pictorial history of us navy uniforms

A Complete Pictorial History Of US Navy Uniforms From 1776 To 1967

Follow this article to find out the pictorial history of US Navy uniforms from 1776 to 1976 and beneficial information about US Navy uniforms as well!

March 9, 2022

Since 1776, the Navy uniforms through the years has undergone numerous changes. This article will provide you with a pictorial history of US Navy uniforms from 1776 to 1967, as well as other useful information about US Navy uniform history.

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Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1776-1783

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1776-1783

When the American Revolution outbroke in 1775, there were no warships available for the revolting colonists to use, but Americans had a lot of experience in maritime issues. Much of the British trade had been carried in American bottoms, and North Americans had made up a substantial number of the seamen in the Royal Navy. Despite the fact that no ship larger than a frigate had ever been built in the colonies, commerce raiders carrying the new country’s flag were soon on the high seas. In order to safeguard the shores and shipping from the British, various states established navies, usually small vessels, and issued letters of marque to privateers.

In 1775, as Commander-in-Chief of American forces in Boston, George Washington launched the first attempt to place a Continental naval force afloat. Small rented vessels commanded by New England seamen from Washington’s army made some crucial captures of badly needed military supplies. Recognizing the necessity for a naval force, on 5 October 1775, Congress established a Naval Committee to manage all seaborne military activities and authorized the procurement of four ships to be employed against the British in the same month.

Congress authorized the construction of thirteen frigates, ranging from 24 to 32 guns, by a Resolution of December 13, 1775. The combination of the Continental Navy, the privateers, and the State forces caused significant injury to the British war effort and shipping, not just in North American waters but also near the British Isles although the new republic’s naval power was never enormous. The loss to British commerce has been estimated at $90 million and many valuable goods were diverted to American use.

The Naval Committee, generally known as the Marine Committee, was in charge of not just the procurement of ships but also all other responsibilities related to forces afloat. On September 5, 1776, a uniform instruction was issued with the following uniform provision:

  • Captains: Blue cloth, with red lapels, stand-up collar, slash cuff, flat yellow buttons, red waistcoat, with narrow lace, blue breeches.
  • Lieutenants: Blue cloth with red lapels, round cuff, faced with red, standup collar, yellow buttons, red waistcoat, plain and blue breeches.
  • Masters: Blue cloth with lappels, round cuff, red waistcoats, and blue breeches.
  • Midshipmen: Blue lapelled coat, round cuff faced with red, stand-up collar, red at the button and buttonhole, red waistcoat, and breeches.

There is no provision was made for epaulets despite the fact that the same order directed that on the right shoulder of Marine Corps officers’ white-faced, green coats, they wear a silver epaulet. In addition, there is no instructions were issued for the dress of petty seamen or officers. While the Navy prescribed a uniform, many officers wore anything they could get their hands on due to material shortages and did not always follow official instructions. Of course, this was also true of the dress of the Continental Army, for both officers and file and the rank.

The blue and red uniform mandated by Congress evidently was not to the liking of all officers, as a group of captains, including John Paul Jones, convened in Boston in 1777 to discuss a new uniform. The uniform chosen was quite similar to that of the Royal Navy. According to British captains’ reports of contacts with Continental men-of-war, said that it was often difficult to discern between friend and foe when it came to the outfit of American officers.

Under the unofficial agreement, captains wear blue coats, lined and faced with white and adorned with gold lace or embroidery. The upper part of the lapel to the button on the shoulder was considered a British touch. An epaulet was to be worn on the right shoulder of a captain. A white waistcoat and breeches were to be worn with the blue coat. 

Lieutenants wore captains’ uniforms with no lace or embroidery, and no epaulet.

Masters and midshipmen wore the same uniform as lieutenants with no white lapel facings and with turndown collars instead of stand-up collars.

In the paintings on the left, the captain and lieutenant are dressed in the uniform approved by Congress: blue coats, faced red, with red vests and blue breeches. The captain shows a modification of the Congressional directive by wearing the red patch at the collar’s button and buttonhole, as specified for midshipmen.

There are contemporary portraits of Continental Navy officers that indicate how the official instructions were interpreted by various officers. The official coat with red collar patches is shown in a painting of Commodore Abraham Whipple by Edward Savage. The collar patches and solitary epaulet are also shown in C. W. Peale’s portrait of Captain Joshua Barney. Nicholas Biddle and William Stone are shown in Peale’s portraits wearing the uniform as prescribed by the official order. John Paul Jones is depicted in his paintings in several uniforms, including the official red and blue dress the blue and white unofficial uniform, with no epaulet and with one or two epaulets.

Captain John Paul Jones and one of his midshipmen are the officers shown in the blue and white uniform “adopted” in 1777. It’s worth noting that Jones is displaying two epaulets, as he was shown in contemporary paintings and busts that were done in France. Jones probably added the second epaulet, as a “commodore” in charge of a squadron of ships, to indicate his rank as that above a captain. 

After having dinner with Jones in Lorient, John Adams wrote in his diary on May 13, 1779, “…You see the Character of the Man in his dress, and that of his Marines and officers—variant from the Uniforms set by Congress. For himself, golden button holes—two Epaulets—Marines in red and white instead of green…”

The marines wore their mandated uniform, which consisted of a red coat, breeches, and white waistcoat since they were French. Actually, at this time, the Americans working under Jones were in the minority for the crews included soldiers from a variety of countries, some  East Indians and British.

There was a degree of uniformity in the dress of men although it would be several years before the enlisted men’s dress would be covered by uniform instructions in either the British or American Navies. A typical costume had developed in the navies and merchant services, consisting of a shirt, waistcoat, short jacket, petticoat breeches or long full pants, brimmed, flat-topped hats, and neckerchiefs. The seaman behind Captain Jones is wearing this dress.

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Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1797


On August 24, 1797, Secretary of War, James McHenry issued the first uniform instruction for the United States Navy in order to provide the officers with a distinctive dress. These officers are those who would command the Federal Navy’s first ships. There were no warships of the Revolution still in service when the Federal Government was formed in 1789. Internal issues and the preservation of the western frontiers were the immediate concerns. When the War Department was created in August 1789, the Secretary was directed to perform all functions relative to both the land force and naval forces.

Conditions soon changed, shortly after the Revolution ended, American ships were once again sailing the high seas, as when they carried a substantial amount of British trade before 1775. One thing was missing now: the British flag’s protection, backed up by the Royal Navy! Long held in check by the British Navy, the Barbary Powers were considered American shipping fair game, seizing ships, and enslaving crews.

The new government believed that it would be difficult to fund a navy, maintain internal order and sustain an army to protect the frontiers although the need for some force afloat to protect American commerce was recognized. As the situation worsened, Congress took the first move toward providing Naval Armament in March 1794. The Act contained a proviso that no ships would be built unless peace was reached with Algiers, the most aggressive of the Barbary Powers.

The Act established the rank, allowances, and pay of officers as well as made provision for six frigates. Provision was made for three classes of non-combatant or civil officers (today’s staff officers)— chaplains, surgeons, and pursers (Supply Officers).

The peace treaty with Algiers was signed before any substantial progress in building the frigates had been made. Three ships whose construction was well underway were allowed to be completed by Congress. The US needed to have a floating force because of trouble with the other Barbary States, who didn’t appreciate Algiers’ tribute and attacks by privateers of the nascent French Republic. The manning of the three frigates approaching completion, the Constitution, United States, and Constellation, was approved by Congress in 1797.

Although Secretary McHenry’s letter of August 24, 1797, forwarding the uniform instructions to Captain John Barry, the Senior Captain of the Navy, stated that the purpose of the order was to ensure a perfect uniformity of dress, the instruction did not provide a uniform in the modern sense of the term, that is, the clothing of one basic pattern with devices to indicate specialties and rank. The color or the cut of the coat indicated rank and corps, instead.

The uniform was not the red and blue one that the Continental Congress specified in 1776 or the more elaborate white and blue one that certain officers adopted in 1777 but was a blue and buff uniform similar to that the Army wore in 1797 and reminiscent of the American Revolution. 

As is shown in the painting, a coat of caption had long buff lapels with nine buttons on each, whereas the coat of lieutenant had short lapels with six buttons on them and three buttons below the right lapel with three buttonholes on the left.

A captain wore two epaulets, but the only other commissioned combatant officer, a lieutenant, wore only one epaulet on the right shoulder. The use of four buttons on the cuffs, at the vest pockets, and at the pocket flaps was another indicator of a captain’s rank. There were only three buttons on a lieutenant’s pockets and cuffs, and none on the vest’s pockets. The United States Navy used this method of indicating rank by button for many years.

Sailing masters and midshipmen, both warrant officers were the other seagoing officers who could command at sea in an emergency. The coat of a master was similar to the coat of a captain, but with blue lapels and buff edges. The coat of midshipmen differed from that of their superiors, that is, plain frock coat of blue, edged and lined with buff, without lapels, plain buff cuffs, and a standing collar of buff. Except for sailing masters who wore blue, all combatant officers wore buff rests and breeches.

Only doctors, surgeon’s mates, and chaplains were commissioned as non-combatant officers in 1797. A chaplain was not required to wear a uniform, thus he dressed in the usual civilian garb of his faith. Chaplains would have to wait years before they could wear a uniform that indicated they were a part of the Naval Establishment.

The order made it plain that surgeons were not Line officers in prescribing their clothing. A surgeon’s coat was of green fabric with a black velvet collar, cuffs, and lapels, while it was cut like a captain’s one. The pants were green and the double-breasted vest was red. A surgeon, however, did have two rows of nine buttons on the lapels, with a few exceptions, a practice which would indicate the commissioned position for many years.

Surgeon’s mates were ordered to wear a coat like that of lieutenants but green with black facings. Surgeon’s mates were required to wear a coat like lieutenants’ one but green with black facings. In 1979, pursers, and warrant officers wore the same blue and buff as combatant officers, but their coats were of the plain frock variety with no lapels. Despite the civilian style of the purser’s coat, the blue and buff indicated military status.

Except that all officers were to wear cocked hats, captains, and lieutenants were to be lace-trimmed in full dress, the order did not define an undress uniform. As shown, in full dress, midshipmen wore cocked hats, while in undress, they wore the round hat of the period.

Clothing for petty officers and seamen was not mentioned in the 1797 order. It would not be until 1841 that enlisted people would be covered by an official uniform instruction. However, there was a degree of uniformity, for the usual dress of seamen including a shirt, vest, long pants, short jacket, and a black low-crowned hat. Soon after the United States Navy was formed, clothing for the men was purchased under contract, kept in the navy yards, and brought on board ships under the control of the purser. When men manufactured their own clothes, they were instructed to follow the design from the “slop stores,” or “small stores” aboard ships.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1802

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

It was not until 1802 that over the signature of a Secretary of the Navy, a uniform order was issued despite the fact that Congress established the Navy Department in 1798. On August 27, 1802, Robert Smith signed an instruction that established a pattern for the United States Navy’s dress. That blue and gold dress is still in effect today. Despite the fact that the first blue uniform coat was worn with white vests and breeches, the current dark blue uniform with rank stripes and devices in gold is a direct descendent of the 1802 coat. The unofficial blue and white dress of the American Revolution was reflected in the 1802 uniform.

