to denote rank, was added to the uniform and the officers became a colorful group.
Keeping pace with the civilian dress of the time pantaloons were introduced into the Navy in 1813 when warrant officers came in for their first attention, uniformwise. The uniform regulations covering warrant officers said that they should be decked out in a uniform comprised of a short black coat with six buttons on the lapel, and rolled cuffs. They were to wear blue pantaloons, a white vest and a round hat with a cockade. Several years later the warrant's uniform was modified to include a doublebreasted coat with the lapel buttoned back, a white vest and white pantaloons.
A move towards simplicity in the officers' uniforms is recorded in 1841 when the laced gold was removed and the only indication of rank was the number of buttons on a coat. A captain's full dress coat was ornamented only with two rows of nine buttons down the front, four buttons on the top of each cuff and three on the skirt of the coat. Officers with lesser rank wore fewer buttons.
It soon became an acknowledged fact that something else was needed to denote rank as people not familiar with the uniform couldn't decide what rank the officer they were addressing held.
Accordingly, in 1845 epaulets came back to the uniform with varying size stripes for the different ranks. It is interesting to note that the description of the sword belt worn then is the same as that now worn for formal occasions.
When, during the Civil War, the rank of admiral was established, the first gold stripes on the sleeves of all officers' blouses were added to indicate rank. At the same time the uniform was changed completely and was composed of a frock coat with epaulets, a cocked hat, a sword and plain pantaloons. The gold stripes ranged from eight quarter inch stripes for the rear admiral, down to one stripe for an ensign. At that time a star was added on the sleeve of all line officers to distinguish them from staff corps officers.
For some time after that the uniform remained the same, but when a change did come it came in the form of the forerunner of the officiers' uniforms worn today. In 1877 the form fitting, single breasted, service blue blouse and trousers with a fly front were adopted. Sleeve stripes remained the same and that uniform became the Navy uniform until after World War I.
Uniform Regulations of 1886 provided for the first enlisted men, as such, to wear a new style of trousers differing from the traditional bell bottoms. First class petty officers (the CPO rating did not exist then) were given authority to be outfitted in a double breasted coat with a rolling collar, five gilt buttons on each breast and trousers the same as the officers.
The rate of chief petty officer was included in the rating structure in 1893 and the new CPOs were given the uniform provided earlier for first class petty officers. The 1st class reverted to bell bottoms at that time.
Since that time the uniforms of the officers and chiefs have grown to be more and more alike, until today the only difference is in the indication of rank and rate.
In 1899 the rank of chief warrant officer was established. The warrants wore the same uniform as other officers by this time, except for sleeve markings, and it became necessary to design a special distinguishing sleeve mark for the chief warrants. The resulting half-inch broken stripe was worn until recently.
The single breasted blouse remained a fixture in the Navy until World War I, when there developed demand for a double-breasted blouse. That was adopted in 1918 and, at the same time, all collar marks on the service coat were eliminated, leaving only the sleeve markings as identification.
Two new specialties that have developed greatly since World War I have been responsible for two additions to officers' uniforms. The aviation branch found that blues were unsuitable for flying, and as a result the green uniform was adopted for duty involving flying. The men of the submarine forces found the blues too warm and bulky for wear while in the boats and khakis supplied the answer. These soon became the official summer uniform for all officers and CPOs.
Recently there have been only minor changes to the officer's and CPO's uniform. What changes have been made were in the interest of comfort or styling and haven't outwardly changed the over-all appearance of the uniform.
Today's officers and CPOs have uniforms for varying needs and different geographical and climatic conditions, outfits that are adaptable to service in any and all parts of the world.
These range from the smart blue uniform, so traditional among all Navies, to the new tropical uniform recently approved by the Uniform Board.
In addition to those two, the officers and chiefs have the service dress and working khaki uniforms; aviation green for those who fly and dress whites for official functions.
The new tropical uniform is a cool and practical outfit composed of white or khaki trousers, with an open-neck, short-sleeve shirt. Shoes, socks and cap cover match the rest of the uniform, either white or khaki.
Before the change shorts had been substituted for the trousers but the long trousers will fill the need for a uniform that is more dress than shorts, yet cooler and more practical in hot weather than either the service khaki or white service.
Added to that list is the dungaree uniform which officers and chiefs often wear when involved in work that would damage or soil their other outfits.
Taking all things into consideration Navymen, officer and enlisted, take a prominent place on the list of the best outfitted men in the world. They wear the uniform of the sea service with the pride that is expected of representatives of the strongest Navy in existence.
Source: "Navy Uniform Worn by Commissioned Officers, Warrants and CPOs has Long History Too." All Hands. 460 (June 1955): 30-31.
Tradition will take an awful beating if they Navy adopts a new uniform. But, then, there is always the possibility that new legends will spring up.
Tradition says that the present black neckerchief is a hand-me-down from the British Navy, which adopted it as a symbol of mourning for Admiral Nelson. In the new uniform, it would be replaced by a black necktie, which someone in the year 2046 probably will describe as a symbol of mourning for yeomen and storekeepers with 32 points.
Legend - of extremely doubtful authenticity - says the three white stripes on the present dress jumper represent Admiral Nelson's three great battles - Trafalgar, Copenhagen, and The Nile. Someone may well decide 100 years from now that the Navy eliminated the stripes because it figured Admiral Nelson couldn't possibly have won those battles because he didn't have any carrier air support.
Those 13 buttons are supposed to represent the 13 original colonies. (A sailor from Utah once complained that he wasn't represented.) What will be said of the significance of the five buttons which are placed just as strategically, and more conveniently, on the new uniform? The five states Texas is big enough to cut into - Five Graves to Cairo? Or Mr. Five by Five?
And what's to happen to that song about Bell Bottom Trousers? Can you image singing it to lyrics bowdlerized to fit the facts? For example:
"Trousers with hip pockets,
"Battle jacket blue,
"He'll scan the radar
"Like his daddy used to do."
Source: "Needed: A 5-Button Tradition." All Hands. 347 (February 1946): 9.
Notes on the Introduction of Gold-Embroidered Cap Visors
The gold-embroidered cap visor for officers of the grades of Commander and above was introduced by Navy Department Circular No. 79 of June 12, 1897. The change was incorporated in the 1897 edition of Navy Uniform Regulations. In his unpublished manuscript on uniforms of the sea services, Commander William S. Edwards, USN, discusses the regulation and explains that "the idea of ornamenting the cap visors of these officers was actually approved and promulgated by the Department on 20 November 1878 but, for some unknown reason, was almost immediately cancelled." ContemporaryArmy and Navy Journal articles discuss both circulars, with comments on the "gorgeous" cap and other provisions of the changes; copies are attached herewith [not included]. Official records providing background on the formulation and issuance of the circulars may be in the custody of the National Archives.
In examining the British record, which so often has significance for the study of American naval tradition, it is interesting to note that the 1856 and 1860 uniform regulations, which introduced gold-embroidered peaks (or visors) for British naval officers of the grades of Commander and above, predate the official establishment of the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in the British Navy, which was deferred until March 1914. The grade of Lieutenant-Commander in the United States Navy was established by an Act of Congress on July 16, 1862, thirty-five years before the 1897 visor ornamentation circular was issued. A copy of the 1862 law, together with extracts from published sources tracing the evolution of the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in both navies, is attached [not included]. The deliberations which led to the introduction and passage of the bill may be recorded in official records held by the National Archives.
Source: "Notes on the Introduction of Gold-Embroidered Cap Visors." Washington, DC: Navy Department Library, 1982.
Have Bell Bottoms - Will Travel
While eating lunch in an Oslo, Norway, café the young seaman turned to his companion, "Say Boats, maybe you can explain something to me. All day people have been coming up and tapping me on the back. When I turn around to find out what they want, they just nod and continue on their way without saying a word. What's the scoop?"
The second class boatswain's mate leaned back in his chair, "You, my young friend, have been playing an important part in one of the oldest traditions concerning seagoing men." He paused for effect, then continued, "It's an old Scandinavian belief that men of the sea, who have just completed a long voyage, are lucky. Here in Oslo the tradition has grown up that by touching a sailor the luck will be transmitted. But that isn't all. To have the luck passed on, they must touch a sailor in one particular spot, the stars on the back of his collar."
This little incident illustrates one of the many legends and traditions concerning the uniform worn by American bluejackets. They all help make it the best known and most easily recognized uniform worn by any member of any armed force in the world today. From Hong Kong to Paris, from Alaska to Buenos Aires, the American sailor's uniform is known and recognized without a moment's hesitation.
Why are the famed "bellbottom trousers, coats o' Navy blue" so well known? There are two prime reasons. First, over the years the uniform has defied any radical changes. Second, over those same years, the American Navy has visited almost every major port in the world, giving every nationality a chance to see and become familiar with the uniform. In some cases many years may have elapsed between visits, but when the US Navy returned, the uniform was the same and there was no mistaking the identity of the men wearing it.
It's not only in the port cities that people recognize the American sailor, as a couple of Navymen found out when they wangled a special liberty pass from their ship for a week-end trip to Brussels, Belgium. The two were sure that they would not be recognized as US Navymen, since American sailors seldom have a chance to get that far inland.
They soon found out that they were mistaken. Within an hour a distinguished looking man approached and asked, "Aren't you American sailors?"
He went on to explain that during World War I he had run into some "Yank" Navymen and he had no trouble identifying the two from what he could remember of the uniform. He then went on to tell several sea stories about the Navy and especially about the uniform. Like a great majority of both Navymen and civilians, he had heard that the stripes on the sailor's collar represented the three great victories of Lord Nelson, the great English admiral, and that the neckerchief had first been worn as a mourning badge for him.
As romantic as those two anecdotes may sound, historians and researchers can find no basis in fact to support them. The origin of the stripes on the collar precedes Lord Nelson's day when the British Admiralty put all enlisted men in the same uniform. Until that time, each had dressed pretty much to suit his own taste, in so far as his pocketbook would allow.
The board that met to discuss the uniform for the ratings, found that a great majority of the men had taken to embroidering their collars with various types of white striping. Since the men seemed to like this decoration, the board recommended that there be uniformity and for some reason which has never been disclosed, picked the three stripes that now adorn the jumpers of both the US and British Navy.
Later, when the American Navy had occasion to design a uniform for the men, the stripes on the cuffs of the jumper were added, but with a special significance. Petty officers, seamen and first class firemen wore three stripes, ordinary seamen and second class firemen wore two and landsmen, coal heavers and boys wore one. This same system remained in effect until after World War II when all enlisted men were authorized to wear three stripes on their cuffs, regardless of their pay grade or occupation.
The legend concerning the neckerchief serving as a mourning badge for Lord Nelson has never been supported. The origin of the neckerchief seems to have come from an even more practical use than the stripes. In the early days of both the US Navy and the British sea service, the old-time sailors lacked the facilities of a barber shop and as a result would let their hair grow long during their time at sea. To keep the hair out of their way, they braided it into a pigtail, and this soon became a mark of a sailor.
To keep their jerseys clean, the salts started wearing either a bandana or a detachable and washable collar. This not only cut down on the amount of laundry, but also helped conserve fresh water during long spells at sea.
While today's uniforms for the first six pay grades of Navy enlisted men hasn't changed radically over the years, there was a time when it looked as though it were going to get a complete overhaul. Shortly after World War II there arose a clamor for a uniform change, with those boosting the change claiming that many parts of the uniform had outgrown their usefulness. Their specific complaints referred to the collar, neckerchief, jumper and bell bottom trousers.
