Previously referred to as “the Great War,” World War I was easily one of the most dramatic, world-changing events in human history. WWI played a large role in the evolution of social concepts like patriotism and national morale, and the uniforms soldiers wore throughout the event were part of that.
Standardized uniforms helped reinforce key military values like discipline, group pride, and loyalty, both on and off the battlefield. Practical concerns like comfort, mobility, utility, and climate suitability were also key considerations in WWI uniform design. Here’s a closer look at how key participants approached things.
Prior to 1902, Great Britain had been famous for its distinctive, brilliant red uniforms. But it made the switch to a more practical khaki that was still in use by 1914 when World War I broke out. The British uniform further featured two large breast pockets and two side pockets with rank badges displayed across the upper arm.
The approach to military uniforms was less consistent across the board in Russia, as the nation still had over 1,000 different approaches in use in 1914. Cossacks had their own very distinctive uniform that helped them stand out from the rest of the Russian military force, but most Russian soldiers wore a dark khaki-colored uniform with four pockets and shoulder boards
Japanese uniforms throughout WWI ranged between khaki and olive drab in color. They had distinctive stand-up collars and four pockets. Soldiers also wore either a standard military field cap or a peaked alternative plus leather boots.
As with Great Britain, the United States military made the switch to standardized olive drab uniforms prior to the start of World War I. (The decision was an attempt to duplicate how effective they were during the Spanish-American War.) The camouflage many people associate with the United States military would also make an initial appearance during WWI.
Despite warnings that it should do differently, France was actually one of the few countries to retain its prior uniforms going into World War I – bright blue tunics paired with equally bright red pants. However, catastrophic French losses due to high visibility led to a switch halfway through the war.
As is the case today, a country’s choices as to its standardized military uniforms before and during World War I often combined concerns about practicality and utility with the desire to express national pride.
|Khaki or olive drab
Tunic with four pockets and a stand-up collar. Puttees and leather boots. Peaked cap or field cap.
|Khaki or green (for infantry), dark green (for cavalry and artillery)
Tunic with shoulder boards and four pockets. Cossack-style hat (papakha) or fur cap (ushanka).
|Khaki or gray-green
Tunic with four pockets and a stand-up collar. Red fez or kepi cap.
Tunic with large breast pockets and two side pockets. Rank badges on upper arm.
Tunic with four pockets and a stand-up collar. Slouch hat with one side turned up.
Tunic with four pockets and a stand-up collar. Spiked helmet (pickelhaube) replaced by steel helmet ...
Tunic with four pockets and a stand-up collar. Black boots and helmets.
|Blue-gray or khaki
Tunic with four pockets and a stand-up collar. Red trousers for officers. Peaked cap or shajkacha ha...
|Blue and red (until 1915), then blue-gray
Bright blue tunics and red trousers, changed to “horizon blue” in 1915.