All combatant officers wore coats with the same basic pattern, and the rank was indicated by the number and location of gilt buttons as well as the presence or absence of gold lace. Only two officers were allowed to wear epaulets, two for a captain and one for a lieutenant, as under the previous order.

When in command, a lieutenant’s epaulet was on the right shoulder, but when second in command, the epaulet was shifted to the left. For the full dress, the coat of a captain was trimmed with gold lace on the upper edge of the standing collar, down the edges of the lapels, around the pocket flaps, and down the skirts of the coat. While the order directed that buttonholes of a captain be “work with gold thread,” many contemporary paintings depict lace rather than embroidery.

A Navy button that is described as “the foul anchor and American eagle, surrounded by fifteen stars” reflects the United States’ growth from the original thirteen. A button was worn on both sides of the collar, with laced buttonholes. 

A captain had four buttons on the cuffs and at his vest pocket flaps and coat as in 1979. In full dress, a lieutenant showed much less lace than his superior officer as only the buttonholes were laced with such lace that was directed for the captain. Understandably, portraits frequently feature lace rather than embroidery because of the official wording and use of the word “lace.” A lieutenant had three buttons on the cuffs as before, and now three at the pockets.

The coat of a sailing master was similar to that of a lieutenant, but with slash sleeves and three tiny buttons in the openings, and a single button on either side of the collar with a lace slip. Different from other combatant officers’ coats, midshipmen wore coats with short lapels, six buttons on each breast, and a diamond formed of gold lace on both sides of the collar. The cuffs of the jacket were slashed with three small buttons in the openings. Gold thread was to be used for the coat buttonholes.

Non-combatant officers wore uniforms similar to those worn by sea officers, but with modifications that clearly indicated their rank. A full dress coat of a surgeon was trimmed quite elaborately with gold lace frogs at the nine buttons on the lapels, the three at the pockets and on the cuffs, and the two on both sides of the collar. 

The coat of the surgeon’s mate was similar to the coat of a lieutenant with gold trim at the two buttons on the collar and at the buttonholes. Pursers wore the least elaborate uniforms.  Although the coat was cut like the surgeon’s coat, the cuffs were slashed, with small buttons in the openings. The gold frogging was removed, but pursers were instructed to wear a band of gold lace around the top of the standing collar that was not more than three-quarters of an inch wide. No mention was made of a special dress for chaplains, as usual.

For undress, the order stated that a lieutenant’s coat would omit the lace; a captain would be without embroidery or lace, and midshipmen would wear a short jacket with a standing collar. On both sides of the collar were to be a slip of lace and a button. Undress was not mentioned for sailing masters, pursers, or surgeons. It must be assumed that they too omitted any gold embroidery or lace. In full dress, only captains, lieutenants, and midshipmen were allowed to wear gold-laced cocked hats, those of other officers being untrimmed. In undress, the high or round hat of the time was also worn and remained a popular item of clothing for some years to come.

The order didn’t specify a uniform for the forward warrant officers including gunners, boatswains, sailmakers, and carpenters, but it is plausible to suppose that they wore a blue jacket and vest, long pants, and a round hat. Even though there was no provision for standard clothes for enlisted personnel, the provision of apparel under the contract made for uniformity. 

Captain Edward Preble, Commodore of the Mediterranean Squadron, issued “Internal Rules and Regulations for US Frigate Constitution, 1803—1804,” which directed every seaman to have two blue jackets, pairs of trousers, waistcoats, both blue and white, black neckerchiefs, and either a hat or a hat and cap. Each male was required to have a white jacket and vest for warm weather. This is the dress of earlier times’ seamen, and it would remain such for years to come, with slight changes in style.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1812-1815

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

During the War of 1812, officers of the United States Navy were governed by two sets of uniform instructions: those published in 1802 and a new order issued in 1813. Because most European nations were involved in a succession of wars growing out of the French Revolution and the founding of the French Empire under Napoleon, the early 19th century was a period of changing military uniforms.

The change in military clothing reflected some of the changes in civilian attire at the time. The cocked hat was generally replaced by the chapeau de bras, and white breeches, stockings, and shoes were replaced by long trousers. Contemporary portraits show that the United States Navy’s uniform changed even before the 1813 order was issued, owing to changes in military clothing in Europe. Military costume tends to be similar to all countries at any given period.

The preamble to Secretary of the Navy William Jones’s “Regulations for the Uniform and Dress of the Navy of the United States,” approved on November 23, 1813, indicates that the Navy’s uniform had changed. The following is the text of the forwarding note:

A number of senior officers of the United States Navy had proposed several changes to the established ‘Uniform Dress’. In their opinion, these changes would greatly aid the officers’ convenience and comfort while maintaining an equally elegant and consistent appearance. The following description of the Uniform Dress for officers of the United States Navy is substituted for that hitherto established and is to take effect on January 1, 1814, to which all officers therein designated are required to adhere.

The full-dress coat for senior officers in the 1813 order is described as blue cloth; with broad lapels and a lining of the same; a standing collar. This coat is very similar to the description in the 1802 order, except that the lapels in 1802 were to be long. All officers were directed to wear pantaloons instead of the breeches of 1802. In a period of transition, men are seen wearing both the old and new uniforms or a combination of the two. The illustration reflects this

For the full-dress coat of a captain, the lace trim on the pocket flaps, and, in the case of the combatant officers, on the collar, around the cuffs and lapels, was carried over from the 1802 order. However, there was no mention of gold lace or embroidery on the buttonholes in 1813. Officers wore nine buttons on each of their lapels and a captain had four buttons on the cuffs and at the pockets.

In this period, between captain and lieutenant, there existed a rank called master commandant, which is now known as commander. Congress had established the rank of master commandant in 1799 to meet the demand for more than two officers who could command at sea.

The Navy’s expansion during the Quasi-War with France allowed operations by squadrons, and a rank lower than captain was required. In 1081, at the end of the French affair, the Peace Establishment Act had no provision for master commandants, therefore the uniform instructions of 1802 naturally had no provision for their attire. Congress re-established the rank in 1806 to satisfy the necessity to secure the growing American commerce in a globe that was generally at war. 

As no changes to the 1802 order have been located, it’s unable to identify how this class of officer was uninformed. However, the outfit prescribed in 1813 was certainly worn prior to the order. In 1813, a master commandant was instructed to wear the uniform like a captain’s one, with no lace on the pocket flaps and no button on the standing collar, but four buttons on the cuffs and pockets. The master commandant wore just one epaulet on the right shoulder, whereas the lieutenants wore theirs on the left.

While there was no mention of gold-laced buttonholes in the 1813 instructions, several contemporary portraits show the lace at the lapels, cuffs, and pocket flaps. Officers wearing medals struck by the order of Congress in recognition of their service during the War of 1812 are depicted wearing coats of the 1813 period, some with laced buttonholes and others without.

The captain on the right in the picture is shown in the uniform depicted in the painting of Thomas Sully of Captain Charles Stewart completed in 1811—1812. The other officer shows the uniform in paintings by Macdonough, Jarvis of Hull, and others, done at the end of the war, as well as the painting of Gilbert Stuart of Commodore Bainbridge.

There are few illustrations of seamen’s dress, and the instructions did not cover the men while there are several portraits of officers in the early 19th century. In the painting of Oliver Hazard Perry at the Battle of Lake Eria done in 1816, Jarvis shows the men in blue jackets, white trousers, scarlet waistcoats, and glazed hats.

Seamen in short jackets, pants, vests, and round or tarpaulin hats are shown in a drawing of the launching of the Demologos, the Navy’s first steamship, designed by Robert Fulton. A large number of paintings and drawings depicting men of the British Navy in 1812—1815 is another valuable source of information about men’s attire in this period.

The American sailor wore the same basic clothes as his British counterpart, in earlier periods. A British seaman who was taken prisoner when his trip, the Macedonian, was captured by the United States frigate the United States, wrote that stated that his landlady covered the British anchor buttons on his jacket with blue fabric and he was able to attend a public dinner in New York with his new American friends. American seamen had been issued new uniforms for the dinner with blue jackets, blue trousers, scarlet waistcoats, neckerchiefs, and glazed hats. While enlisted personnel’s clothing was not mentioned in official regulations, it is clear that a high degree of uniformity did exist.

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Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1815

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

After the war with Great Britain ended in 1815, the United States had sufficient naval strength might to take action against the Barbary Coast pirates. The United States decided to act after nearly two decades of paying tribute to the Dey of Algiers in exchange for protection from his corsairs. On March 2, 1815, Congress declared war against Algiers.

A ten-ship squadron headed by Commodore Stephen Decatur sailed from New York on May 29, 1815, and captured the Algerian frigate Mashuda, of 46 guns on June 18 and captured the brig Estedio of 22 guns on the 19th. On the 28th, Decatur proceeded to Algiers. Recognizing that he was no match for the Americans, on June 30, less than six weeks after the squadron had sailed from New York, the Dey concluded a treaty ending the system of tribute and the enslavement of Americans.

Although the uniform instructions of 1813 had provided for the dress of officers of the Navy of the United States, no provisions were made for the enlisted personnel’s clothing. The men’s dress, however, was reasonably standard, for all ships carrying apparel in “slop shops” under the purser’s control. At the Navy Yards, clothing was acquired under contract, stored, and issued to the vessels. The invitations to bid on apparel contracts listed blue and white trousers, vests, jackets, shirts, and glazed hats. This outfit is shown in sketches and paintings of the period and was very much similar to that worn by the Royal Navy.

The pike and cutlass shown in the painting were the standard arms of seamen. The weapons were kept aboard the ship in racks on deck so that they could be quickly accessed by the men in the event of a battle. The pike was essentially the same as the musket and bayonet of the Marines attached to the ship for close combat. The boarding helmets are typical of the period described in the Thirty Year from Home of Samuel Leech, or a Voice from the Main Deck, published in Boston in 1843.

Leech was a British seaman that was captured on board the Macedonian in 1812, then later enlisted in the United States Navy. When signing on the brig Syren in June 1813, he noted that all hands were provided with stout leather caps, which are something like those used by firemen. These were covered with bearskin, crossed by two strips of iron, and were designed to protect the head from the stroke of a cutlass in boarding an enemy’s ship. Likewise, bearskin strips were also used to fasten them on, functioning as false whiskers and making us seem as fierce as hungry wolves.

The officer shown is a warrant, dressing in the short blue coat, with a rolling collar, prescribed for gunners, boatswains, sailmakers, and carpenters under the 1813 uniform order. The straw hat is the warm weather version of the black round hat which is specified for the forward warrant officers in full dress. Commissioned officers wore the round hat in undress, and many contemporary portraits of the War of 1812 show this headgear coupled with the short jacket. 

This was more suitable clothing for shipboard duty compared to the 1813 order’s undress coat, which was a tailcoat similar to that of a full dress but with a rolling cape or turndown collar in lieu of the formal standing one. The warrants were directed to wear blue trousers in a full dress while the commissioned officers wore white trousers. It, however, had been the practice for some time to wear white trousers in undress or service dress in tropical climates even though they were not covered by the regulations.