In Washington the Uniform Board, after many trials, came up with a completely different outfit as a possible new uniform for Navymen. It was a smart looking outfit, consisting of a jacket, shirt and tie; trousers with a fore and aft crease, and an overseas cap. Those who had recommended a change were satisfied. Then the uniform was given the acid test. It was sent to the backbone of the Navy, the operating forces, for appraisal and comments.
The sailors in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets were given a chance to see and try the new uniform. The reception it received set off a chain reaction that would have compared favorably with an H-Bomb.
The men in the Fleet took one look at the proposed uniform and started writing letters by the barrelful. Some were lengthy, going into great detail as to why the uniform was impractical for men at sea. Others were short, but equally eloquent, as witness the few choice words voiced by an unknown petty officer: "Dear Sirs; It ain't Navy. Respectfully."
The arguments against the proposed uniform were many and ranged from a lack of space in which to store it, to the lack of comfort as compared to the traditional uniform. It was stated, and with good reason, that a combatant vessel in the Navy just doesn't give every man enough room to hang a coat, pants and the several shirts which would be needed.
In addition, argued the men, shipboard laundry facilities just weren't big enough to handle the job of keeping white or blue shirts cleaned and pressed for the entire crew.
There was also the matter of sheer comfort. Almost every letter stressed the fact that for both working and liberty the proposed shirt, tie and coat couldn't begin to compare with the open necked jumper.
In this respect, it is interesting to note the opinion of a man who definitely needs comfort and ease of movement in clothes in his line of work, Gene Kelly, one of today's foremost modern dancers and also a former Navyman. In an interview with Mr. Kelly, this writer asked why it was that so many musical productions were staged with the dancers wearing the bluejacket's uniform.
At the time, Mr. Kelly was working on a picture in London, England, and was wearing a Navy uniform. "It's like this," he said, "one of the first things that any dancer looks for when he is planning a big number, is an eye-catching costume. One that the spectator immediately associates with himself or some particular element with which he is familiar. For that, the Navy uniform can't be beat. Another, and even more important reason for many dancers in bell-bottoms, is the comfort of the uniform. As you know, a dancer needs more than the usual amount of freedom of movement and this uniform," pointing to the one he wore, "doesn't hinder in any way."
That is an expert's opinion on the comfort afforded by the uniform, but it isn't necessary to go any further than the nearest CPO to reinforce that theory. Granted that men who wear the fore and aft rig like their uniform, but when asked how it compares for comfort with a bluejacket's uniform, nine out of ten will reply that the bell bottoms are far superior.
When the shouting and tumult about the new uniform died down, the Uniform Board tallied the results. They found that the men who would have been slated to wear it were strongly against the change. They wanted to keep the one they had. The final score was 79 per cent in favor of the current uniform, 13 per cent wanted the new one, and eight per cent did not care or gave no opinion. The proposed idea was immediately shelved.
Since that time, the only minor change in the basic uniform has been the addition of a fly front on the trousers, replacing the old 13 button style. However, there are still many old salts, and some of the younger ones too, who prefer the 13-button style with an almost fanatical devotion, and who deplore the day when they will have to be replaced with the new trousers.
In this respect, there has always been a belief that the 13 buttons on the old style trousers represented the original 13 colonies of the US. Like so many other stories, there is no basis for this one. Actually, before 1894 the trousers had only seven buttons. It wasn't until the broadfall front was enlarged that the 13 buttons were put on the uniform and then only to add to the symmetry of the design.
Strange as it may seem, during the US Navy's first forty years of existence, there was no prescribed uniform for the enlisted men. During that time various orders and regulations provided for officers' uniforms, but nowhere can be found any mention of what the men before the mast were supposed to wear.
Despite the lack of regulations the EMs of those days did have a certain uniformity about them. Most of the clothes they wore were purchased aboard ship and charged off to their pay. The ship would stock up on basic items of wear, such as jerseys, pants and caps, before any long trip. These would all be the same design, and during any extended tour of duty it was a sure thing that everyone would be wearing those items by the time the ship returned to the US.
That didn't provide for complete uniformity throughout the Navy, however, as each ship did its own buying and it was up to the skipper of the individual ship to decide what type of clothing would be stocked. As a result, the clothing worn varied greatly from ship to ship. In this connection, one of the first recorded descriptions of an enlisted man's uniform comes from Navy files telling of the arrival of Commodore Stephen Decatur in New York with the frigates United States and Macedonia in 1813. The files disclose that the sailors were clothed in "glazed canvas hats with stiff brims, decked with streamers of ribbon, blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats and blue trousers with bell bottoms."
It was three years later before the first regulations concerning the EMs' uniform were sent to the Navy. They came from Secretary of the Navy Crowninshield in September 1817 and both a summer and winter uniform were described for general wear throughout the Navy. The summer uniform was described as, "a white duck jacket, trousers and vest." The winter uniform prescribed was similar to that worn by Decatur's men and was to be, "Blue jacket and trousers, red vest, yellow buttons and black hat."
Secretary Crowninshield's regulations also provided that when men were employed in washing the decks they were to be barefooted and have their pants rolled up. From this it has been generally acknowledged that the original purpose of the bell bottoms was to facilitate pulling the bottoms up over the knee when swabbing down the decks. This throws another old idea out the window, namely the school of thought that maintains that bell bottoms were designed so they could easily be slipped off in an emergency when abandoning ship.
Take away the vests from those 1817 uniforms, add a few minor changes and additions such as the rating badges, which were first introduced in 1866, and you have the uniform that today's Navyman wears. A uniform that can be rolled up, packed tightly in a seabag, carried halfway around the world, unrolled and worn without pressing or other maintenance and yet retain a smart appearance.
There is another big advantage to the rolling and packing procedure. You can, with little strain, get all the uniforms you need for an extended tour of duty in one seabag or one small locker aboard ship.
While various parts of the uniform do not, in the modern-day Navy, perform the function they were originally intended for, the prime function of the over-all uniform is still the same. It serves to identify the Navyman as a member of the finest outfit in the world. Whatever arguments may arise in the coming years over the uniform, there is no denying that no matter where you see a sailor you know he, like the uniform, is NAVY.
Source: Ohl, Bob. "Have Bell Bottoms … Will Travel." All Hands. 460 (June 1955): 28-30.
Present Uniform Favored by 3 to 1, According to 5,000 Letters to BuPers
Regular Navy men have revealed their dislike for the proposed new uniforms. Nearly 5,000 letters have been received by BuPers from men in the ranks and some three quarters of these writers favored the old uniform in preference to the new one.
The Navy is not the only service in search of new uniforms. The Army's Quartermaster Corps' research and development branch is now making queries at installations near Washington, D.C., in search of new GI garb.
Out of six possibilities for men's wear, the simplest uniform, plain dark blue with yellow chevrons, gold braid on cap and one strip of gold set several inches from the cuff, is out in front. This outfit was the overwhelming favorite of 450 soldiers and Wacs at Bolling Field.
The War Department stated it would not buy materials needed for civilian clothing, so it may be later than 1948 before the public can see the Army's new blues on a large scale.
Source: "Present Uniform Favored by 3 to 1, According to 5,000 Letters to BuPers." All Hands. 355 (September 1946): 61.
Board of Attire? Your Request Can Change Navy Dress
Navy uniforms, and the people who wear them, have long been a source of mystery and lore. It was the uniform that attracted Debra Winger to Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman." Sailors headed straight for the neighborhood health spa after seeing "Top Gun" actor Tom Cruise in form-fitted khakis, while Frank Sinatra in "On the Town" showed us that a sailor, groomed to Navy standards, can literally stop traffic - as they continue to do in some small towns.
But, movies rarely portray an officer chasing his cover across a median strip or a sailor using a coat hanger to retrieve a "white hat" from an open manhole. If, in the 1986 film "Top Gun," Tom Cruise were tasked to perform his role in a downpour wearing dress blues, no doubt he would have, "lost that lovin' feeling." You see, it was less than four years ago that the Navy first authorized male sailors to tote umbrellas while in uniform.
As the Navy "giveth" accessories, it can also "taketh away" other items. These decisions aren't arbitrary, they are the result of a sometimes painstaking process. Suprisingly, many of the changes to Navy uniforms come about through sailors' suggestions.
Every day, letters from the fleet are received by the Navy Uniform Matters Office (Pers 333), located in the Navy Annex in Arlington ,Va. The office, adjacent to the office of the Master Chief Officer of the Navy (MCPON), is responsible for writing the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations (NavPers 15665).
Navy Uniform Matters personnel wade through suggestions, searching for ideas which are creative, cost-effective and in keeping with the Navy's best interests and traditions. Once the suggestions prove to be valid, they are forwarded by point paper to the Uniform Board panel for consideration.
"Some inputs don't merit doing research, such as, 'I want to get rid of all uniforms' or 'I want to redesign all uniforms because I don't like the style or the color,'" said LCDR Mike Capponi, head of the Navy Uniform Matters Office. "Those are not worthy of being put to the board. You have to give substantial input.
"The ideal way we'd like to see a complaint is in point paper format. It can be handwritten. The paper should include the problem, recommendations and a solution. And we'd like to have it come through the chain of command, with endorsements. To get a favorable look by the board - get many endorsements," Capponi said.
The Uniform Board includes four voting members who meet quarterly. The Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel serves as president, along with the Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command, who monitors costs and procurement of uniforms; Special Assistant, Women in the Navy (Pers-00W), who monitors changes affecting women; and the MCPON, the senior enlisted representative.
Special members are also invited, including flag and senior officers or senior enlisted personnel with substantial operational experience as directed by the CNO. Based on public outcry, the board can delve into issues from shades of pantyhose to tattoos on ear lobes - any issue relating to Navy uniform regulations.
The uniform board can address new or existing problems and make recommendations for improvements. Guided by the uniform goals and policies established by the Secretary of the Navy and the CNO, the board can recommend, approve or disapprove suggestions or delay action pending results of further research. The board will not convene if only a few fleet inputs are available that quarter.
After an idea is voted upon, the results go to the Chief of Naval Personnel for review, followed by the CNO for final approval.
Each suggester gets a written reply from Capponi's shop, whether or not the idea is passed to the board. In fact, the Navy Uniform Matters Office is the first and last reply on all suggestions. "We will make the first cut if we don't think [the idea] merits going to the board," he added. "First, the change must be cost-effective and well-received by the entire Navy."
Capponi uses the dungaree trousers or "bell-bottoms" as an example on how to submit valid input to the board. Because dungarees are mass-produced and not cut to size, some sailors don't get a perfect fit. To initiate a change in the uniform item, sailors should suggest "a better way to do it," Capponi said. "They can do a little research on their own. Perhaps they know of a company that makes pants."
Capponi said that most sailors know little about clothing textiles, and even less about the time it takes to implement a new item. A change may take up to eight years before it appears in your uniform shop. The Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility in Natick, Mass., believes that a dress uniform becomes "worn out" through normal wear in about three years. Even before the Navy authorizes a new item for sale, it must deplete its existing stock of the old item. This can take up to three years. "Nothing happens immediately," Capponi said.
Changes in clothing "style" are even harder to implement, he added, because, what's in style today, is usually out of style tomorrow.
"You must have [an idea] that will be here from 'day one,' to 20 years later and still be relatively in style," he said. "As for redesigning the entire uniform line, the money is not there. The bottom line is cash - can we do this without breaking our backs."
Capponi adds that it's "getting harder to find suppliers." Right now, only one manufacturer was asked to provide dungarees to the Navy but declined. "They've got a huge market - they didn't need the military market," Capponi said. Besides, he adds, there are certain guidelines set on how contracts are allotted.