In his painting, the artist has portrayed a boarding party as it would have appeared during this period.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1830-1841

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

The current practice of prescribing one uniform for all officers of the Navy of the United States with a standard system of rank insignia and the usage of devices to demonstrate the specialties of the staff officers was introduced in 1830 by a uniform order of 1 May. While the present system would take years to develop, it had made a start.

In full dress and in the undress, coats of the combatant officers from captain to master, and of the older staff corps, purser and medical, were identical in the cut. The amount and location of gold embroidery in full dress were used to determine rank, as under earlier orders. However, the introduction of corps devices made it simpler to identify non-combatant officers. Although chaplains, midshipmen, forward warrant officers, schoolmasters, and clerks had uniforms with different cuts, it’s easily recognizable as a uniform of the Navy.

The captain and purser’s full dress uniforms in the illustration were cut with a swell and the lapels buttoned back but not across, as they had been under the earlier order. An oak leaf and acorn pattern were used to decorate the collar and a corps device was used in the case of staff officers. The full-dress coat of a captain has the greatest amount of embroidery, including cuffs, collar, and pocket flaps, as one might expect. A master commandant had decoration on the cuffs and collar only, whereas a lieutenant only showed gold on the collar. The junior sea officer, a master, did not have embroidery but showed a button on either side of the standing collar and laced buttonholes.

To provide room for the specialty device, the band of collar embroidery was narrowed on the collars of surgeons and pursers. The two staff corps devices had a certain relationship with the specialties officers. The Greek god of medicine, the club of Esculapius, and pursers, the cornucopia, and the horn of plenty, were displayed by medical authorities. After all, a purser was in charge of the rations, and pay, and operated the slops store, which provided the men with clothing. Surgeons along with pursers both had a row of live oak leaves and acorns around their full dress cuffs. Assistant surgeons just had three buttons on the cuffs only were given a uniform consisting of a plain black coat, vest, and pantaloons or black breeches.

Midshipmen wore uniforms that were tailored differently than other officers. The full-dress coat had a single-breasted design and was lined in white. On either side of the standing collars, they were edged with a narrow band of oak leaf and acorn embroidery with a gold foul anchor. Passed midshipmen who were about to be promoted wore the same coat as lieutenants with a foul anchor and star on the collar. Boatswains, carpenters, sailmakers, and gunners wore blue-lined coats like that of the senior officers but lined with blue and with eight buttons on each breast. The sleeves were slashed rather than cuffed, and the plain collar had a button on either side.

The sea officers, midshipmen,  pursers, and medical officers might wear white trousers or white knee-breeches in full dress. The forward warrant officers were directed to put on blue trousers. In full dressOfficers, except the warrant officers, schoolmasters, chaplains, and clerks wore cocked hats. The hats for master commandants and captains were gold laced with a loop of six bullions over the cockade. The other hats were black-bound with a lace loop above the cockade. The round hat or a blue cap with a blue band was worn by those who were not allowed to wear cocked hats.

A distinctive undress coat was prescribed for the first time. According to the prevailing fashion of civilians of the time, it was made in dark blue material, lined with the same, rolling collar. The buttons on these coats were arranged like the full dress coats. Midshipmen’s undress coats did not follow the same pattern as those of their seniors. A single-breasted, standing collared coat with a white fabric anchor and star on the plain collar was for passed midshipmen to wear. For other midshipmen, they wore short, single-breasted jackets with a white anchor on the collar. Medical officers’ undress coats had black velvet cuffs and collars. Which, the cuffs of surgeons had a strip of half-inch gold lace on the cuffs whereas those of assistant surgeons were plain. Pursers wore the undress coat like lieutenants but did not wear epaulets.

The forward warrant officers wore the undress coat that was short with eight buttons on the breasts. The schoolmaster and clerks’ undress coat was a single-breasted frock coat with six buttons. In undress, an officer might wear a blue cap or round hat. An officer’s outfit might include a circular hat or a blue cap. Except for the three senior line officers, who wore gold lace cap bands, the rest of the officers wore blue cap bands.

The boatswain’s mate shown has crossed anchors on his jacket sleeve although it would be years before the petty officers would be officially introduced to a series of rating badges by the Navy. In the Naval Magazine of November 1836, a woodcut shows a petty officer of the period with the device. Men had added embroidery to their uniforms for a long time, and in many cases, the unofficial devices subsequently became official.

Toward uniformity, further small steps were made by the changes to the 1830 uniform instructions. The Medical Department’s device was changed to a branch of live oak in 1832, and the black velvet facings were removed from the undress coats. Medical officials were allowed to wear gold lace bands on their blue caps in 1835. And the same concession was also made to midshipmen in 1838. While it would be many years before a basic uniform with standard systems of rank and corps devices was developed, the pattern was set in the 1830s.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1841

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

The uniform regulations of February 19, 1841, were the first to contain a section on enlisted personnel’s clothing. The section on the men was short and most general with no description of the attire, therefore, the previous uniforms, which were made up of physical samples to be seen at the navy yards, were kept in use with only slight style modifications.

The officers’ full dress coats were changed to be buttoned across the chest, with parallel rows of buttons.  The undress coat was still a civilian-type “frock” coat. Officers were allowed to wear blue or white trousers, based on the weather and the commanding officer’s discretion. There are many contemporary paintings of both officers and men because the 1841 uniform was that of the campaign in California and the Mexican War.

The two senior officers, commanders (the rank of master commandant had been changed to commander in March 1837) and captains lost the elaborate collar embroidery of the 1830 instruction, whereas lieutenants retained it. 

There was no specialty mark on the collars of the full dress coat of medical officers, who had had a corps device since 1830. Pursers had a new device, a four-inch-long strip of embroidered acorns and oak leaves. To indicate the various classes of surgeons, in full dress, the senior surgeon had three wide strips of gold lace on his cuffs and in undress, he has a quarter-inch in lace. Passed assistant surgeons had two strips of lace, and assistant surgeons had a single lace on the dress and undress cuffs. 

Surgeons were often mistaken for senior officers in foreign ports as no other officers of the United States Navy had gold lace on their cuffs. In 1847, the lace on surgeons’ cuffs was removed, and both the collar and cuffs in full dress had three sprigs of live oak but there was no decoration in the undress coat.

In full dress, passed midshipmen wore the same coat as commanders, but the differences were in a gold foul anchor and star on the collar. Midshipmen wore the undress coat with only the anchor on the collar for the dress. Passed midshipmen in undress wore the frock coat with the anchor and star device, whereas midshipmen wore a short jacket with a buff cloth anchor.

According to the official instruction of 1841, a captain commanding a squadron was allowed to wear a wide pendant, on the strap of each epaulet shall have a plain silver anchor and eagle, with a silver star above the eagle. Captains’ epaulets had only the eagle and the anchor, while commanders and lieutenants’ epaulets had no devices.

A lieutenant wore an epaulet on his right shoulder only until 1845. Shoulder ornaments were not authorized by any other officials. A system of rank indication in undress was initiated, which is the forerunner of the shoulder mark pattern of today. A commodore’s shoulder straps were blue with a gold edging and a silver star in the middle. The captains’ shoulder straps were the same but without the star. Gold lace was used on those for commanders and lieutenants. All of the straps were two-and-a-half-inch long and a half-inch wide.

The cocked hat’s decoration for lieutenants can be noted in the painting and it is similar to that of commodores and captains, except four bullions, the center two not twisted. The hats for other officers who were entitled to wear had a loop of gold lace over the cockade, like on the surgeon’s hat. 

Instead of the cocked hat, a dark blue cap might be worn in undress. For commissioned officers and midshipmen, the band was gold lace, whereas, for others, it was blue. Midshipmen wore a cap device, the anchor and star, or the plain anchor as ordered for the coat collars of them. In the United States Navy, this was the first time a cap device was specified.

black leather belts were worn in undress and white webbing sword belts were worn in full dress under the 1841 order. The swords were supported by a frog rather than slings as they had been prior to 1841 and after the next order of 1852.

Although the 1841 uniform instructions were silent on engineers’ uniforms, a uniform was approved in 1837 when the Navy manned Fulton – its first sea-going steam vessel. With the approval of the Secretary of the Navy, captain Matthew C. Perry, the commanding officer, issued instructions covering the clothing of the specialists who would operate the ship’s engines.

Engineers had to wear the undress uniform with a rolling collar that indicated their rank. On either side of the collar, chief engineers showed a gold embroidered five-pointed star, and first assistants showed silver stars. The second assistant had a silver star on the right side only, and the third assistant had a star on the left. Only chief engineers were allowed to wear cocked hats; everyone else had to wear caps.

Even though Congress made provisions for engineers in the Naval Establishment in 1842, giving chief engineers commissioned rank and requiring that an appropriate uniform be prescribed, the Navy Department did not take formal action until the 1852 Regulations.

The enlisted soldiers in the background, near the Customs Customs House in Monterey, wore the white uniform that was covered by the 1841 order. The blue frock had white-collar, white cuffs, and a blue breast piece, whereas the white frock had a blue collar and breast. A blue jacket was used in cold weather.

To indicate petty officers, the order made provision for a sleeve device, that was an eagle and anchor, blue on white frocks and white on blue garments. Carpenters’ mates, gunners’ mates, boatswains’ mates, masters at arms, ships stewards, and cooks had the device on the right sleeve. Other petty officers wore the device on their left arm. It was not until 1886, that a series of specialty marks for petty officers would be introduced.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1852

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

A most important period in the development of the United States Navy’s uniform was instituted in 1852 when a new regulation was issued on March 8th. The Federal Navy’s dress during the Civil War was prescribed by this order, with certain modifications. The current system of using distinctive corps devices to identify officers of the Line and Staff was further developed although it began in a small way in 1830.

There was an innovation of the employment of gold lace on the sleeves to indicate the rank of an officer, the current practice in blue uniforms. The two previous instructions had used a few drawings to show details, but the 1852 order was the first to supply illustrations of officers in the various types of dress and to include pictorial information on insignia, hats, and devices. The “uniform” uniform really developed in 1852.

The painting shows a variety of styles of uniforms specified for Line and Staff officers, as well as some of the details of insignia. In full dress, the caption is identified by the inches and a-half broad lace around the top of the collar and down the seams of his trousers, and by the three stripes of three-quarter-inch lace around his cuffs.

A commander had two strips of three-quarter-inch lace on his cuffs; the collar and trouser laces were one and a quarter-inch wide. Both masters and lieutenants had collar lace one inch wide and lieutenants had the same lace on their full-dress trousers. A three-eighths inch gold cord on the trousers was used to identify a master.

Lieutenants had a single strip of lace on their cuffs, whereas masters had none. Passed midshipmen had an inch broad lace around the top of the standing collar, only a quarter-inch cord on the trouser seams, and none at the base. Instead of gold lace across the collar, midshipmen had the gold embroidered anchor of 1841 set on either side.

Under the 1852 order, the epaulets showed indications of the specialty and rank of a commissioned officer. The devices for both Line and Staff officers are shown in the reproductions of the 1852 illustrations. The various staff corps were identified by letters in Old English characters, such as M.D. for the Medical Department, E for head engineers, and P.D. for pursers, the only commissioned members of the Engineer Corps. The cocked hat’s decorations were the same as those specified in 1841, except that staff officers now wore the four bullions that had previously only been worn by lieutenants.

The officer in the left foreground is a surgeon with an undressed frock coat. The shoulder straps identify him as a senior member of the Medical Department. The corps device, M.D., is in the middle of the strap, with a gold acorn at either end. The cocked hat or blue cap might be worn in undress.

In earlier regulations, the Navy allowed white trousers and vests to be worn in warm weather, but not white jackets or coats. The 1852 order took into account the Navy’s ever-expanding activities with its rising number of seagoing steam vessels and provided a white jacket that would be worn aboard ships in warm climates. The lieutenant wears this first all-white uniform.

The jacket was double-breasted with the same amount of small gilt buttons on the breast as the full dress and undress frock coats. The only decoration on the cuffs was four small buttons in the openings. The white uniform was paired with the blue cap, adorned with the appropriate devices and shoulder straps for officers who were entitled to wear epaulets.

The distinguishing insignias of the lieutenant are his gold cap band showing he is a commissioned combatant officer, the cap device, the olive and oak wreath with the horizontal anchor specified for officers of his grade; and the horizontal silver anchor, the insignia on the shoulder straps of his epaulets. In 1852, engineers were the only other officers entitled to wear gold lace bands on their caps, which only the chief engineers were commissioned.

The chief engineer in the right background wears the single-breasted coat that was prescribed for all engineers to undress. There had not been full uniformity in the dress. For example, engineers, the newest members of the Navy’s family, wore a coat showing their status whereas surgeons and pursers wore double-breasted full and undress coats like their Line counterparts. The exception to the general rule that the gold cap band was reserved for combatant officers, this band is surmounted by the device of the Engineer Corps, the silver anchor, and the gold wheel in a wreath of oak and olive leaves.

In full dress, the staff officers did not show the collar or sleeve lace of the Line officers that they had a relative rank. The device for the cuffs and collars of surgeons was the sprig of three oak leaves introduced in 1847 but with no border of leaves and acorns prescribed by the 1841 order. Pursers kept the band of oak leaves around the standing collar from the 1830 and 1841 orders, but the strip of leaves from the 1841 instruction was removed. They were, however, allowed to show the embroidery on the cuffs. Engineers had the anchor and wheel of their caps on the collar without cuff embroidery.

The uniforms for enlisted men in the 1852 order were essentially identical to those in the 1841 order, except that the cut of the clothes was changing. Many illustrations of drawings were made during the Perry Expedition to Japan in the early 1850s, and contained in the official documents of this cruise. In the painting, seamen are shown in the earlier type of collar, similar to that worn by the boatswain’s mate, as well as a collar used during the Civil War, similar to that worn today.

According to the order, the white frocks were to be worn with blue-faced collars and cuffs and the blue frocks were to have the collars and cuffs faced with white. Many men added decorative touches that were not spelled out in the instructions since the order also stated that the cuffs and collars were to be stitched around with thread. Not just on the frocks, but also on the pants, uniforms of the period show the most elaborate embroidery. The bib-type frock would disappear during the Civil War time but had been used for many years.

The boatswain may be identified as a petty officer by the presence of the eagle and anchor device of 1841 with the star above it which was prescribed in 1852. Not until 1886 did a system of rating badges be introduced, therefore, we can determine the rank of this man only based on the all-covering petty officer’s device worn on the right arm and the boatswain’s pipe.

Changes to the 1852 Regulation prior to the Civil War brought the staff officers’ dress closer to that of Line officers. The Medical Department was changed to a sprig of olive replacing the Medical Department of the cap device, and the new device was worn above a gold band in the same wreath used by the Line, in September 1852. Pursers were allocated a sprig of oak as a device to wear over a gold hat band under the same alteration. The insignia was taken from surgeons’ and pursers’ epaulets, leaving them plain.

According to a General Order of August 23, 1856, surgeons and pursers were directed to wear the same uniform as line officers that they ranked with, including the collar and sleeve lace but with no lace on the full dress trousers. Engineers were instructed to wear the Line’s standard double-breasted coats in February 1861, but only the chief engineers wore sleeve lace because their assistants were warranted officers. The engineer device was modified to a four-leaf oak cross that was only worn on the cap. While it would be some time before all staff officers were allowed to wear the Line’s dress and utilize sleeve lace to signify their relative status, a significant step toward uniformity had been made.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1852-1855

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

The clothes worn by the midshipmen in this illustration are those as prescribed by the Regulations of 1852, with certain modifications as requested by the newly established Naval Academy. Before the school was established at Annapolis in 19843, the young men who would become the future officers of the United States Navy had been educated in a rather haphazard manner. 

Since the Continental Navy was authorized in 1776, provisions had been made for the young men who would in time command the Navy’s ships, but no real provision for their education would be made for many years. With the creation of the Federal Navy in 1797, the rank of midshipman was approved, and young men and mere boys, in some cases, were appointed as warrant officers. 

Many midshipmen serving in the early Navy had little formal education and had no experience at sea or aboard ships in most cases. Essentially, they were supposed to learn their profession by observing their senior officers and performing any duties that might be assigned to them. The demand for educational opportunities was evident and as a stop-gap measure chaplains, when they were available, were supposed to perform what teaching their other duties and the shipboard duties of the midshipmen would permit. 

In 1813, Congress established the rating of “schoolmaster” to provide some small measure of assistance, but the rate of pay of $25 per month was insufficient to attract qualified teachers. The position of Professor of Mathematics, with the status of a civil officer, was created in March 1835. Some outstanding teachers were secured with a greater rate of pay and a quasi-officer status originally, but the training program, which was mostly conducted aboard a ship, was inadequate for the Navy’s demands.

In 802, a school had been established aboard the Frigate Congress to supplement shipboard training. Then in ordinary, or today’s parlance, it was mothball, at the Washington Navy Yard. Any midshipmen who could be spared from other duties and wanted a somewhat formal education availed themselves of the meager facilities. 

The first truly Naval School was opened in Philadelphia in 1838 at the Naval Asylum, but education for midshipmen was still aboard ship at sea when duties permitted attending school. In 1838, at the Naval Asylum, the first truly Naval School was opened in Philadelphia but midshipmen were still taught aboard ship at sea when duties permitted attending school. Because the problem was not solved, George Bancroft, Secretary of the Navy, historian, and writer, took matters into his own hands.

In 1845, with the approval of President James K. Polk, the unused Army facilities at Annapolis, Fort Severn, and Maryland were transferred to the Navy. On October 10, 1845, the Naval School was opened in makeshift quarters, with Commander Franklin Buchanan as Superintendent. Lieutenant John H. Ward was to act as the executive officer as well as a gunnery and steam engineering instructor. John A. Lockwood, a Navy surgeon, was a chemistry instructor, Passed Midshipman S. Marcy taught mathematics, while Chaplain George Jones taught English.

Three Professors completed the staff, William Chauvenet in mathematics and navigation; Arsene N. Girault in French; and Henry Lockwood in natural philosophy. Although it was a small staff, it marked the start of a proper educational system for Naval officers. The Navy’s school received official recognition by Congress when $28,200 was appropriated for renovations in 1847, and again when the name was changed to the Naval Academy in 1850.

The early classes at the Naval Academy included midshipmen, some of whom had attended the so-called schools ashore or served at sea, and new appointees. In 1850, a new code of regulations went into force, and new appointments reported to the Academy as “acting midshipmen” for two years, following which they were to go to sea for two and a half years to become warranted midshipmen, and then attend classes for another two years. Midshipmen and passed midshipmen were given dress and undress uniforms under the 1852 Uniform Regulations while acting midshipmen were given a uniform by the Academy. The various uniforms are shown in the illustration. The illustration shows the various uniforms.

Both the foreground figures wore official 1852 uniforms. The Passed Midshipman is shown in the undressed frock coat of the Navy’s senior officers but his coat’s sleeves are plain, with only three little buttons in the cuff opening.

In 1852, in undress, a captain’s coat had three strips of three-quarter-inch wide lace on the sleeves; a commander’s coat had two strips, a lieutenant’s coat had one, and a master’s coat had three medium buttons around the cuff. In undress, commissioned officers might wear their rank’s epaulets or shoulder straps, whereas passed midshipmen wore only a gold lace strap that was one-half inch wide and four inches long instead of the more ornate straps. 

Midshipmen, not passed, had no ornaments on their shoulders. Passed midshipmen, like other officers, wore the blue cap with the same cap device as masters and lieutenants, which included a wreath of gold oak and olive branches with a silver foul anchor in the center. According to the 1852 order, masters and above had a band of gold lace around the cap but none was prescribed for midshipmen. A uniform change had been made on 11 February 1853, in which all midshipmen were allowed to wear lace bands.

The midshipman in the right foreground is shown in full dress. The coat is a direct descendant of the coat that was introduced in 1813; which is tight-fitting, with tails and a standing collar. For the coats of midshipmen, the buttons of a master and the sleeve lace of the senior officers were omitted, and the quantity of lace on the collar was decreased to a bare minimum, an inch-wide band around the top with no lace at the bottom for a passed midshipman, and none for a midshipman.

A midshipman had a foul anchor embroidered in gold thread on either side of the collar instead of collar lace. According to the 1852 order, gold lace was used along the outer seams of the full-dress trousers, with the width of the stripe decreasing as the rank went down. A gold cord a quarter inch in diameter was used for a passed midshipman, instead of flat lace, and there was no seam decoration for midshipmen. The cocked hat had a loop of four gold bullions over the cockade, as did the cocked hats of all officers entitled to wear below the rank of commander. Commanders and captains had loops of six bullions, in which, the center two twisted.

The midshipmen in the center background are shown in the variant of the official 1852 uniform instruction used by the Academy. According to the 1852 order, except at general muster or in charge of the Deck, all officers could wear jackets when at sea. The double-breasted jackets had the same number of buttons as the full dress or frock coats, and officers entitled to wear epaulets wore the shoulder straps of their rank. The number of buttons on the double-breasted jackets was the same as on full dresses or frock coats. Officers who were entitled to wear epaulets wore the shoulder straps of their rank.

For young energetic midshipmen at an educational institution, a jacket was unquestionably more suitable than a full dress coat or a cumbersome frock. The standard undress cap was worn without the grommet to give the cap a nautical flair as depicted in the left-center figure. The cap was worn with a silver foul anchor as a replacement for the gold cap band of the 1852 order for warranted midshipmen. The Academy hat design, as well as the practice of displaying a gold foul anchor on either side of the rolling collar, were introduced at Annapolis in 1855.

Acting midshipmen were not allowed to carry the 1852 order’s sword but were permitted to carry the Model 1842 cutlass as a sidearm. The plebe, or first-year student, in the right-center, is wearing the white trousers allowed in warm weather under the official regulations, and the tropical straw hat, which is a very appropriate outfit for the extremely hot weather that occasionally reaches Annapolis.