Even with budge constraints, the board has economically attempted to keep up with styles and trends - generously responding to fleet input. Sailors still argue that even John Wayne's seabag didn't change this frequently, or this drastically.
It was 12 years ago when the board responded to the demand for more traditional uniforms - particularly, the jumper style "crackerjacks."
The 1973 decision to replace the traditional jumper and bell-bottom uniform with a coat-and-tie style was made with the sailor's interest in mind - affording a uniform which would be contemporary with modern times, Capponi said. There was much controversy over the decision, so then-CNO ADM James L. Holloway III, initiated a survey to determine the fleet's true feelings.
A scientific poll was conducted by the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center which sampled the opinions of more than 8.000 enlisted men at various stateside and overseas locations. The results showed more than 80 percent favored the bell-bottom style uniform. In addition, the unofficial poll conducted by Navy Times received more than 80,000 opinions that closely paralleled the official Navy survey. Therefore, in July 1977 the CNO approved the return of the jumper uniform. Issue to the fleet began in 1980.
According to Capponi, a return of the "salt and pepper" is often requested by some, but there's no major push for it from the entire fleet. The women's powder-blue nurse-type outfit will probably never return. "By the time a change occurs," Capponi said, "somebody will want to go back the other way, and there is not enough money to do that."
Less than 10 years ago, the Uniform Board OK'd the idea of Navy women wearing two braids in their hair while in uniform - something Army women had been doing for years. Capponi said that presently on hold is a request from a female sailor asking permission to wear "corn rows" without beads. "We'll see what happens when it goes to the board," he said.
Summer jumpers and peacoats for women were added to their seabags. "Outside of the material, women like the [jumper] style," Capponi said. "They don't like [Certified Navy Twill] because if it's unlined and stretches, it becomes transparent. CNT was brought in as 'the sailor's helper' because it was home washable [and permanent press]."
Recently the Uniform Board responded to requests from women to create small-size rating badges, rather than requiring the male "jumbo" sizes.
Another change occurred in June 1988, when all sailors were required to wear Unit Identification Marks on their right shoulder -- an item originally designated for shipboard sailors only.
Also, the stenciled name on dungaree shirts shifted to the left side of the garment to standardize name placement on Navy uniforms. Last year, navy-blue pullover sweaters - once reserved exclusively for the surface warfare community - were authorized for all personnel.
"We have expanded our uniforms to the point where we have too many options," Capponi said. "[Different] regional areas don't use the same stuff. I'm looking to review what we give out, make cuts and look at a sensible way to make the seabag more flexible."
Capponi's office collaborates with Navy Resale Services Support Office on ideas but has nothing to do with price setting. Navy Supply Systems is tasked to coordinate with contractors, where uniform prices are determined by design, cloth and sheer numbers required. Women's uniforms cost more than men's because the Navy buys fewer of them.
As for new items in the works, Capponi adds, "I could tell you about a lot of things we've got going, but they could get overridden at the CNO level. There will be some more things coming out on grooming standards."
For example, the Navy may address new faddish hairstyles some sailors may choose to wear.
"On board ships, [high and tights have] been there forever," Capponi said. "For a woman, it's not a professional image. But women's hair is always a bad subject around here - how many barrettes? How many hair pins? What is, or is not, too long?
"There's only one way to solve it," he said jokingly. "Everyone will have their hair cut above their shoulders - but that's not going to happen. We can control jewelry and tattoos, no problem. But when we start taking away things that they might have had while growing up, you're getting down-right personal."
Along with hairdos, Uniform Matters often wrestles with new ideas on men's and women's covers. And the battle continues.
As for beards, Capponi adds, "They'll never come back in any of the military [branches], unless it's some special assignment somewhere. And mustaches - we're lucky we have those. My mustache is very personal to me; I hate having it off. I've only had it off twice in the last 17 years."
In 1984, the CNO deemed beards a safety hazard and unprofessional in appearance. The Navy requested male sailors to "come clean" - except those with no-shaving chits from their doctors. Some commanders in the fleet, foreseeing the dim future on beards, required sailors to shave as early as three years prior to the mandatory regulation.
At the time, many sailors voiced complaints about, "the damn Uniform Board," that its decisions altered lifestyles, weakened mystique and diluted Navy tradition.
But what many sailors failed to realize, was that then-CNO ADM James D. Watkins - after receiving input from senior members in the fleet - implemented the "beardless Navy" through a directive, not a Uniform Board vote. In NavOp 152/84, dated December 1984, Watkins stated, "The image of a sharp-looking sailor in a crisp 'bell-bottom' uniform … portrays precisely the tough fighting Navy we are."
Watkins continued, "I have concluded it is both proper and timely to change our policy regarding beards and require all Navy men to be clean-shaven … It will also provide increased personal safety for those who must, on short notice, be prepared to wear OBAs (oxygen breathing apparatus), gas masks, oxygen masks and, in general, work in stressing environments."
The decision to eliminate beards was done in a unique manner - without convening the Uniform Board and without an open invitation for fleet input. But that route to change is the exception, not the rule.
Everyone is interested in Navy uniforms - the Navy, Hollywoodand even the Air Force. The Air Force's new uniforms show many similarities to the Navy's.
"There's a [DoD] measure to drive all the services to look the same," Capponi said. "By buying all the same style, it's [supposed] to cut costs. It makes sense on paper, but tradition-wise, it won't happen. Certain things we need, they'll never need. You'll never standardize it. As far as cost-savings go, it's best to stay with what you've got."
And what the Navy has is a product that instills so much pride - that everyone wants to copy it.
"We're a visual society," said Capponi, " …appearance will carry 90 percent of what the public thinks of you. If you look professional, they think you are professional. If you look unprofessional, they think you are, too."
Source: Price, Chris. "Board of Attire? Your Request Can Change Navy Dress." All Hands. 903 (June 1992): 16-19.
The Significance of the Uniform
The uniform that you are now privileged to wear is not just another piece of clothing to be worn as may seem most convenient or comfortable. It is a badge of office, a symbol of authority, a mark of service to the country, the seal of a trust imposed on and accepted by you. It has a purpose; it has a meaning. There is a "way to wear it."
The wearing of the uniform carries with it certain great responsibilities and implies a definite duty. The manner in which you use it, regard it and treat it is an accurate gauge of the manner in which you may be expected to meet those responsibilities and a very fair indication of the thoroughness with which you will do you duty.
The uniform is a symbol of a great tradition - the tradition of the men of the sea. That the men of the sea now-a-days, at times, become men of the air, changes or detracts not one bit from the qualities demanded in them or required before Victory can rightfully be expected. The conquest of the air has only served to bind tighter the brotherhood and make more rigid the code.
This tradition of which we speak goes back far beyond our own rather recent beginning as a nation. No one really knows how many centuries ago men of the sea, brought close together by the ever present and common-to-all danger, developed a certain intangible spirit of brotherhood and understanding and a very definite code of behavior.
When these same men, later, became the servants, on the high seas, of great States, flying their flags, commanding their ships and defending their interests, no better trustees of national destinies could have been found; since, for generations they had already been accustomed to accept great responsibilities in face of grave dangers, so the trust was not new to them. The uniforms they then began to wear became emblems of that trust and symbols of what is meant; symbols of what their country stood for and of its place in the world.
The chain of tradition has never been broken. The same spirit that inspired Lord St. Vincent to arise each day for years in the British fleet, don full uniform and, before his entire crew of officers and men, witness the raising of the colors - that same spirit recently inspired a Captain in our Navy, lying in his uniform, disemboweled and propped against the chart house to fight his burning and sinking ship 'till he died - refusing to be removed.
The Spirit of the tradition speaks as Copenhagen, where we hear Nelson, when a round shot strikes the mast close by his head, remark, "The fight is hot, and no one knows how long we may be here today - but mark you! I wouldn't be anywhere else for thousands," and again it speaks through Perry at Lake Erie, who, after a furious sea fight, reports laconically, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." In 1942 the pilot of a bomber reports, "Sighted Sub. Sank same."
We find Captain Herndon of our Navy, as his ship, the Central America, doomed, begins to sink; going down to his cabin, putting on his coat, and REMOVING THE CAP COVER SO ALL COULD SEE THE SYMBOL OF RANK, returning to the deck in time to wave away a would-be rescue boat to prevent it being swamped, and, then, folding his arms, uncovered, calmly go down with the ship.
John Paul Jones, his ship shot to pieces, on fire and sinking and his crew decimated, is asked if he has surrendered, and replies, "Surrender hell! We have not as yet begun to fight!" and later, when accepting the sword of surrender from the British Captain, returns it; saying, "Sir, you have fought gallantly; I hope your King gives you a better ship."
What is it that inspired these men to such gallant deeds and such gracious courtesies? It would be hard to say, other than to reply, "Tradition." The Tradition of the eternal brotherhood of common danger, the Tradition of loyalty; loyalty to each other; loyalty to a trust, whatever it may be.
Lawrence was moved by it when he cried, as he lay dying on the bloody decks of the Chesapeake, "Fight her 'till she sinks; Don't give up the ship!" and Perry, later, remembering Lawrence's immortal words, sewed them on a flag to inspire his men, remarking, "If there is a victory to be had, I'll have it," and then sailed into battle on the Niagara to win a major victory.
Stephen Decatur knew it when he sank the Philadelphiain the Harbor of Tripoli and in so doing, moved Nelson to remark, "-the most bold and daring act of the age."
Farragut, at Mobile, damns the torpedoes and cries, "Go ahead;" Dewey at Manila; Devereaux at Wake; "Three men in a Boat," lost from a carrier; an unbroken chain of men all in uniform, all inspired by something the uniform meant to them.
Doesn't it mean something to you to wear it? Don't you see why you should treat it with respect? Don't you consider it an honor to be seen in it, along with them? It is older than you, much older; it is soaked with the blood of honorable deeds; it has, for more than 150 years been the shield behind which this country has grown and prospered.
Wear it proudly; wear it properly; wear it neatly; wear it correctly. Salute it with respect when you meet it; behave in it in a seemingly manner; defend it when it is offended and endangered. It represents the flag, the nation, your home and family. It is symbolic of all that is dear to you, and of all that men believe to be worth dying for.
From the "Gosport"
U.S. Naval Air Station,
Source: "The Significance of the Uniform."All Hands. 304 (July 1942): 43-45.
Sure, everyone knows that the bell-bottom style uniform has been famous around the world for its ability to attract the fair young sex in any port. But did you know …
The Neckerchief - The black kerchief or bandana historically began to appear during the 16th or 17th centuries and was used either as a sweat band or a simple closure for the collar. Black was the predominant color as it was the most practical shade and did not readily show dirt or tar. Unfortunately there are no records that support the persistent myth that the black kerchief represents a sign of mourning for Nelson's demise.
Two Stars on Back Collar of Dress Jumper - During the 1840s, sailors voluntarily embellished their uniforms with devices and stars that were very popular. It was not until 1866 that stars at either corner of the flap were standardized and authorized for no other apparent reason than aesthetic design balance.
Three Rows of Piping - Piping first appeared as a decorative device during the 1840s which sailors added to break up the drabness of their uniform. In 1866 the collar flap was extended to nine inches to accommodate a standardized system of white piping to distinguish petty officers (three rows), ordinary seamen (two rows) and landsmen and boys (one row). Corresponding rows were displayed on the cuff.