The USS Constellation, which served as the Academy’s school ship for many years, is shown in the background. In late 1851, the original system of sending acting midshipmen to sea after two years at the Academy was revised, and summer excursions supplied the necessary sea experience for young naval officers’ education.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1862-1863

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

During the Civil War, the United States Navy’s uniform was governed by the 1852 order, which was modified to meet the needs of an expanding Navy.  On July 31, 1862, Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles issued a Uniform Change, in which the full-dress coat was omitted from an officer’s wardrobe, and the undress frock coat of 1852 was used for full dress, undress, and service dress. 

In full dress, the coat was worn with epaulets, a cocked hat, a sword, and a sword knot. In undress, the coat may be worn with either shoulder straps or epaulets, and the cap replaced the cocked hat. In the service dress, the coat was worn with a cap and shoulder straps. Under this change, the gold-laced full-dress trousers were not to be worn. For service dress, a less formal and more comfortable coat was authorized. That was a single or double-breasted blue jacket that had the same number of buttons as the frock coat, with a cap and shoulder straps, and gold lace rank stripes on the coat sleeves.

“To establish and equalize the Grades of Line Officers of the United States Navy”, an Act of Congress of 16 July 1862, established a new rank system for the ever-growing Federal Navy, which consisted of ships of various types and sizes, from new ironclads to converted merchant ships and ferry boats. The rank of rear admiral was ultimately authorized, and the title “flag officer” was replaced with “Commodore.” Between commander and lieutenant, the rank of lieutenant-commander was established, and a new junior rank of ensign was formed. Of course, it was required to change the existing instructions in order to identify the officers on this expanded list.

The three-quarter-inch wide sleeve lace, introduced in 1852, was kept in use, enhanced with quarter-inch lace strips. According to the 1862 order, all other officers’ coats will be the same as those prescribed for undress of their respective grades, with the exception that all cuffs will be closed and with no small button, and with the same lace arrangement as those worn by ‘line officers’ of the same relative rank.

As relative rank had been officially established for paymasters (title changed from purser in 1860), surgeons, and engineers prior to 1859, these officers were allowed to wear the lace of their relative rank on their sleeves. Their non-combatant status was shown in the staff corps devices on their caps and shoulder straps, as well as the lack of insignia of any type on their epaulets.

The modification in line insignia was necessary due to the revised rank system. It’s worth noting that the official 1862 alteration changed and expanded the epaulet and shoulder strap insignia designs of 1852. The cap devices, basically those of 1852, were used to cover the new rank pattern. Except for Professors of Mathematics and Secretaries, who had no distinctive device, all officers were required to wear the cap device above a band of gold lace. These two classes of officers wore the wreath of olive and oak leaves only, above a blue cap band. Chaplains were not required to wear a headcover although they had been directed to wear a blue uniform, single-breasted with a row of nine buttons, and plain cuffs. The chaplain, in practice, wore a blue cap with no decorations.

In the painting, the lieutenant commanding the gun crew is wearing the service dress of the 1862—1863 period, that is with one wide strip of lace and a second narrow lace on his sleeves. The present insignia of a lieutenant has two bars, that appear at either end of the shoulder straps, but in gold against the strap’s blue background. Epaulets were the only places where silver bars were worn. The cap device is that of the three junior officers, including masters, lieutenants, and ensigns.

The enlisted men of the gun crew dress has a little change from that prescribed in 1852, with only slight changes in the cut of the outfit. White frocks, or jumpers, kept the 1841 regulation’s blue-faced collars and cuffs, but the 1852 order’s white collars and cuffs for blues were removed by a modification in 1859.

It should be emphasized that the petty officer showed no form of rating badge, but only the device worn by all petty officers, which was introduced in 1841 and amended in 1852 by the addition of the star. It’s possible to determine the man’s rating for the petty officers’ distinguishing mark was worn on the right arm by carpenter’s mates, sailmaker’s mates, boatswain’s mates, gunner’s mates, ship’s stewards, and cooks only. In addition, other ratings showed the mark on the left arm, and the petty officer is a quarter gunner as he is in the gun crew.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1864

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles approved the Regulations for the Uniform of the United States Navy on 28 January 1864, bringing all the changes to the 1852 instruction up to date. The 1862 instruction was merely a revision of the 1852 order but not a new regulation. Changes had occurred since the 1862 modifications, necessitating the creation of a new complete order to clarify what uniforms, insignia, and rank designations were to be worn. 

The Navy had expanded significantly, and many of the men and officers were volunteers, who were desperately needed to bolster the very tiny regular Navy that existed before the war began in 1861. The granting of relative rank to some commissioned civil officers who had previously had no form of rank, as well as the alteration of the relative rank of medical officers, paymasters (pursers until 1860), and engineers, was another cause for the issuing of a new uniform order.

Engineers, Paymasters, Fleet Surgeons, and other officers in these departments who had served in the senior ranks of these corps for more than fifteen years were promoted to captains of the Line by a “General Order” dated 13 March 1863. chief engineers, paymasters, and surgeons ranked with commanders after five years in grade, and lieutenant commanders during the first five years. Passed assistant surgeons had the relative rank of lieutenant; first assistant engineers, paymasters, and assistant surgeons ranked with masters; second assistant engineers ranked with ensigns, third assistant engineers retained their warrant status, ranking with midshipmen.

Officers who had not previously coordinated with their Line counterparts were given the following relative rank:

  • Naval Constructors after 20 years of service were ranked with captains. 
  • Naval Constructors, Chaplains, and Professors of Mathematics, with more than 12 years in grade, and ranked with lieutenant commanders for those with less than 12 years of service.
  • Secretaries were ranked with lieutenants.
  • Officers, detailed as chief of a Bureau, were to rank with commodores.

Following the extensive 1862 modification, a major change of the uniform instructions took place in May 1863. Strips of quarter-inch lace were replaced for the three-quarter and quarter-inch lace combinations, ranging from eight for a rear admiral to one for an ensign. A five-pointed star was introduced to be worn above the lace, and it has remained the Line’s device ever since. For those staff officers with the same relative rank, they wore the same lace as their Line colleagues, but with no star.

A uniform amendment was made on 11 November 1863, prompted primarily by the modification of the relative rank of engineers, paymasters, and surgeons, as well as the granting of relative rank to professors, chaplains, secretaries, and naval constructors on 13 March 1863. The corps devices for earlier groups of staff officers were somewhat changed, while new insignia were provided for officers who had recently been given status with the Line.

Medical officers wore the device just on their caps, surrounded by the customary wreath of acorns and oak leaves, although other groups wore it on their shoulder straps as well. The cap insignia of line officers was also changed, with a vertical foul anchor for all other commissioned officers and two silver stars for rear admirals.

The prior modifications were reflected, and some new features were included, when new uniform regulations were announced on January 28, 1864. Although a full dress uniform was provided, it was not intended to be used during the war, thus cocked hats and epaulets were stored. The shoulder straps were changed, and all combatant officers wore the silver foul anchor as a device in the center of the strap, which had been adopted as a cap insignia of officers from commodore to ensign. Except for medical officers, who wore just rank devices on their shoulder straps, staff officers wore the corps insignia instead of the anchor. The Line’s shoulder straps are mentioned in the 1864 instruction.

The frock coat was worn with shoulder straps and a cap for service dress, as directed by the Rear Admiral and Fleet Engineer. Except for more formal events such as muster or as “Officer of the Deck,” a short jacket might be worn in service dress aboard a ship. The lieutenant wears this comfortable coat. The Fleet Surgeon wears a “sack” coat, which was not included in the official 1864 instructions but can be seen in numerous photographs of naval personnel. Although the sack coat would not be legally allowed until January 1865, coats were “adopted” and eventually confirmed by official orders, as had happened previously.

Straw hats had been allowed in warm areas for a long time, and the dimensions had been specified in great detail. Many different types of straw hats may be seen in Civil War photographs, ranging from the standard variety to the floppy, wide-brimmed planter type.

Certain petty officers were allowed to wear a double-breasted blue jacket with two rows of medium-sized buttons on the breast under the 1864 regulation. With four little buttons in the openings, the sleeves were slashed. This jacket depicts the master-at-arms, the period’s leading petty officer, with a plain blue cap. The master-at-arms wore the anchor, eagle, and star, a symbol adopted in 1841, on his left sleeve as a further indication of petty officer status.

One of the ironclads built during the Civil War is the ship in the background, an outgrowth of Ericsson’s Monitor with the same low freeboard but with two revolving turrets.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1898

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

The “New Navy” began in the second half of the 19th century, not only in terms of the ships built but also in terms of a new concept of naval strategy required to support a developing America and expand world trade. Officers and soldiers in the Navy wore different uniforms as a result of the changes. Congress authorized the construction of four steel ships in 1883, including the protected cruisers Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston, as well as the dispatch boat Dolphin, ending the long period of naval neglect that followed the Civil War.

Staff officers, who had their relative rank changed upwards during the Civil War but were returned to their pre-war position in 1869, were eventually acknowledged as a vital component of the Navy by Congress in 1871 and had their relative rank raised upwards once again. In 1881, civil engineers, who had been a component of the Naval Establishment for a long time, were awarded the relative rank. The old all-inclusive rating of “petty officer” was abolished by a Regulations Circular issued on January 8, 1885, which grouped enlisted men into classes and established the ratings of first, second, and third-class petty officers. In September 1894, the chief petty officer rating was established.

The captain of the Civil Engineer Corps is shown in the painting in the service dress uniform, which was initially established in 1877 to replace the Civil War sack coat. The light blue cloth between the gold sleeve lace follows the Navy’s pattern in 1869 when each staff corps was assigned a colored cloth to wear on their sleeves. The corps device would be the letters C.E. in Old English, with the sleeve lace light blue velvet, according to a Uniform Circular of August 24, 1881, which prescribed the insignia for civil engineers.

The Navy reverted to the 1850s by utilizing Old English letters as a corps device, with medical officers using the letters “M.D.” and pursers (paymasters) using the letters “P.D.” On the standing collar, the corps device is shown behind the silver eagle of the captain’s relative rank. Instead of the senior Line officers’ gold oak leaves and acorns, the cap visor is edged with a band of gold lace. In 1897, visor decorations were introduced.

The rear admiral’s body coat with tails, worn as a “special full dress” in 1898, is a direct descendant of the early 19th-century coats and looks extremely similar to the coat specified in 1852 but dropped during the Civil War. The standing collar lace is an inch and three-quarters wide, and the trouser lace is the same width. Commodores wore the same width lace, while commanders and captains had an inch and a half lace; lieutenant commanders, lieutenants, and lieutenants (junior grade) had one-inch lace; and ensigns had a half-inch.

The sleeve lace, which consists of a two-inch band with a half-inch strip above it, is still used to indicate a rear admiral in blues today. For flag officers, captains, and commanders, the lace over the cockade of the cocked hat was an inch and a half wide, while for junior officers, it was narrower. Only flag officers had gold lace on their hat fans. The dark blue full dress belt is trimmed differently depending on rank: three-quarter inch strips for flag officers, seven narrow lace strips of lace for commanders and captains, five one-sixteenth width strips for lieutenant commanders, and lieutenants, and three for lieutenants (junior grade) and ensigns. Staff officers wore the same full dress belt as officers of relative rank.