In 1876 the white tape on the collar was standardized to three rows for all enlisted wearing the jumper, with rank to be determined by the petty officer insignia, and cuff stripes for the seaman ranks. In 1947, cuff piping was standardized at three rows for all hands since rating badges and added piping (diagonal white, red, green or blue stripes on the left sleeve) to denote rank was repetitious.
Again, the legend of the three collar rows to commemorate Nelson's sea victories is a myth and has no basis of fact in any authoritative history of uniforms. It evolved merely as a decorative device and, much later, served to distinguish between rates.
13 Buttons - During the Civil War, trousers had either a fly front or a seven-button broadfall depending upon manufacturers. In 1899, the broadfall was enlarged and required 11 buttons to close. A further increase in depth of the flap sides for comfort would add two buttons for a total of 13. Although myth prevails that the number of buttons represented the original colonies, 13 buttons happened to be the final number.
White Hat - In 1852 a white cover was added to the soft visorless blue hat. In 1866, regulations permitted a white sennet straw hat as an additional item for summer wear. During the 1880s, the white "sailor hat" appeared as a low rolled brim, high-domed item made of wedge shaped pieces of canvas; it replaced the straw hat. The canvas was eventually replaced by cotton as a cheaper and more comfortable material.
The Navy Uniform Board received numerous complaints about the shape and durability of the sailors' white hat which, especially in hot climates, caused the low brim to droop and caused an unsightly appearance. The resultant brim which, as well, caused the sides to be stiffer and stand upright. This practice of reinforced stitching continued to mold the hat into the present shape.
The Neckerchief Knot - There does not appear to be any historical significance attached to this knot other than it being a standard square knot widely used by sailors in their work. This knot, naturally, allows for the proper appearance for the neckerchief. The actual description of the knot appears in the 1913 Uniform Regulations.
Source: "Three Centuries of Tradition." All Hands. 728 (September 1977): 20.
Uniforms and Insignia: Engineering and Construction Corps United States Navy
By Capt. James C. Tily, (CEC) USN
This history of the United States Navy has been written not only by the officers and men who manned and fought her ships, but also by those who designed and built them. Although the devices of the Engineering and Construction Corps are no longer worn by officers on active duty, the part that these two corps of specialists played in the development of the Fleet will always be remembered. The functions of the former Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Engineering are now being continued by the Bureau of Ships.
When the National Government was organized in 1789, there were no vessels of war and no Navy. Such maritime matters as arose were under the administration of the Secretary of War. Although the Federal Government desired to consolidate its position at home and to avoid involvement in matters abroad, the actions of the Mediterranean pirates in capturing American ships and enslaving their crews indicated the need for a naval force to protect our shipping and to uphold the honor of the infant republic.
An act of Congress, approved on 27 March 1794 to "Provide a Naval Armament," authorized the procurement or construction of six frigates. The act included language indicative of the desire to avoid the creation of a permanent Navy: "… if peace shall take place between the United States and the Regency of Algiers, that no further proceeding be had under this act."
When it was determined that the frigates would be built by the Government, the Secretary of War procured the use of private shipbuilding sites and employed civilian naval constructors to build the vessels. The sites, the ships, and the constructors were as follows1:
Portsmouth, N.H. Congress, 36 guns. James Hackett.
Boston. Constitution, 44 guns. George Claghorne.
New York. President, 44 guns. Forman Cheeseman.
Philadelphia. United States, 44 guns. Joshua Humphreys.
Baltimore. Constellation, 36 guns. David Stodder.
Gosport (Norfolk). Chesapeake, 44 guns. Josiah Fox.
In addition to his duties as constructor in charge of the building of the United States, Joshua Humphreys was also designated "Principal Constructor for the Navy."2
Before any appreciable work was accomplished on the frigates, the Treaty with Algiers was signed on 5 September 1795. The keels had been laid for all six vessels, and construction of the Constitution, the United States, and the Constellation had made some progress.
The treaty with Algiers did not include Tunis or Tripoli, so conditions in the Mediterranean were still unsettled. To complicate the maritime picture further, our relations with France under the Directory were anything but friendly, and American vessels were being captured. Public sentiment was aroused and, by an act of 20 April 1796, Congress authorized the completion of the three vessels started under the 1794 act. Any material not required for the three frigates was to be sold, and supplies of other materials held for future use. The three vessels were launched between May and October, 1797.
As the foreign situation worsened, it became evident that a better administration of naval affairs was required, as well as a stronger Navy. An act of Congress of 27 April 1798 authorized the construction, purchase, or hire of 12 additional vessels, not to exceed 22 guns each; and, by an act of Congress of 30 April 1798, the Navy Department was created. The appointment as Secretary was offered to George Cabot, who declined; so Benjamin Stoddert became the first Secretary of the Nay, with Joshua Humphreys as his principal assistant.3
The 1800 Navy
By 1800 the Navy consisted of 53 vessels, some built by the Government, others purchased, and still others built and donated by private citizens.4 To support this growing fleet, tracts of live oak were secured to provide materials for shipbuilding; the manufacturing of materials and supplies for the building, repair, and maintenance of vessels was encouraged; and six Navy yards were established at the locations selected for the original construction program of 1794, except that the site of the new capital, Washington, was substituted for Baltimore.
During the Jefferson administration, 1801-1809, the only active yards were Boston and Washington. Emphasis was placed on the construction of gunboats for harbor defense, for the policy was one of isolation. Although the Navy won high praise for operations against Algiers, its strength was permitted to decline, so that the Navy was woefully weak when war with England broke out in 1812.
The 1812-1815 period saw shipbuilding expand greatly, for this war was fought primarily at sea. The ships built by civilian naval constructors on the eastern seaboard, and on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, were to a large measure responsible for the successful conclusion of the war. The experiences of a sea war had pointed up the inadequacy of the small organization available to the Secretary of the Navy. By an act of Congress, approved 7 February 1815, the Board of Naval Commissioners was established, consisting of the three senior captains of the Navy, to act as advisors to the Secretary.
It was during the War of 1812 that the first steam vessel of the United States Navy was authorized. Congress, by an act of 9 March 1814, authorized the construction of one or more floating batteries for the defense of the harbors of the United States. Under this authority, the first steam vessel of war of any country was designed and built by Robert Fulton. The Demologos, or Fulton, was not completed until it was too late for use under wartime conditions. After tests, the Demologoswas moored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and was used as a receiving ship until here destruction by a magazine explosion on 4 June 1829. Since the Demologos was not used as a cruising vessel, Navy personnel did not operate the boilers or machinery. The machinery was operated briefly prior to here berthing at Brooklyn, by the employees of the builder's works.5
The next steam vessel of the Navy was the 100-ton galliot,Sea Gull, which was purchased in New York and used as a dispatch boat in the campaign against piracy in the West Indies in 1823-1825. No record shoes the names of Navy personnel in charge of her machinery; so it is assumed that the same engineering crew who had operated her before purchase operated the machinery until she was laid up in 1825.6
Steam for the Navy
Although steam as a means of propulsion had been accepted for merchant ships, the Navy was apparently convinced that it was a passing fancy and that sails and wind were the proper means of propelling men-of-war. However, the Secretary of the Navy, by a letter of 26 June 1835, called the attention of the Board of Navy Commissioners to an act of Congress 26 April 1816, which provided funds for the construction of steam batteries, and directed the Commissioners to proceed with the construction of a steamer.7
While the Board felt competent to proceed with the hull of the vessel, they advised that they were not qualified to arrange for the procurement of the machinery and requested authority to employ an engineer. Mr. C. H. Haswell, who had experience in the steam engineering field, was employed in February 1836 to prepare plans for the machinery. On 12 July 1836, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Fulton, the second ship of that name. Mr. Haswell became the first person to hold the position of steam engineer in the Navy.8
The Fulton was launched on 18 May 1837, and on 1 September 1837, Captain Matthew C. Perry was placed in command. The choice of Captain Perry to command the vessel, which was to become the first seagoing steam man-of-war of the Navy, was an excellent one. He foresaw the role that steam propulsion would play and appreciated the value and need for engineers. He demanded of his line officers vision broad enough to accept the new order of things. An order of 31 October 1837 authorized the appointment of assistant engineers and the recruitment of firemen and coal passers. Whether the "sailing" Navy liked it or not, engineers had become part of the Navy.
To identify the new class of seagoing personnel, the Secretary of the Navy on 21 November 1837, in reply to a letter from Captain Perry, authorized him to prescribe a uniform for engineers. The Perry uniform was based on the current uniform regulations, those covered by the "Naval General Order" of 1 May 1830. While the dress uniform of sea officers, surgeons, and pursers was a double-breasted blue coat with a standing collar, the engineers' coat was patterned on the undress double-breasted coat with a rolling collar. The collar was specified to be of black velvet, which also had been specified for the collars of undress coats of surgeons. The balance of the uniform was like that of other officers; only chief engineers, however, were authorized to wear cocked hats and gold bands 1 ½ inches wide on their blue cloth caps. Other engineers wore the blue cap, without the lace band, for both dress and undress.9
In order to identify the various grades of engineers, a chief engineer wore a gold embroidered, five-pointed star 1 ½ inches in diameter on each end of the collar; a first assistant, two silver stars; a second assistant, a silver star on the right side of the collar only; and a third assistant, one on the left side. All engineers wore three large Navy buttons around the tops of their cuffs.10
The uniform regulation of 1841 made no provisions for the dress of engineers, for officially they were not officers of the Navy.11 The 1841 regulations contained the same undress coat as the previous order, so the uniform of engineers undoubtedly was carried forward as designed by Captain Perry. However, a portrait of an engineer shows the collar to be of the same blue cloth as the coat.12 The 1841 regulations had removed the velvet from the surgeons' collars.
In February 1842, the Secretary of the Navy reported to Congress that there was no authority to secure the services of engineers, stating: "…they can be employed only under some other name. Their pay is unascertained and dependent on private contract, and their rank in the service and position in the ship are equally undetermined."13 By an act of Congress dated 31 August 1842, the creation of an Engineer Corps was authorized, with a "skilful (sic) and scientific officer" as chief at $3000 a year. The act also authorized the Secretary of the Navy to prescribe a uniform for engineers.
The present bureau system of technical management of the Departments of the Navy was authorized by an act of Congress of 31 August 1842. The expansion of the United States, a corresponding growth of the Navy, and the growing importance of steam for propulsion required a better system of management and technical responsibility. Five bureaus were created: Bureau of Navy Yards and Docks; Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Bureau of Provisions and Clothing; Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography; and the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Each bureau was under a chief, who was responsible to the Secretary of the Navy.
The act specified that the Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair was to be "a skilful naval constructor." However, this instruction was ignored, the first chief of this bureau being a Navy line captain. Congress reiterated the requirement in an act of 3 March 1853, and the first civilian naval constructor to be chief of the Bureau was Samuel Hartt.14
The first official publication which included uniforms for engineers was the "Regulation for Uniform and Dress of the Navy of the United States" approved 8 March 1852, effective 4 July 1852. It would appear that engineers were tolerated but not accepted, for while line officers, surgeons, and pursers wore double-breasted full-dress coats with standing collars, engineers were given a single-breasted coat with but one row of nine buttons! Other civil officers, chaplains, professors, secretaries, and clerks also had single-breasted coats, with varying numbers of buttons.
As a device, all engineers wore on each side of the collara wheel embroidered in gold, with a silver anchor in front of it and a wreath of oak leaves and acorns. The classes of engineers were indicated by the buttons around the cuffs: Chief engineers had three large Navy buttons around the upper edge and three small ones in the openings; first assistants, three medium size buttons; second and third assistants, no buttons around the cuffs. Only chief engineers were entitled to wear epaulets, which were of gold bullion, the strap being of silver with an old English "E" embroidered on it in gold. Chief and first assistant engineers were authorized to wear black cocked hats with a loop of four gold bullions over the cockade.
When in full dress, other engineers wore the blue cloth undress cap. The cap device for all engineers was the wheel and anchor of the collar of the full dress coat placed in a wreath of olive and oak branches above a band of gold lace 1 inch wide.
For undress, engineers had a single-breasted blue coat with a rolling collar and no collar insignia. The rank of engineers was shown by the same button arrangement on the cuffs as on the full dress coat. Only a chief engineer was permitted to wear shoulder straps on his undress coat. They were 4 inches long and 1 3/8 inches wide, bordered with ¼-inch embroidery in gold with the old English "E" in the center. Chief and first assistant engineers could wear either caps or cocked hats in undress, while other engineers wore the cap.
Cocked Hats for Engineers
By an order of 1 January 1853, second and third assistant engineers were authorized to wear cocked hats, and first assistants were given gold lace shoulder straps 4 inches long and ½ inch wide bordered with gold beading 1/8 inch wide. The straps for second assistants were the same size, but of blue cloth edged with 1/8-inch gold cord.
A General Order of January 1859 conferred relative rank on engineers; chief engineers of more than 12 years' service ranked with commanders; chief engineers of less than 12 years', with lieutenants; first assistants, next after lieutenants; second assistants, next after masters, and third assistants with midshipmen. This action of the Secretary of the Navy was confirmed by an act of Congress of 3 March 1859.
A regulation of 8 February 1861 brought the uniform of engineers more closely into conformance with that of line officers. Coats were made double-breasted, and chief engineers were instructed to wear on their cuffs the same number of stripes of gold lace as worn by those officers with whom they had assimilated rank, dispensing with the large buttons. Chief engineers of over 12 years' service wore two ¾-inch wide stripes and those under 12 years, one stripe. The letter "E" was removed from the epaulets and shoulder straps of chief engineers, and the collar device was removed from the full dress coat of all engineers.
All engineers were permitted to wear an embroidered edging, gold, ½ inch wide, around the top and down the front of their standing collars. The wheel and anchor device was removed from the wreath of the cap and replaced by a cross of four live oak leaves in silver. Although the order did not mention a device for epaulets and shoulder straps to replace the "E", a copy of the regulations of 1852 in the Navy Department Library has a correction sheet pasted in showing the strap of a chief engineer of over 12 years' service with the oak leaf cross in the center and an acorn at either end, similar to those worn by senior surgeons. The strap of a chief engineer of less than 12 years' service had the cross of oak leaves in the center and no end devices. It is also indicated that the cap device was modified to include the cross of four live oak leaves.
The growing recognition that steam, not sail, was to be the source of propulsion and the tremendous expansion of the Navy required for the Civil War indicated an immediate need for the reorganization of the Navy Department. Congress, by an act approved 5 July 1862, provided for the expansion of the bureau system of management of the Navy Department by increasing the number of bureaus to eight. The functions of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair were distributed among the new Bureaus of Equipment and Recruiting, Construction and Repair, and the Bureau of Steam Engineering. A Bureau of Navigation was added to make up the eight.
The first Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering was Chief Engineer Benjamin F. Isherwood, who had been Engineer-in-Chief since 1861 and who, in large measure, had been instrumental in directing the transition from sail to steam under the former Bureau of Construction, Equipment, and Repair.
Uniform of 1862
The uniform regulations, issued in a General Order of 31 July 1862, abolished the full-dress coat of all officers and specified that the undress frock coat would be used with epaulets and cocked hat for full dress; with cap and with or without epaulets and cocked hat for undress; and with cap and shoulder marks for service dress. The cuffs were closed and plain, and all officers wore stripes of gold lace on their sleeves to designate rank or assimilated rank. Staff officers were ordered to wear the epaulets, shoulder straps, and cap devices as prescribed prior to 1862. Chief engineers of more than 12 years' service, ranking with commanders, wore two ¾-inch wide gold lace stripes on their sleeves, ¾ inch apart with a stripe of ¼-inch lace between them; chief engineers of less than 12 years' service, ranking with lieutenants, wore a stripe of ¾-inch lace ¼-inch lace 1/4 inch above it; first assistants, who ranked next after lieutenants and actually with masters, one stripe of 3/4 -inch gold lace; second assistants, ranking after masters and actually with ensigns, a single ¼-inch stripe; with third assistants, who ranked with midshipmen, had no sleeve lace and wore medium-sized buttons on their coats in lieu of the large buttons of more senior officers.
By a General Order of 13 March 1863, the relative rank of staff officers was increased and, in addition, naval constructors, chaplains, professors of mathematics, secretaries, and clerks were given relative rank. The relative rank established for engineers was as follows:
Fleet Engineers to rank with Captains.
Chief Engineers, after 15 years since date of commission, to rank with Captains.
Chief Engineers, after 5 years since date of promotion, to rank with Commanders.
Chief Engineers for the first 5 years after promotion to rank with Lieutenant Commanders.
First Assistant Engineers to rank with Masters.
Second Assistant Engineers to rank with Ensigns.
Third Assistant Engineers to rank with Midshipmen.
The relative rank for naval constructors was:
Naval constructors of more than 20 years' service, to rank with captains; those of more than 12 years with commanders; and those of less than 12 years with lieutenant commanders. Assistant naval constructors ranked with masters.
Chiefs of bureaus of the staff corps ranked with commodores and took precedence with each other according to the dates of their individual commissions and not according to their dates of appointment as chief of a bureau.
Uniform of 1864
New regulations for the dress and uniform of the Navy were issued on 28 January 1864. However, it appears that portions of these new regulations had become effective prior to that date, for illustrative plates in the Navy Department Library show a new system of indicating rank on the sleeves by means of the number and spacing of ¼-inch gold lace, with a gold star for line officers and without the star for staff officers.
New corps devices and modifications of the arrangements of rank and corps insignia on shoulder straps were "adopted" on 15 July and approved by the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. No order placing these changes into effect prior to 28 January 1864 has been found; but a circular of 21 December 1863 addressed to the commanders of Navy yards and squadrons states that the "new" instructions concerning shoulder straps and cap devices were not being obeyed and directed conformance. However, since no issuing order can be located, it appears that the use of the star as a device for line officers was effective officially on 28 January 1864.
Under the 1864 regulations, epaulets, cocked hats, and sword knots were abolished during the war, and the frock coat with shoulder straps and the cap were prescribed as the uniform for all occasions. Rank and corps were shown on the shoulder straps, and all officers wore varying numbers of stripes of gold lace ¼ inch wide on their sleeves, the line officers wearing a gold star 1 inch in diameter above the top stripe. All officers wore a wreath of oak and olive branches as a cap device; line officers from the rank of commodore down, a silver foul anchor within the wreath, while staff officers wore the device of their corps in the wreath. In effect, both on the shoulder straps and in the cap devices, the anchor was the device of the line, the exception being that a rear admiral wore two silver stars in the center of the wreath of his cap device.
The device of the Engineer Corps was similar to that established in 1861, but somewhat stylized. The device of the Construction Corps was described as "…a sprig, composed of two leaves of live oak in silver…" The wearing of the device on the shoulder straps varies somewhat. A chief of a bureau wore a silver star on the corps device; staff officers with the relative rank of captain had a silver spread eagle standing on the device; while officers of lesser relative rank wore their corps device in the center of the strap with a rank device at either end; silver oak leaves for commanders; gold oak leaves for lieutenant commanders; two gold bars for lieutenants; a single gold bar for masters; and no end devices for ensigns. Staff officers, ranking with midshipmen, did not wear shoulder straps.
Uniform of 1866
The uniform regulations issued after the Civil War on 1 December 1866 reinstated the body coat, cut to the waist in front and with tails, to be worn as part of the full dress uniform for special occasions, and the same regulations restored the epaulets and cocked hats. A common cap device to be worn by all officers except naval constructors, chaplains, and professors of mathematics was approved. This cap device was a silver spread eagle, with the eagle's head turned to the right, standing on an embroidered foul anchor which was in an inclined position. Naval constructors wore as their cap device the corps insignia in a wreath of oak and olive branches. Third assistant engineers who were warrant officers wore their corps device in the wreath.
Rank was indicated on the sleeves by the same arrangement of ¼-inch gold lace stripes as under the 1864 order, except for commodores, who had a single stripe of 2-inch lace, and rear admirals, who wore a stripe of 2-inch lace with a stripe of ¾-inch lace above it. The star was used to indicate line officers, while staff officers omitted the star from above the sleeve lace.
The arrangement of the devices on the epaulets and shoulder straps varied according to rank. Commodores and captains wore their rank devices in the center with a corps device at either end. Officers from commander to ensign wore the corps device in the center with the rank devices at either end, except that the ensigns had no rank devices. The foul anchor served as the corps device for the line. The device of the Engineer Corps was that previously ordered, a cross of four live oak leaves, while that of the naval constructors was modified slightly.
The 1866 regulations authorized a single-breasted sack coat with a row of five medium-sized buttons to be worn as "service dress." Rank and corps were indicated by wearing the devices on the collar on either side, the rank device with the corps insignia behind it. No rank stripes were worn on the sleeves, but line officers wore the star.
A new cap device was prescribed by a General Order of 11 March 1869 for all commissioned officers; a silver shield, with two crossed anchors in gold behind it, surmounted by a silver spread eagle facing right. For naval constructors, this device replaced the wreath with the corps insignia in the center.
By General Order No. 90 of 1 April 1869, the Secretary of the Navy advised that, in accordance with a decision of the Attorney General of 29 March 1869, the portion of the Navy Regulations of 1863 which referred to relative rank was cancelled. The only officers entitled to and given relative rank by Congress were surgeons, paymasters, and engineers, and their relative rank would be in accordance with previous acts of Congress. Naval constructors lost their rank, and fleet engineers and chief engineers with more than 12 years' service were to rank with commanders; chief engineers of less than 12 years', with lieutenants; first assistant engineers, next after lieutenants (actually with masters); second assistants, next after masters and so with ensigns; third assistants, with midshipmen.
This general order was reflected in the uniform regulations approved 14 July 1869, for reduced ranks were shown for staff officers, and naval constructors, who reverted to civilian status, were omitted. Since no officer below the rank or assimilated rank of lieutenant wore shoulder straps, all assistant engineers now wore gold embroidered shoulder loops. Staff officers did not wear the anchor of the line on their loops, so only the rank devices were shown. First assistant engineers wore a silver bar at each end of the pad; second assistants, a single silver bar in the center; third assistants, no device.
Color in Uniform
A major change in these uniform regulations, and one that lasted until 1921, was the assignment to each staff corps of a distinctive color to be worn between the gold lace rank stripes on the sleeves. An officer who was entitled to but one stripe of lace wore the colored cloth of his corps showing 1/4 inch on each side of the gold stripe. The color assigned to engineers was red.
The cap device to be worn by all commissioned officers and midshipmen after graduation was a silver shield with two crossed foul anchors in gold behind it, surmounted by an eagle facing left. This device was quite similar to that worn today, except that now the eagle faces right under a change of 26 April 1941. Sleeve lace arrangement was approximately that used today, except that lieutenant commanders wore two ½-inch stripes; lieutenants, a ½-inch stripe with a ¼-inch stripe above it; masters, a single ½-inch stripe; and ensigns, a ¼-inch stripe.