The commander’s undressed frock coat has been a standard item of an officer’s wardrobe for years. It was worn for full dress in 1898 with epaulets, cocked hat, laced trousers, full dress belt, and sword, for dress, it was worn with plain white and blue trousers, epaulets, cocked hat, plain black belt, and sword. The coat in undress was worn with shoulder straps, plain blue or white trousers, a cap with a cover to match the trousers, a plain belt, and a sword. The visor of the cap shows the newly introduced gold embroidery for captains and commanders.  Flag officers wore an additional band of embroidery around the back of their visors, the same as they do today. The cap device for all commissioned officers was the shield and silver eagle and the two crossed foul anchors, and they are still used today.

The 1st class boatswain’s mate wears a uniform that is similar to the previous enlisted personnel uniforms. The right sleeve shows the type of rating badge introduced in 1886 with the establishment of petty officers. The Vee of the chevrons contains the rating badge which is surmounted by a spread eagle.   A boatswain’s mate’s badge was two crossed anchors, which is still the case today. In 1898, fifteen specialty marks were required to indicate a man’s specialty, however now, the Navy utilizes several times that amount to indicate the wide range of abilities required to man the ships and planes, as well as to support other naval activities. The badge on the right sleeve of the boatswain indicates that he is a member of the starboard watch.

In full dress, the bandsmen’s uniform in 1898 was the most colorful one. The scarlet single-breasted tunics were trimmed in yellow and white, and the scarlet strips were on the seams of the sky-blue trousers. The full-dress helmet was identical to that worn by enlisted Marines, and the gilt helmet device was similar to that used by the Army, with the addition of a silver lyre. All bandsmen wore shoulder knots, which were finished with a gold cord for the bandsmen and white mohair cords for the bandsmen.

In 1862, a coat was initially worn by a few leading petty officers. All first-class petty officers were required to wear blue or white double-breasted sack coats with a blue visored cap or a straw hat under the 1886 regulations. Their trousers, like those of other enlisted men, were full-bottomed. When the rank of the chief petty officer was established, the chiefs were given the 1st class coat and were allowed to wear officer-style trousers.

The device on the cap was identical to what is used now, with the letters U.S.N. in silver superimposed on a gilt foul anchor. The master-at-arms, who is a member of the starboard watch, wears three red chevrons connected by a red arch on which a white eagle is perched. The five-pointed star specialty mark is also white. The chevrons and arc were red on white clothing, while the eagle and specialty marks were blue.

The ships in the background are from contemporary photographs and show the Protected Cruiser Columbus, Armored Cruiser Brooklyn, and Battleship Iowa, from left to right. Prior to the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Navy’s major ships had white hulls and straw-colored superstructures. Slate gray was utilized during the war.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1900

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

Although the Navy’s clothing in 1900 remained largely the same as it had been during the Spanish-American War, three major factors caused some modifications. The first was the “Change” to the existing 1897 Uniform Regulations on May 9, 1899. It may be considered a new regulation in its entirety, despite the fact that it is labeled “Change.” Second, the Hospital Corps was founded by the Act of Congress on June 17, 1898. Finally, on March 3, 1899, the rank of Chief Warrant Officer was created.

Officers’ clothing was mostly unaffected by the 1899 “Change.” Officer uniforms remained unchanged from the 1897 instruction, with the exception of slightly modifying the chaplain’s uniform; adapting the existing instructions covering officers’ uniforms to accommodate the new rank of Chief Warrant Officer, and providing distinctive insignia for the newly reinstated rank of Admiral (George Dewey had just been promoted to this newly reinstated rank).

One long-standing corps device was not included in the revised instructions that went into force in 1900. Engineer Corps members were incorporated into the Line and began wearing the star of the Line instead of the four silver oak leaves that had been the insignia of engineers since the Civil War. Modifications in the enlisted section are mostly concerned with devices for personnel of the newly created Hospital Corps.

The dress white uniform is worn by the Chief Petty Officer Gunner’s Mate. The white sack coat, which was a direct descendent of the coat worn by select senior petty officers in the 1860s, had five fire-gilt buttons on the breast, all of them had to be buttoned. Three chevrons and an arc in scarlet cloth with the eagle and specialty mark embroidered in blue made up the rating badge for the white uniform. In 1866, the two-crossed cannon, which is now the specialty device for gunner’s mates, was introduced. A member of the starboard watch is identified by a rating badge worn on the right arm. The white shirt was to be worn with a stiff collar and stiff detachable cuffs, as was the period’s style.

A change made on December 23, 1898, attempted to give the chaplain a uniform that resembled that of other commissioned officers. Rather than the clergyman’s uniform, as required by the 1897 Regulations, chaplains were now allowed to wear a Navy cap with a commissioned officer’s cap device but black mohair buttons and chin strap. Instead of the half-inch wide gold lace worn by other staff officers or the gold acorns and oak leaves worn by senior Line officers, commanders wore a black mohair strip on the edge of their cap visors.

Chaplains were allowed to wear a frock coat with certain modifications, although not being able to wear the special and full-dress uniforms of other officers. The coat was single-breasted, with a row of seven black covered buttons, and was designed to be worn fully buttoned with the collar stand. Other commissioned officers wore a double-breasted frock coat with two rows of gilt buttons, a turned-down collar, and the upper half of the lapels showing. The chaplain’s grade was shown on each side of the standing collar, with the gold Latin cross, which was introduced in the Civil War, behind the rank insignia, but unlike other commissioned officers, who wore epaulets or shoulder straps on their frock coats. In addition, instead of gold lace, a lustrous black braid was worn on the sleeves, as shown in the accompanying picture of a Lieutenant Chaplain.

The white service dress uniform is worn by the Line Commander. The coat’s pattern, with its fly front and standing collar, trimmed with a white braid, was similar to the blue service coat trimmed with a black braid.  Another difference is that shoulder marks were used to indicate officer grades rather than the collar devices used on service blues, which were first introduced in 1899 to replace the previous shoulder straps. The Line commander’s insignia was three stripes half-inch gold lace stripes with a gold star, as it is today. Similarly, today’s commanders and captains have gold oak leaves and acorns on their cap visors.

When senior warrant officers were promoted to officers, a change in the uniform instructions was required to allow for the identification of the new officer rank. Except for chaplains, warrant officers wore the same frock coat as other officers, with their devices on the collar, according to the 1897 Regulation. The devices were silver for individuals with twenty years of service and gold for those with fewer than twenty years of service.

The nine-button double-breasted frock coat was to be worn with only the lowest six buttons fastened and the upper section of the lapels turned back according to the 1899 “Change.” Chief warrant officers were also required to wear a half-inch wide gold lace stripe interwoven with dark blue silk on the sleeves of their blue frocks and service coats, with half-inch bars at two-inch intervals, according to the 1899 instruction.

Chief warrant officers continued to wear their devices on their collars, but only chief warrants wore silver devices. Junior warrant officers wore the gold devices regardless of their years of service. The silver crossed anchors of his specialty are worn on either side of the collar, and the gold star of the Line is worn right above the newly adopted sleeve lace by the chief boatswain shown in service blues.

Chief gunners and chief boatswains wore the star of the Line 1/4 inch above the sleeve lace, whereas gunner’s mates, boatswain’s mates, and warrant machinists wore the star four inches from the sleeve edge. Except for chaplains, the cap device remained two crossed gold foul anchors, and the width of the chin strap was limited to a quarter of an inch instead of the half-inch wide gold lace chin strap used by other commissioned officers.

The Hospital Corps was founded by the Act of Congress, which was implemented by General Order No. 493 issued on June 25, 1898. The ratings of the bayman and apothecary were replaced by those of hospital steward, pharmacist, hospital apprentice, and hospital apprentice first class. The hospital apprentice first class, classified as a Third Class Petty Officer, is shown with the single white eagle and scarlet chevron, and the news of the Hospital Corps, the Geneva Cross in red, in lieu of the caduceus previously used to identify enlisted medical personnel.  He is assigned to the port watch, as evidenced by the rating badge on his left arm. The Corpsman has three stripes of white tape on his cuffs and collar as a petty officer.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1905-1913

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

For the first time since 1886, the Navy Department’s uniform instructions of 21 January 1905 included illustrations of both officers and men’s clothes and insignia. The 1897 order only included illustrations of enlisted men’s clothes. The Uniform Change of 1899 and General Order No. 48 of February 27, 1902, were combined in the 1905 order. The latter, a comprehensive study, somewhat revised the regulations on chaplains’ clothing and included a new design of a white service coat, similar to the one used today, as well as a white mess jacket for officers in hot climates.

The procurement of planes by the Navy in 1911 resulted in the establishment of an unofficial aviation service uniform. This is another example of changes made without official approval that were later adopted by the Navy. The few planes and trained crew were ordered to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in late 1912 for training exercises with the Atlantic Fleet and Marine Corps. Several of the officers trained in aviation were Marines, who had the Marine Corps khaki field service uniform, which was the most practical and serviceable for this type of service.

Naval officers serving with the Marines were allowed to wear field uniforms under existing regulations. Despite the fact that the Marines were serving in a naval command, the naval commander in charge of the aviation unit directed his naval subordinates to wear the khaki uniform. The naval personnel wore a single-breasted khaki coat with five gilt buttons and a standing collar, similar to the new white service coat. The naval officers wore the shoulder marks prescribed for the white service coat instead of the standing collar to indicate their grade, as did the Marine officers.

The lieutenant, Naval Aviator, pictured wears the two half-inch wide gold stripes on the blue shoulder marks with the gold star of the Line above the stripes.  Instead of the long trousers that were required to be worn with the white service coat, the naval officers adopted the Marine Corps’ khaki breeches and leather puttees. The cap was fitted with a khaki cover and shows the officers’ cap device on the front. The khaki service uniform of World War I evolved from its small beginning. Since photographs of the first navy aviation training facility in Pensacola, Florida, and the Navy in Vera Cruz in the same year shows the unofficial aviation clothing, it appears that it was not frowned upon.

The Civil Engineer Corps commander wore the blue frock coat with shoulder straps in undress and with epaulets in full dress.  His grade is indicated by the three gold lace stripes, and the light blue velvet between the gold stripes denotes that he is a Civil Engineer Corps member. Only officers of the Line wore a gold star above their sleeve lace in 1905. Members of the other staff corps wore the following distinctive colored clothes:

Medical Corps—dark maroon velvet

Pay Corps—white cloth

Construction Corps—dark violet cloth

Professors of Mathematics—olive green cloth

Instead of the gold lace worn by other commissioned officers, members of the Chaplain Corps wore lustrous black braid stripes on their sleeves. Two crossed silver sprigs of two live-oak leaves and an acorn appear in the center of the gold-edged blue shoulder strap for Civil Engineers. A silver oak leaf, the mark of an officer in the grade of commander, is shown on either side of the corps device. The corps device was also shown on epaulets and the blue service coat’s collar. Staff officers of the same rank, except chaplains, wore a plain half-inch wide band of gold lace on the outer edge of the cap visor instead of the embroidered oak leaves and acorns of Line commanders and captains. Senior chaplains wore black braid visor edging.