Congress, by an act of 3 March 1871, reestablished relative rank for certain staff officers. Navy Regulations Circular of 1 December 1871 published the new rank structure, again assigning relative rank to naval constructors. The first ten chief engineers and the first two naval constructors were given the relative rank of captain; the next fifteen chief engineers and the next three naval constructors, of commander; the next forty-five chief engineers and the remainder of the list of naval constructors, lieutenant commander or lieutenant; first assistant engineers and assistant naval constructors, lieutenant or master; and second assistant engineers, master or ensign.
Since the insignia of naval constructors had been omitted for the 1869 uniform regulations, a uniform circular was issued on 21 March 1872, directing naval constructors to wear the same uniform as that of officers of the line with whom they had relative rank, omitting the star from the sleeves and assigning dark violet cloth as the corps distinction. The device of the Construction Corps was a sprig of two live oak leaves and an acorn, embroidered in gold. This was similar to the device first authorized in 1864.
Uniform of 1874
A change in uniform regulations, dated 7 November 1874, changed the sleeve stripes of a lieutenant commander to the two and one-half stripes worn today by this rank and assigned lieutenants two ½-inch stripes. The next change which affected the uniforms of naval constructors and engineers was contained in a uniform circular of 16 January 1877. This change to the uniform instructions of 1876 provided a new service coat for all officers of the Navy, the single-breasted, standing-collar coat that lasted until after World War I. Rank or assimilated rank was shown by means of lustrous black braid stripes on the sleeves in the same arrangement as the gold stripes on the special full-dress and frock coats. However, the star of the line and the colored cloth of the staff corps were omitted. Rank was also shown on the ends of collar by the same devices used on the shoulder straps and epaulets, with the corps devices omitted. As a result, the service coat did not indicate an officer's corps.
The arrangements of lace to indicate rank were changed by a circular of 10 August 1881; masters now wore one and one-half stripes, ensigns a ½-inch stripe, midshipmen, a ¼-inch stripe. General Order No. 305, of 31 March 1883, changed the rank of master to lieutenant, junior grade; and midshipmen, during their 2 years at sea after graduation, were called ensigns, junior grade.
The uniform instructions approved 1 November 1883 directed that corps devices be worn behind the rank insignia on the standing collar of the blue service coat, line officers wearing a silver foul anchor. The device worn by engineers as pictured in the uniform regulations of 1886 is shown in figure 11 [not included], and that of naval constructors in figure 12 [not included]. The arrangement of sleeve lace (black braid, not gold) was the same as that worn today, except for the additional rank of ensign (junior grade), a ¼-inch stripe.
Engineers had been seagoing officers of the Navy from the date they were first employed in 1837 to operate the machinery of theFulton II, but they had not had the pay, rank, or promotional opportunities of officers of the line. The Naval Personnel Act of 3 March 1899 amalgamated engineering officers with the line. Younger officers were permitted to qualify for general line duties, while the more senior and older officers were restricted to shore assignments or responsibilities in their specialty.15 The Engineer Corps passed out of existence, and with it the device of the cross of four live oak leaves.
Although there were changes in the naval uniform and in the wearing of devices, the major change which affected all staff officers was contained in a change in uniform regulations, dated 16 November 1918, effective 1 July 1921. This order eliminated the colored cloth designations of the various staff corps and provided that the corps devices embroidered in gold be worn above the gold rank stripes on the sleeves of blue uniforms and on the shoulder marks worn on the white service coats, mess jackets, and overcoats.
Since 1921, all officers of the Navy have worn the same uniform, rank being indicated by stripes or metal devices and the corps, by means of devices. The device of the Construction Corps, as shown in the uniform regulations approved 20 September 1922, is described as a "…sprig of two live oak leaves, spreading, with an acorn on the stem between the leaves, …embroidered in gold." This is basically the original device worn by constructors.
The reorganization of the Navy Department in 1862 had created three bureaus concerned with shipbuilding and repairs: Steam Engineering; Construction and Repair; and Equipment and Recruiting. In 1889, the handling of enlisted personnel was transferred to the Bureau of Navigation; additional functions of the Bureau of Equipment were transferred to other bureaus. As a result, the Bureau of Equipment was abolished by the Naval Appropriations Act of 30 June 1914. As more and more electrical equipment was installed aboard ship, it became evident that the name of the Bureau of Steam Engineering was not descriptive of its duties, so on 4 June 1920, it became the Bureau of Engineering.16
The Bureau of Ships
The two bureaus having the major responsibility for the design, construction, repair, and maintenance of ships were the Bureau of Construction and Repair, and the Bureau of Engineering. In order to place the responsibility for closely related matters in one location, and in the interest of efficiency, the Bureau of Ships was established by an act of Congress of 20 June 1940, taking over the functions of Construction and Repair, and Engineering. By an act of Congress of 25 June 1940, the Construction Corps was abolished, officers on the active list of the corps being transferred to the line of the Navy as engineering duty officers. Naval constructors on the retired list are still entitled to wear the device of the Construction Corps, whenever the wearing of the uniform by a retired officer is appropriate.
Although the devices of the Engineer and Construction Corps are no longer part of the uniform of the active duty Navy, the part played by officers of these corps in the laying down of the first men-of-war and the development of steam power will always be remembered.
1 Rear Admiral William P. Robert, (CC) USN, History of the Construction Corps of the United States, (Bureau of Construction and Repair, 1937).
2 Ibid., p.2.
3 Ibid., p.6.
4 Ibid., p.7.
5 Frank M. Bennett, Past Assistant Engineer, USN, Steam Navy of the United States (W.T. Nicholson, Pittsburgh, 1896).
6 Ibid., p.16.
7 Ibid., p.17.
8 Ibid., p.19.
9 Ibid., p.711-771.
10 Ibid., p.714.
11 Captain Robert B. Madden, USN, "The Bureau of Ships and Its E.D. Officers," Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, February 1954.
12 Bennett, op. cit., p.727.
13 Madden, op. cit., p.12.
14 Robert, op. cit., p.16.
15 Ibid., p.44.
16 Madden, op. cit., p.11.
Source: Tily, James C. "Uniforms and Insignia: Engineering and Construction Corps United States Navy." Bureau of Ships Journal. 9, no.5 (May 1960): 2-10.
For the Navy history buff, here are some notes on the origins and traditions that grew up around the early enlisted uniform.
The jumper collar: Sailors of old wore their hair braided in a pigtail which was kept stiff with grease or tar. To protect their clothing they wore a piece of cloth tied around their neck. Eventually, this piece of cloth was sewn to the jumper as a collar.
Piping and stars: Piping was first introduced as decoration on the uniform and later used as a way of indicating enlisted rates. The stars on the jumper collar were purely decorative. Before piping and stars became regulation, jumper collars were often ornamented according to personal taste. Fanciful designs appeared in early days. When white tape and stars were used, the style was admired and copied by others, later becoming regulation. Some believe the three stripes were adopted to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson's three great sea victories - Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar - but there is no proof to substantiate this belief.
Neckerchief: Some say that sailors' black neckerchiefs were worn in mourning for Admiral Lord Nelson, but there is nothing to substantiate this story. Actually, it dates back to earlier time. After the collar became attached to the jumper, sailors needed something else to protect the collar from their hair grease and tar. A large handkerchief was used because it was easier to clean than the whole jumper. Some sailors wore a large black handkerchief tied around their necks to catch perspiration. When rules of smartness and appearance were introduced, seamen's hair was cut shorter and the pigtail was no longer possible. The black neckerchief then became decoration to be worn under the collar and secured with a square knot in front.
Bell-bottom trousers: No one knows for sure why sailors first wore this style pants, but there are at least three logical reasons: (1) They are easily removed if one goes overboard; (2) they cover one's boots easily to keep rain and spray from running into them; (3) they are easy to roll up above the knee while scrubbing decks. Also, as we all learned in boot camp, they hold a lot of air if the legs are tied off at the ends, and can be used as an emergency flotation device.
Trouser flap with 13 buttons: Buttoned flaps were probably adopted because they could be opened quickly with one yank to get the pants off if one went overboard. Most take the number of buttons to represent the 13 original colonies, but this has never been proven to be true.
When bell-bottomed trousers were authorized in 1817, they had only seven buttons in front. When the broadfall front was enlarged in 1894, six more buttons were added, making a total of 13. It has been asserted the additions were made for symmetry of design.
The trouser string tie: An old, purely utilitarian device to allow the beltless pants to be adjusted to fit.
Source: "Uniform Traditions." All Hands. 703 (August 1975): 61.
13 February 1932
During Nelson's time the uniform worn by sailors consisted of a short blue jacket, white trousers and a round hat tarred and oiled. Brilliantly colored waistcoats were worn over open-necked shirts of blue or red, or blue with white stripes. This was the seaman's shore-going rig; or at least his best. For work-day purpose, they wore frocks of serge or duck tucked into blue or white trousers, and headgear of wool or fur. The hair was worn in a queue or pigtail, from which practice doubtless originated the wide collar that is so distinctive a feature of the modern bluejacket's uniform
There is a widely held belief that the edging of three narrow stripes of white tape on the bluejacket's collar represents Nelson's three great victories - Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar. In the fitness of things this ought to be so but it is known that in the early sixties of the last century the ship's companies of some ships wore two stripes while others wore four. Earlier still, the decoration of the collar had rested mainly with the captain, who followed his individual fancy.
There is no foundation for the theory that the black silk neckerchief under the collar is worn as perpetual mourning for Nelson's death. A hundred years before Trafalgar it was a common item in the seaman's kit, being bound around the forehead in action, to prevent sweat running into the eyes, like the bandeaux of modern tennis players.
So far as can be ascertained no reason has been found for the two stars on the sailor's jumper. They appear on all uniform jumpers since 1820. The same is true about threads for neckerchiefs.
Source: United States. Bureau of Navigation. "Uniforms."Bulletin. 13 February 1932.
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
Washington, D.C. 20350
OPNAV INFORMATION BULLETIN
11 May 1981
HISTORY OF U.S. NAVY [ENLISTED] UNIFORMS
The history of the development of the naval uniform traces the uniforms through significant changes from 1776 to 1977. These changes are related to naval history in order that the reader can match uniform development with changes in the Navy itself. The study has been compiled utilizing research data available in the Washington area. Uniform Regulations, provided by the Navy Department Library have been reviewed. The historical, personal and official correspondence regarding uniforms on file at the National Archives has been researched. Information has been obtained from Navy Uniform Board historical directives and selected commercial histories of Navy uniforms. A bibliography is included at the completion of the History Section.
In any historical narrative of Navy uniforms the dichotomy between officer and enlisted dress requires separate treatment of the evolutionary developments of these traditionally distinctive modes of dress. Officer and enlisted have historically been, for the most part, comprised of individuals from separate social, educational and economic classes. Their garb has reflected these differences, as well as conforming to the type of duties each group was expected to perform.
The following index separates uniform development into cogent periods of time in which definite clothing prescriptions evolved as a result of distinct historical influences:
1. The First Uniforms; Revolutionary War to 1812
2. Limited Uniform Development; 1812 to 1841
3. Early Uniform Standardization; 1841 to the Civil War
4. A Major Influence on Uniforms; The Civil War (1861-1865)
5. Technical Expansion Influencing Uniforms; Post Civil War to 1894
6. World-wide Navy Influences Uniforms; 1894-WWI
7. Women in the Navy; WWI
9. The Decision to Change; 1970's
1. The First Uniforms; Revolutionary War to 1798
2. Early Uniform Prescriptions; 1798-1830
3. Initial Uniform Standardization; 1830 to Civil War
4. Major Influence on Uniforms; The Civil War
5. Technical Expansion Effects Uniforms; Civil War to 1897
6. Development of Work Uniforms; 1900 to WWI
7. Modernization of Uniforms to Environment; WWI to WWII
8. Expansion of Uniform Types; WWII
9. Re-evaluation of Uniform Items; Post WWII to Present
*The Officer version on the "History of U.S. Navy Uniforms" will be in the June OPNAV Bulletin.
The enlisted man's uniform was developed largely as a product of his surroundings, both geographically and technically. Unlike the officer's uniform which began as a reflection of his social status and evolved into one reflecting his environment, his garb reflected practicality and was devoid of superfluity. Each item originally represented either a need for protection against the elements or to create distinctions among specialists in a growing Navy. Throughout, a simplicity was sought which would not interfere with the sailors' everyday tasks.
1. The First Uniforms; Revolutionary War to 1812
The military seaman of the 18th century was hardly a volunteer of high integrity. In the Royal Navy he was an impressed prisoner, a former inhabitant of merchantmen or waterfront bars and bordellos. His lot was considered less than human, and, in accordance with naval tactics of that age, he was used as cannon fodder in savage sea battles. Consequently, there was a high turnover in personnel, due not only to occupational risks, but also to large scale desertions to escape the horrid environmental conditions. Therefore, little effort was taken to properly clothe the seaman in anything resembling a uniform. It was considered a superfluous expense as the bulk of sailors did not have a long operational existence.
The American Revolutionary sailor fared little better. He participated in a Navy that was built from scratch. Meager funds and the scarcityof a manufacturing complex concentrated attention on procuring ships and ammunition. There was no money for uniforms. The peak strength of the Continental Navy during these times consisted of about 30 ships and 3,000 men. (Most sailors, on the other hand, preferred the life of the privateer. It was lucrative and appealing enough to attract over 2,000 ships). Thus, naval uniforms under these parsimonious conditions were non-descript, consisting of pantaloons often tied at the knee or knee breeches, a jumper or shirt, neckerchief, short waisted jacket and low crowned hats. The short trousers were practical so as not to interfere with a man's work in the rigging of his ship. Most sailors went barefoot. A kerchief or bandana was worn either as a sweat band or as a simple closure for the collar. Unfortunately there are no records that support the persistent myth that the black kerchief represents a sign of mourning for Nelson's demise. The sailor's kerchief predates his death by hundreds of years and evolved as a functional piece of garb. Nelsonian legends had nothing to do with accoutrements which developed out of necessity, rank identification or fashion embellishments.
The end of the Revolution brought about not only the close of the strife but the demise of the Navy as well. For almost 20 years, there was no Navy. It was not until 1797 that the service was reinstituted, as the fledgling republic realized the need for a Navy to protect its political and commercial interests. The Adams administration tried to create a volunteer Navy by offering high wages, plentiful food and decent accommodations. Attention was also given to uniforms and government procured clothing was made available in "slop shops". But descriptions are vague as many sailors continued to make their own non-standard clothing and the Adams administration was in power for only one term, scarcely long enough to create a standardized uniform.
In 1801 Jefferson came to power and embarked upon a policy of military cutbacks. The fleet was limited to 14 ships with commensurate reductions in funding and personnel. Again, due to cheeseparing economics, uniform development for enlisted received a low priority and subsequently suffered in non-descript, homemade garments. Not even the Barbary Coast in the early 1800's caused the nation to concentrate importance on naval matters and the Navy largely became a coastal array of single-gun barges.
2. Limited Uniform Development; War of 1812 to 1841
The War of 1812 caught America in a dilapidated state of military readiness. However, the courage and tenacity of the Navy was impressive and their victories, especially in view of the massive land defeats, caused a new surge of pride in naval matters. There was little overall progress on uniforms during the war due to the haste in which crews were assembled and lack of adequate funding. However, the postwar years saw a resurgence of interest in naval matters and the government began to pay more of an interest in its development. Not only had the Navy earned a fine reputation but it was beginning to build a cadre of professionals both officer and enlisted who elected to remain in service. These positive feelings resulted in the first attempt at a prescribed uniform in 1817. Through government procurement, winter and summer uniforms were provided. The winter uniform consisted of a blue jacket and trousers, red vest with yellow buttons and a black hat.
As a result of wartime operations in tropical waters and spurred by increased relations with South America, the formerly cold water Navy prescribed appropriate warm weather gear consisting of a white duck outfit with a black varnished hat.
At this time bell bottoms began to appear. There is no substantive factual reason for their adoption, i.e., easier to roll up or kick off in the water, but rather appear to be a tailored version of the pantaloon, designed for a bit of flair which set the sailor apart from his civilian counterpart. However, as federal funding began to ebb, enlisted dress was rarely standardized or enforced and sailors added their own accoutrements, such as buttons and striping as they wished.
During the 1820's and 1830's the maritime trade expanded greatly to the Far East and with it came demands for naval protection. The Navy was occupied with full time support missions, and not merely sudden mobilization in times of war. In time, this operational activity would precipitate progressive definition in enlisted dress to meet various demands encountered by a maturing Navy.
3. Early Uniform Standardization; 1841 to the Civil War
Continuation and expansion of naval operations and the Navy's growth finally prodded activity towards a definitive uniform. The growing ranks of enlisteds created a need for a means of distinguishing senior and capable sailors. At the same time, showing the flag was creating a need for uniformity through the many ships.
The regulations of 1841 not only set forth the first description of an enlisted uniform, but also the first grooming regulations. [also see Articles 600 and 601 in the 1833 edition]. The uniform was a blue woolen frock with white collars and cuffs, blue trousers, blue vests, black handkerchiefs and hat, and shoes. In warmer weather a white jumper, black or white hat (at the captain's discretion), black handkerchief and shoes. The collars and breasts of the frock coats were lined in blue. For the first time commanding officers were required to insure personnel had the prescribed clothing. The grooming regulations for all hands specified that hair and beards must be kept short, except whiskers might descend to one inch below the ear and in line with corners of the mouth. Thus the basis for "mutton chop" whiskers so prevalent in paintings of the period. The regulations of 1841 also provided another "first" for enlisted, a distinctive mark for petty officers. The device consisted of an eagle atop an anchor, which was a common theme in the early American maritime history, not more than three inches high with a star above the eagle. It also specified that the insignia was to be blue on a white uniform and white on blue uniforms. The eagle was probably chosen for several reasons. As the national symbol, the eagle first appeared on the national seal in 1782 and was displayed on officers buttons positioned over an anchor since 1802. It was a prevalent design on Army uniforms and was a common insignia during the 1840's. Thus it can be assumed that the frequent usage during the early years of the nation made the eagle the most logical choice in the Navy. Also the use of the eagle on officers buttons might have influenced its adoption on petty officer insignias. Although there were no specialty marks, distinction of ratings was accomplished by delineating on which arm the device was to be worn, and it created the "left arm", "right arm" ratings which continued for over one hundred years. It was an important step in distinguishing between petty officers and junior enlisted, thus enhancing and recognizing the career personnel among their peers and superiors.
During this period, paintings revealed that sailors began to use stars and piping on their collars. Although the three strands of collar piping were not standardized until much later, piping began as an embellishment to break up the color of the uniform. Again the legend of the three collar rows to commemorate Nelson's sea victories is a myth and has no basis of fact in any learned history of uniforms. It evolved merely as a decorative device and much later served to distinguish between rates.
Activity in the Gulf of Mexico and the ensuing Mexican War of 1846 with its blockades and amphibious operations changed various accoutrements of naval garb for comfort and practicality. The acquisition of California and the creation of a standing Pacific fleet produced additional demands for modifying the uniforms. In the regulations of 1852, a new hat was authorized for sea which was made of thick blue material and visorless. This forerunner of the flat hat was deemed more appropriate in windy weather, gave a better appearance and was more comfortable than the varnished black hats which suffered from cracking and crushing in cramped stowage. It could be transformed into summer wear by the addition of a white cover to help reflect heat, which was thought at the time to be a chief cause of tropical diseases. As shipboard mechanization increased, the practical considerations of maintaining a neat appearance within a work environment resulted in the deletion of white decorative cuffs and collars from the blue uniform in 1859. The sailor was now in a winter uniform of basically all blue which was much less susceptible to soilage.
4. A Major Influence on Uniforms; The Civil War
The Civil War, as with officer's clothing, increased standardization in enlisted clothing and created the beginnings of rate and specialty distinction. The dramatic growth of naval personnel and ships necessitated further distinctions in uniform appearance. In 1862, master-at-arms, yeoman, stewards and paymaster stewards, who were important and valuable leading petty officers, were authorized the wear of the double breasted officer type coat. This move to clothe principal petty officers in a more authoritarian garment was the first step towards the identification of future chief petty officers. Other enlisted dress was standardized into a style which was representative of the jumper/bell bottom uniform. It was practical, easy to work in, resisted soilage and provided protection against the elements. The jumper collar had changed from a roll collar to a flap and was standardized and extended to 6 ½ inches. This was probably to differentiate between the rolled collar of masters and senior petty officer coats. The British had developed a similar collar and as the main maritime power their uniforms were often emulated. The kerchief appears to have been used as a closure device, from the photographs that are available of the period. White and blue flat hats were worn and the trousers had either a fly front or seven button broadfall depending upon manufacturers. The scope of wartime procurement permitted many small deviations from a standard appearance and a government fighting for its survival was not about to argue details.
When peace finally came the Navy began to sort out its experiences and apply them to uniform development. The rapid growth of personnel showed that a system for rank identification was needed among all enlisteds. In the Regulations of 1866 a specialty mark was adopted for petty officers in master-at-arms, quartermaster, coxswain, gunners, carpenters, captain of the foc'sle, captain of the top and sailmaker ratings. White piping on the collar was standardized to distinguish petty officers (three rows), ordinary seaman (two rows) and landsmen and boys (one row). Corresponding rows were displayed on the cuffs. White stars were standardized on the collar. The collar was extended to 9" to accommodate these additions and remained that size until 1973.
Now that the business of war was over and the Navy shrunk in size, attention was directed to reducing the annoying proliferation of garment shapes and styles that had run rampant during the Civil War years. The years of blockades in warm climates also caused concern over clothing comfort.
The 1866 Regulations allowed a white sennet straw hat in addition to the white cover which was tied to the blue flat hat. It was found that the addition of a white cover did not provide coolness but rather added to the discomfort of the woolen hat in warm weather. This was the beginnings of a distinct white hat which would evolve through canvas and eventually the white cotton hat of recent times. To provide unit identification, which was so difficult in the myriad of ships that were commissioned, a hat ribbon specified to be 1 ¼" wide with the command's name in letter was prescribed. Commanding officers were required to insure that all lettering was the same size on all hats. Standardization was also carried through in size dimensions of the white hat and the mandate that all blue flat hats be uniform in shape and color.
The Civil War also brought about the Navy's entry into the steam age and its associated machinery and weaponry. New demands were placed upon the service not only to train a distinct group of men to handle these new devices, but also to provide suitable clothing for this new type of dirty work which could be easily washed on board ships. In 1869, two new ratings were authorized, the machinist and seaman gunner. In order to protect clothing from the dirty, sooty spaces, an overall and white jumper was authorized as a work uniform. White was chosen as dyeing of fabrics for mass production was often crude and was not very durable. Therefore a fabric which could be laundered easily without running was utilized. Appearance was restricted to work spaces where exposure was limited and considered secondary to utility. Also white was considered the best reflector for heat in engine room spaces at that time.