The Uniform Regulations of January 25, 1913, were the first to contain a section on the uniforms of the several states’ Naval Militias. Although the land militia was under the control of the War Department in 1913, the Navy Department had no jurisdiction over the State Naval Militia units. As a result, the militia units were only required to wear a dress in the 1913 instructions. The officers and men were to wear a uniform similar to that of the regular Navy, with alterations to indicate their non-federal status.

The lieutenant commander is shown in the 1913 order’s blue service uniform with the modification recommended. A gold foul anchor replaces the gold star of a United States Navy Line officer on the sleeve. The cap device is similar to that of the regular Navy, except instead of the shield of stars and stripes, the State seal, in this case, the seal of the State of Illinois, is used.  The gold oak leaf of the lieutenant commander, with the silver foul anchor behind it, is identical to the regular Navy’s collar insignia. The USS Wolverine was a training ship for members of the Naval Militia and regular Navy recruits on the Great Lakes for many years.

An Act of Congress issued on May 13, 1908, established the Navy Nurse Corps. The Corps was required by law to have a superintendent appointed by the Secretary of the Navy, as well as as many chief nurses, nurses, and reserve nurses as were deemed necessary. Although the uniforms for personnel of the Nurse Corps were not included in the Navy Uniform Regulations until 1941, the Surgeon General of the Navy issued dress orders from time to time.

Although the first such order that has been located dates from 1924, contemporary photographs do provide a good representation of the clothing worn prior to that time. The nurse is shown in the early twentieth-century nursing uniform with a white shirtwaist and long skirt. A photograph of the first Navy nurses, known as the “Sacred Twenty,” shows them dressing in white and wearing a variety of white caps, most likely those awarded by various nursing schools.

The first distinctive device used to identify members of the Navy Nurse Corps was a round, button-like pin, with a shield of white and red stripes placed on a gold foul anchor.  The letters “U.S.N.” appeared below the shield/anchor device. A gold watch attached to the left breast of a Navy nurse’s white ward uniform was another common sight. The blue cloak, which was also typical of the nursing profession, was meant to be worn outside.

There was little to identify whether a warrant officer was of the regular or non-regular establishment under the recommendations of Chapter 9 of the 1913 Regulations. The Illinois Naval Militia carpenter wore the same gold carpenter’s square on his blue service coat’s collar as did his opposite number in the US Navy, and his cap insignia, two crossed gold anchors, was the same as that worn by both chief warrant officers and warrant officers in the regular Navy.

It was only possible to identify a man’s regular or non-regular status in the case of gunners and machinists, boatswains, warrants, and mates. The men in these ratings in the US Navy wore a gold star on their sleeve, whereas those in the militias wore a gold foul anchor instead. In 1913, only chief warrant officers wore sleeve lace, which consisted of half-inch stripes broken at intervals with dark-blue silk weaving.

Enlisted members of the State Militias were required to wear the same uniforms as men of the Navy in 1913, with the addition of a distinctive mark, a lozenge with a vertical foul anchor. For blue clothes, the lozenge had a blue field with a white outline and a white anchor in the center; the colors were inverted for use on white apparel. The militia mark was worn halfway between the wrist and elbow on the sleeve opposite the one that the rating badge or branch mark was placed on.

The rating badge—three scarlet chevrons, a white eagle and specialty mark, and two crossed anchors—appears on the right arm since the First Class Petty Officer Boatswain’s Mate is a member of the seaman branch. The cap ribbon was also worn to indicate a connection to the Naval Militia. The ribbon showed the name of the vessel flanked by the Militia lozenge if a soldier was assigned to a ship loaned to the State by the Federal Government. If the ribbon was not assigned to a ship, it shows the word “Naval Militia” and the initials or abbreviation of the state’s name.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1917-1918

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

Under the Naval Appropriations Act of 3 March 1915, Congress established the Naval Reserve to augment the Regular Navy in the event that the United States became involved in the European war. Only individuals who had previously served honorably in the Navy were eligible for reserve status under the Act. An Act of August 29, 1916, strengthened the program by allowing other people whose abilities might be useful in a time of war to join the Reserve. The Naval Flying Corps was likewise constituted as part of the regular establishment by the 1916 act, with 150 officers and 350 men. The Naval Reserve has played an important role in the success of the United States Navy during both World Wars and in the years since.

The Reserve Legislation had no restrictions on participants’ gender, and it was under this broad authority that women were enlisted in World War I and given the Yeoman (F) rating, which was called “Yeomanettes” informally. After World War I, the Naval Reserve was only accessible to male citizens, but on July 30, 1942, the 1938 Naval Reserve Act was revised to allow women to enlist as officers and enlisted personnel, allowing male members of the Navy to be released for sea duty. Women have served well and honorably from the outset, and have been an integral part of the Regular Establishment since 1948.

The Yeomanette in the left background, or Second Class Petty Officer (F) of the “Enrolled Women of the Naval Reserve Force,” is wearing the blue uniform prescribed by Change 15 to the 1913 Navy Uniform Regulations. The change was issued between Change 14 of October 12, 1917, and Change 16 of January 10, 1918, despite the fact that it is updated.

The coats, white in summer and blue in winter, were single-breasted with two lower patch pockets in the Norfolk. The coat had pleats from each shoulder in the back to the hem, as well as in the front, and it was belted around. The buttons were the Navy’s standard gilt buttons. The full skirts were long and fitted over the hips, as was the style at the time. When the collar was unbuttoned, the white shirtwaist was worn with a black neckerchief, and when the collar was closed, it was worn without a neckerchief.

The “sailor” hat had a straight brim and was made of rough white straw in the summer and blue felt in the winter.  The lettering on the hatband was not specified in the original instructions, but contemporary photographs indicate “U. S. Naval Reserve Force”, “U. S. Naval Reserve” or “U. S. Navy.” The blue uniform had high or low black shoes, whereas the summer outfit had white shoes. On the blue jacket, the second class petty officer rating badge of a “yeomanette” was similar to the male yeoman’s—two scarlet chevrons with two white crossed quills in the vee, all surmounted by a white spread eagle. The badge was worn on the left sleeve because yeomen were not members of the seaman branch.

The commander is wearing the 1918 forestry green aviation outfit. This uniform was the outgrowth of the unofficial dress used by aviators in 1912-1913. A modification made on June 22, 1917, just after the United States entered World War I, was the first official recognition of the necessity for a specific uniform for the small but growing naval air arm. Change 11 called for the same khaki uniform as before, but with drab, woven wool leggings instead of leather puttees. The alteration brought the uniform closer to that of the Marine Corps since the fabric was to be khaki cotton, similar to the field uniform of the Marine Corps.

Change 12 of 7 September 1917 authorized the uniform to be made of Marine Corps forestry green wool material to give a more appropriate uniform for cold weather. Both winter and summer Summer and winter uniforms were to be forestry green in color, lightweight material for warm-weather wear, and wool for cold-weather wear, according to Change 18 of 1 April 1918. Below the waistline, two bellows pockets were added to the coat, and leather puttees were once again approved. The same shoulder marks used on the white service coat were used to identify an officer’s rank. On his marks, the commander shows three gold lace stripes with a gold star above them. 

When flying without their coats, aviators were directed to wear the flexible shoulder marks on their khaki shirts, as a result, their rank could be identified if they were captured. The visor had gold embroidered oak leaves and acorns of a commander or captain, and the cap cover was forestry green to match the coat. The officer’s leather coat was not part of the uniform, but rather flight gear supplied to naval aviators.

The Naval Reserve’s lieutenant commander is shown in the blue service uniform. Until the current double-breasted sack coat was introduced immediately after World War I, this style coat remained a component of an officer’s wardrobe. Instead of the foul anchor of the Line, the officer’s affiliation with the Naval Reserve Force is signified by the usage of the Naval Reserve device on the standing collar behind the gold oak leaf of his grade. The device, which was introduced by Change 10 on 18 January 1917, was made of metal and was like the device on a commissioned officer’s cap, but it was one inch taller.

Officers in the Naval Reserve were also required to wear a special button in place of the Regular Navy’s gilt eagle buttons. The device was a simple anchor that was set vertically on the button, with the letters ‘U.S.” above the stock, one on either side of the ring, and the letters “N.R.” flanking the stock above the flukes. The sleeve lace is identical to that worn by a lieutenant commander in the Regular Navy, consisting of two half-inch wide gold lace stripes separated by a quarter-inch stripe. The gold star above the lace indicates a Line officer, while the wings on the left breast indicate a qualified naval aviator.

The lieutenant is wearing the June 1917 summer khaki uniform with the most unsatisfactory wrap leggings. With the exception of the upper breast pockets, the coat has the same cut as the white service coat. It wasn’t until 1918 that the lower bellows pockets were introduced. Aviators’ wings were initially described as a winged foul anchor with the letters ‘U.S.’ in Change 12 of September 7, 1917. Change 14 of October 12, 1917, directed that the “U.S.” be removed, therefore none of this type seems to have been worn.

The shield with vertical stripes and a plain field put on the anchor became part of the device, which is still the mark of a naval aviator. The khaki-covered cap is shown without a grommet, a practice that began in World War I and has continued in certain cases. Officers were allowed to use previous model uniforms as long as they were serviceable until the aviation dress was abolished in 1923, despite the fact that the uniform was modified several times during the war.

The dungaree suit was the only “working” uniform approved under the original 1913 Uniform Regulations. Dungarees were only worn by officers and men assigned to the engineer force or to duty in gun turrets aboard submarines, cruising vessels, and torpedo boats. Only when working in areas where a standard uniform would be soiled might dungarees be worn. The original suit comprised of a blue denim pullover jumper and blue denim trousers. The jumper was replaced with a single-breasted, five-button coat on Change 17 of March 1918. Officers and men who had to remove their dungarees when leaving work locations may now dress more comfortably. 

The dungaree suit had no provision for displaying an officer’s grade or an enlisted man’s rating. For enlisted men assigned to the aviation service, a new set of specialty marks was introduced with the March 1918 uniform change. The Navy’s rapid development necessitated the acquisition of new skills and ratings, which supported a vigorous training program. Quartermaster, machinist’s mate, and carpenter’s mate were the old, recognized ratings for aviation specialists. 

The new ratings were created using existing devices with the addition of wings. The ship’s wheel was depicted with wings by an aviation quartermaster, while aviation carpenter’s mates were represented by winged crossed axes. Aviation machinists demonstrated a winged two-bladed airplane propeller in place of the old three-bladed ship propeller. The apprentice badge, a single carrick bend knot with an eagle perched in the center, was used to distinguish men in training for aviation ratings.

The provision of a white warm-weather uniform as well as any form of evening or dinner dress clothes for officers of the United States Navy was a long and slow process. Early in the history of the United States Navy, enlisted personnel was issued a white uniform for warm weather. Officers were not allowed to wear white coats or jackets until 1852, when a white drill jacket was allowed to be worn as service uniform at sea in the tropics, except at general muster or when in charge of the deck. Bluecoats or lightweight fabric jackets were permitted for warm-weather duty and could be worn with white trousers. Finally, in 1883, a white uniform was approved, one that could be worn afloat or ashore in any situation when proper service dress was required.