5. Technical Expansion Influencing Uniforms; Post Civil War to 1894
In the early 1870's, Secretary of the Navy Robeson called attention to the antiquated condition of the Navy compared to Europe. U.S. inability to keep abreast of foreign navies prompted a modernization program in which the Navy desperately tried to close the gap with up-to-date ships.
As the Navy further expanded, the importance of specialized leading petty officers became more pronounced and, as their skills increased, they became more identified with the management communities. A sailor was becoming more than just a body to handle lines or scramble around rigging. He was entering an age where a good level of education was needed to function in an increasingly complex Navy. Thus, as he was becoming a technician in both mechanical and logistical areas, a revision of uniform regulations in 1874 further modified the dress of principal petty officers to emulate that of commissioned officers. Senior petty officers of various ratings, now greatly increased from previous directives, were authorized to wear the sack coat with rating insignia on both sleeves.
The difficulties of adding piping by hand to collars by sailors onboard ships was realized, and in 1876 the white tape on the collar was standardized to three rows for all enlisted wearing the jumper, with rank to be determined by the petty officer insignia and cuff stripes.
Continuing troubles, primarily with Spain over Cuba, and Korean incidents over the next decade, helped to keep alive the country's concern about its relative naval weakness. The reconstruction of the Navy received favorable appropriations during President Garfield's term beginning in 1881. South American internal strife had shown that these small republics possessed better navies than the United States. Operations of the French de Lesseps Company in Panama threatened to put an Isthmian canal under European control. The United States had already acquired some territorial interests in the Pacific. Most important of all, the strong financial condition of the country made payment for a naval building program painless. Emphasis was placed on steam powered vessels with modern armament and shore establishments were consolidated and placed under the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing (eventually NAVSUP). This growth of ships and personnel in modern vessels required distinctions among personnel not previously necessary. In 1885 the first separation occurred among petty officers into principal, first, second and third class. The Regulations of 1886 provided a set of rating badges for each group. First class had three red downward pointing chevrons, in the manner of the Royal Navy, topped by an eagle with specialty mark imposed on a red lozenge between the chevrons and eagle. Principal petty officers wore the same except an arch was added to the top chevron, the same basic design as CPO's today. Second class had the same three chevrons as the first class but without the lozenge, and third class had two chevrons and no lozenge. Also in 1886, principal petty officers were directed to wear double breasted blue coats and a white sack coat in summer. Visored hats were worn. Other petty officers continued to wear the jumper and bell bottoms. The peacoat as we know it came into use about this time for foul weather use. It was warm and its shortness made it more practical for movement than a greatcoat. The white "sailor hat" appeared during this time as a low rolled brim, high domed item made of canvas to replace the white sennit straw hat. The canvas hat was easier to wear, could be washed and thus presented a neater appearance. By being built of wedges it was easy and cheap to construct, and its distinctive shape differentiated the American sailor from that period on.
6. World-wide Navy Influences Uniforms: 1894-WWI
Continuing expansion of the Navy brought about by the acceptance of then Captain Alfred Mahans' theories of seapower saw the construction of battle fleets not only to ward off the enemy, but to create havoc on his coasts. The increased responsibilities and diversity of specialized skills made it impossible for officers to handle all the supervisory and management tasks necessary in a modern warship. Nor were there enough warrants to handle the job. Therefore a finer and more permanent distinction among petty officers would have to be made in creating a class of supervisory personnel among enlisteds.
This differentiation between principal and regular petty officers of the first class rate came in the regulations of 1894 when the rank of chief petty officer was established. This new rate utilized the former principal petty officer badge with three red chevrons joined by an arch at the top and spread eagle above. The other devices were reorganized corresponding exactly to present day classifications.
With the new modern Navy, length of service was considered a source of pride among sailors and service stripes were introduced during this year, being similar to the Army in concept but distinctly nautical in appearance. They have remained basically unchanged to this day.
The Regulations of 1894 also printed the first specifications for uniforms by size. Previous to this, specifications were maintained either by the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing for manufacturers or Paymasters onboard ships for sailors who wished to make their own clothes, and there are no records available of these previous dimensions. However, it is interesting to note that the uniform specifications, except for the length of the jumper, did not drastically change from 1894 through 1973. Garments were originally loose fitting since the cloth shrunk greatly when washed. The trousers were moderately flared, there being a one inch increase in width between the knee and cuff, not truly a "bell bottom" as is so popularly recalled.
Since 1886 principal petty officers and then chief petty officers wore a bronze disk on their caps comprised of a spread eagle perched on a horizontal anchor. Since officers wore the same coats and utilized black braid rather than gold there was much confusion. Therefore, a need arose to provide a distinctive cap device for chief petty officers which would not utilize the eagle which was considered the symbol of officers' rank.
1897 saw the incorporation of a chief's cap device similar to the present design, a gilt fouled anchor with U.S.N. in silver.
If any single event could be selected to mark the emergence of the United States as a major power, perhaps no better choice could be made than the Spanish American War of 1898. This brief, one sided conflict involved the United States in the complex problems of the Far East and served notice to Europe that henceforth American military power would have to be considered. For the Americans themselves it marked a turning point toward greater participation in world affairs and a more adventurous foreign policy.
The operational experience of the Navy in this first major war since 1865 brought about some refinements and additions to enlisted clothing. As the war was fought primarily in tropical climates, some modifications for comforts sake were made by enlarging the broadfall on enlisted trousers in 1897. This necessitated increasing the number of buttons to eleven.
A further increase in depth of the flap sides would add two buttons for a total of thirteen. Although myth prevails that the number of buttons represented the original colonies, thirteen buttons happened to be the final number that provided adequate closure on the enlarged fall.
The Navy Uniform Board received various complaints about the shape and durability of the sailors white hat, which was worn so frequently in these hot climates. The brim in particular was found to droop and cause an unsightly appearance. The resultant corrective actions caused more stitching to be placed in the brim which caused the sides to be stiffer and stand upright. This practice of reinforced stitching continued to evolve the hat into the shape known until the hat was discontinued in 1975.
As the fleet increased its steaming time, a more suitable work garment was needed. Although white had been worn since 1869, sailing in tropical waters precluded the luxury of frequent laundering as a waste of precious water. Thus, the regulations of 1901 authorized the first use of denim jumpers and trousers to be utilized as a working uniform in areas which would normally soil blue or white uniforms. The 1913 regulations permitted the dungaree outfit to be used by both officers and enlisted men as a complete outfit, replete with the hat of the day. In general its use was limited to submarine, engine room, gun turret, and machinery space personnel.
An undress white uniform had existed since 1866. However, it was not until 1913 that an undress blue uniform appeared since piping was added to the blue uniform after the Civil War.
The Post Spanish American War period was most favorable to naval appropriations under the influence of President Roosevelt. By the time Wilson assumed power, unrest in Europe dispelled any efforts to reduce military might to any large degree.
7. World War I; Women in the Navy
When Europe exploded into War in 1914 its importance was not lost on the United States. Although Americans wanted to remain free of foreign entanglements, some preparations were considered prudent.
The mobilization of 1917 for the impending war brought about a new element into enlisted uniforms - women. Females were organized into reserve groups and a uniform which paralleled civilian fashion was designed. It is interesting to note that while the male enlisted uniform was distinctly nautical and evolved in relation to maritime needs, female enlisted clothing more closely followed civilian trends.
The first enlisted women's uniform was a single breasted coat, blue in winter and white in summer, long full bottomed skirts and a straight-brimmed sailor hat, blue felt in winter and white straw for warm weather. Black shoes and stockings were worn with summer whites. Rating badges were the same as male yeomen. Some pictures of the period show the neckerchief being utilized to provide some identity with the men.
Upon cessation of hostilities and its resultant scaling down of military activities, all women except for nurses, were released from active duty.
It was not until the advent of World War II, that a new WAVE uniform was designed and continues to the present day. Details of this uniform are the same as for women officers and are defined in the subsequent officer section.
The male enlisted uniform came through World War I unchanged. It may be surmised that since there was no modification or change, that it was felt the sailor had all he needed to function. This trend continued through the twenties and thirties.
8. World War II
The mobilization for and sudden entry of the U.S. into WWII had no major impact on Navy dress uniform styles. The millions of citizen sailors wore the same uniform popularized in the twenties and thirties. The expansion of the Navy into amphibious warfare required a Marine type working uniform for boat crews and SeaBees. Specialized clothing was required for carrier personnel. But for the majority the bell bottom, and jumper remained unchanged.
In October of 1940 the blue collar and cuffs were deleted from the dress whites as there were continuing problems with the blue dye running. This change left the sailor with dress and undress blues and undress whites which could fill the functions of dress as well.
January of 1941 saw the passing of another old tradition with the abolishment of the hat band ribbon which bore the unit's name on the flat hat. Security appears to be the factor for its demise and it was eventually replaced by the shoulder unit identification mark. This practice continued until July 1973, when it was discontinued as damaging to the suit material and construction.
The aftermath of World War II reinstated the trend of refining the sailor's uniform succeeding a military conflict. An attempt in 1947 to clothe sailors in a suit and tie met with fleet rejection.
In large part due to the rapid acceleration of personnel through the wartime rate structure, it became obvious that rating badges and added piping to denote rank was repetitious. Therefore, in 1947, cuff piping was standardized at three rows for all hands. The Uniform Regulations of 1949 abolished the left/right arm ratings. With the largest standing Navy in the world, there was confusion due to the non-uniform appearance of personnel in different ratings. The tremendous expansion of wartime ratings made determination of which arm the rating belonged to a full time nightmare. It was decided that henceforth all enlisted would wear their badges on the left arm.
The uniform continued through the fifties without change and the Korean conflict appears to have had no effect on enlisted garment development.
In 1962 the flat hat ceased issue. It had been supplanted by the more popular white hat and since there appeared no need for two hats it was abolished.
9. The Decision to Change - 1970's
In 1973 the most sweeping change in the history of enlisted dress occurred. Based on a survey conducted in 1970 it appeared that there was some fleet desire, principally among the more senior petty officers, for a different, more distinguished garb. Based on these findings, the sailor was removed from his traditional uniform and placed in a suit and tie which corresponded to the officer/CPO style. The intention was to create a single uniformed appearance and present the enlisted male in a uniform which was thought to better reflect the increasing complexity of the modern Navy.
The action to utilize a suit style for all enlisted has been one of the most controversial changes to effect the Navy in its uniform history. From a practical standpoint, the adoption of a different uniform for dress wear was not the result of a requirement. The jumper/bell bottom style had evolved in a work environment where each piece of the garment originally satisfied a need. With the absence of fully rigged sailing ships and the advent of more comfortable work uniforms, what a sailor wears for dress occasions is now a matter of style.
The most obvious impasse to acceptance of the suit and its outfit to the enlisted and general public is that it breaks with tradition. While the components of the jumper style uniform serve no nautical purpose today and are not related to anything worn in the civilian world, it has served to identify sailors all over the globe for too long a period of time. Most navies of the world have utilized a similar outfit and most still retain it for non-rated personnel. Throughout the course of uniform history there has continued a strong resistance to changing traditional garments. Sailors prefer to be distinctively dressed. It was the same in 1830 as it is in 1977.
Source: United States. Chief of Naval Operations. "History of U.S. Navy [Enlisted] Uniforms." OPNAV [Office of the Chief of Naval Operations] Information Bulletin. 11 May 1981.