It was not until 1866 that a blue costume was approved as a special evening dress uniform for social occasions. The coat was patterned on the prevailing civilian full dress coat and was worn with grade and corps insignia on the collar. The evening full dress coat was worn with all the accessories by 1897, including sleeve lace and shoulder ornaments. Officers were required to wear an appropriate dinner dress after the War with Spain when warm climate duty became more common. General Order No. 48, issued in June 1901, introduced a white mess jacket to be worn with full dress laced trousers for dinner dress or either blue or white trousers for mess dress.

With the grade of lieutenant, the Assistant Paymaster is shown in the 1913 version of the mess jacket.  Two medium-sized gilt Navy buttons are shown on each side. Two buttons connected by a ring hold the jacket together at the waist. The shoulder marks are the non-rigid type and are stiffened with horsehair, introduced in 1899 to replace the old shoulder straps and display a lieutenant’s two stripes of gold lace with the white cloth of the Supply Corps between them.

The shirt was plain white, starched, and fastened with two or three studs in plain gold.  A stiff-standing collar with square corners was worn with the bow tie of the period. Four small gilt Navy buttons fastened the white waistcoat with a rolling collar. In the mess dress, the plain blue high-waisted trousers were close-fitting over the buttocks and without pockets except for a watch pocket on either side. The patent leather shoes were black. Gold-laced trousers were not permitted to be worn with the white mess jacket according to the 1913 instructions. For the mess dress, an officer’s cap with a white cover was required.

White and blue uniforms were provided to “Women of the Naval Reserve Force.” The Norfolk-type coat with pleats down the front and back, as well as the wide cloth belt, had the same cut. When the coat was removed in warm weather, the collar of the shirtwaist was unfastened and a black neckerchief was worn. The shirtwaist buttons were plain white pearls with a diameter of 3/8 inch. Only on the left side of the waist was there a pocket.

According to the illustration that accompanied Change 15, which was produced between October 12, 1917, and January 10, 1918, the full white skirt was to include a pocket on either side. All available photographs of Yeomanettes, however, only show pockets on the left side. A black ribbon with the words “US Navy” in gold is tied around the white straw hat. Despite the fact that the Naval Reserve’s enlisted personnel were required to wear cap ribbons with the words “Naval Reserve Force,” several photographs depict Yeomanettes wearing caps with the words “US Navy” and “US Naval Reserve.”

Because there was no provision for a rating badge to be shown on the shirtwaist’s sleeves, the Yeomanettes’ rating cannot be determined when the coat is removed. A single chevron, the spread eagle, and crossed quills, the specialty mark of all yeomen, would appear on either the blue or white coat of a Third Class Petty Officer Yeoman (F). The white uniform was worn with white canvas or buckskin shoes.

The commander’s white service uniform dates back to 1883. The collar, down the front edges, around the bottom, and down the back seams were all trimmed with white braid, just like the single-breasted, fly-front blue service coat of 1877. In 1883, only the grade was shown on the sleeves by white braid stripes. The same coat was worn in 1897, but this time with shoulder straps to indicate both grade and corps. The style of the coat was changed by General Order No. 48 of June 1901. It was single-breasted, with a plain standing collar that was buttoned with five large gilt Navy buttons.

Shoulder marks, introduced in 1899, were used to indicate grade and corps. The white service coat used in 1901 is basically the same as the one worn now. The commander is shown in the white service uniform of 1913. The three stripes of half-inch wide gold lace of his grade are shown on the shoulder marks, with the gold star of the Line above them. The top of the cap had to be only a half-inch larger than the base under the 1913 order, therefore the overhang was smaller than it is now. As they do today, the embroidered oak leaves and acorns indicate a Line officer of the grade of captain or commander. White canvas or buckskin shoes might be paired with white trousers.

The Navy Nurse is in a white ward uniform, which includes a white shirtwaist, a full, starched skirt, a white cap, and white stockings and shoes. The insignia of the Navy Nurse Corps on each side of the open shirtwaist collar distinguishes her from a civilian nurse. The gold foul anchor on which a gold oak leaf and acorn had been placed, the entire surmounted by the letters “N.N.C.” in silver, was the device toward the end of the First World War. The white cap bears no indication of the nurse’s rank in the Corps and is similar to that worn by many civilian nurses at the period.

The Third Class Seaman’s white dress uniform is quite similar to that described in the 1840 Uniform Regulations, with the exception that the collar and cuffs are faced with blue cloth. The collar and cuffs of the white dress jumper were to be faced with blue flannel according to the 1913 instructions, but the undressed whites were to be omitted from the blue facing. The white dress jumper had three rows of white tape on the collar for all enlisted men, although the number of rows on the blue cuffs varied. 

Petty officers had three rows of tape; hospital apprentices, Second Class seamen, and bakers, as well as Third Class and Fourth Class ship’s cooks, had two rows; mess attendants and Third Class seamen had just one stripe of tape in the center of the blue cuff.  The white jumper hung loosely rather than being gathered in at the waist. The white trousers had the same cut as the blues, but instead of a drop fall, they featured a fly front. The dress was completed with black shoes, a white cotton drill hat, and a black neckerchief (omitted in undressed whites).

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1918-1919

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

There are always changes in military uniform during times of war, and the United States Navy’s uniform during the First World War was no exception. Many official modifications to the Navy Uniform Regulations of 1913 reflect the incorporation of reserve personnel into active service, the influence of the dress of our allies, the changing weapons of war, and the changing styles of civilian clothing. There were many revisions in the early years of the order a new version was published on January 20, 1917. Changes were made until 1921, shortly before the new uniform instructions of 1922 were released.

Pharmacists were to be appointed as warrant officers when the Hospital Corps was founded in 1898, and there was no provision for lower ratings in this medical specialty. In 1916, Congress established ratings for chief pharmacists as well as pharmacists of the first, second, and third classes. The red Geneva Cross of the Hospital Corps was designated as the distinguishing mark for this new class of petty officers on Change 8 of October 13, 1916. The Third Class Petty Officer Pharmacist’s Mate wears on this rate the single scarlet chevron with the white spread eagle and the red Geneva Cross on the left arm, as shown in the background. 

Only members of the seaman’s branch wore rating badges on their right arm. Except for chief petty officers, all enlisted men had three rows of white tape on their collars of the full-dress blue overshirt.   Three rows of tape were also added to the cuffs of petty officers. Depending on the rate, other enlisted men’s cuffs had two or a single stripe. It’s worth noting that the overshirt, now known as a jumper, does not hang as straight as it does now. The shirt included a drawstring in the bottom seam that was pulled tight at the waist to make it hang like a blouse, according to the 1913 instructions.

Despite the fact that there are no official uniform requirements for personnel of the Navy Nurse Corps prior to 1924, there are numerous fine, contemporary photographs and some remarks. A dark-blue Norfolk coat, a wide blue skirt, a blue cape to be worn buttoned and belted, and a blue hat made up the outdoor dress. This outfit may be seen in photographs of Navy nurses taken by the Army Signal Corps in 1918, and it was used as the basis for the illustration. The Corps’ insignia is a gold oak leaf and acorn placed on a gold foul anchor on either side of the cape collar.

In the photograph of Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, the Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps during the war, she wears a blue coat with a standing collar. The coat is buttoned up the front with black buttons and has the Corps device on either side of the collar, just like military coats of the period. Her hat is a stiff felt “sailor” type hat, unlike the dark blue felt hat depicted in the Signal Corps images. Both hats have black ribbons on them.

The Supply Corps’ lieutenant commander is shown in the new blue service coat. The current double-breasted blue service coat was authorized to replace the single-breasted fly front coat initially authorized in 1877 by Uniform Change 27 of 17 March 1919. The sack coat was similar to that worn by British Navy officers during the war and was in line with civilian clothing of the time. A plain white shirt with a stiff turndown collar and a black four-in-hand tie was to be worn with the coat.

The white cloth, which has been used to identify Supply Corps (formerly Pay Corps) personnel since 1869, does not appear between the sleeve lace stripes. The colored cloth was removed from the sleeves of all staff officers on November 16, 1918, and their corps device was to be worn above the upper stripe of lace, similar to how officers of the Line had worn the gold star since 1863. The same modification was made to the shoulder marks, with the device replacing the colored Corps cloth. The fly-front blue service coat could be worn until January 1, 1921, but after that, all uniforms purchased after the March 1919 order had to be double-breasted.

Chaplains were finally allowed to wear a uniform more like that of other commissioned officers after years of being denied most of the insignia and gold lace were worn by other commissioned officers of the Navy. Chaplains were directed to put gold lace on the sleeves of their blue coats to indicate their grade, and to utilize the lustrous black braid, which had previously indicated their grade, as a Corps cloth for chaplains, according to a modification made on June 26, 1918.

A chaplain’s cap was to be the same as that of other staff officers. The chin strap, originally a black braid, was to be gold lace. Captain and commander chaplains, who had previously shown a band of half-inch wide black braid on the visor of their caps, now displayed the gold lace worn by the other senior staff corps officers. The commander’s chaplain wore the blue undress uniform, which includes a blue frock coat, blue trousers, and a cap with a white cover. The lustrous black braid, the Chaplain Corps’ identifying color, runs between the three stripes of half-inch gold lace on his sleeves. There were five buttons on each breast of the frock coat; in which, only the lower four buttoned and the uppermost remained visible. 

Although Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels stated on 7 October 1917 that officers would not be obliged to wear uniforms other than blue and white service dress, officers were allowed to wear more formal uniforms on special occasions.

The dress of personnel of the Naval Militia, the Naval Reserve Force, and the National Volunteer Force, was a subject of continuous revision under the 1913 Navy Uniform Regulations. Non-regular status was determined using a variety of methods. Under the original instructions of the Naval Militia, a staff officer had to have a break in the center of the distinguishing corps cloth on the sleeves of blue uniforms.

Change 10 was issued in January 1917 to create a uniform for members of the newly formed Naval Reserve, instructing that these officers wear the Naval Reserve Force device, a miniature cap insignia, instead of the corps device of the US Navy or the star of an officer of the Line. The distinctive Corps cloth between the sleeve lace would not be broken in the case of a Reserve staff officer, as it had been done previously for the Militia.

Change 20, which was not dated but was issued between June 26 and July 2, 1918, included new instructions for identifying Naval Reserve staff officers. The cloth had to be broken in the center over a distance of an inch and a half to indicate the Corps affiliation. Instead of the special insignia introduced in 1917, reserve staff officers might now display their relevant corps devices on the standing collar of the blue service coat. 

The officer in the picture is a lieutenant in the Medical Corps of the United States Naval Reserve Force. The Medical Corps’ dark maroon cloth is broken in the middle by his grade’s two half-inch wide gold lace stripes. Behind the two silver bars of his grade, the Medical Corps’ device, a gold oak leaf with a silver acorn superimposed, is displayed on his collar. The uniforms and insignia for both regular and reserve officers would not be uniformed until the 1920s.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1922-1931

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

As one might assume, the first uniform instruction issued following World War I contained elements of clothing produced during the war, reinstated some of the more formal and decorative outfits that had been halted during hostilities, and omitted some others. On October 13, 1922, a Bureau of Navigation Circular Letter informed all hands that a new regulation will be released soon, along with some of the adjustments that would be implemented. The distinctive full-dress body coat with tails, launched in 1802, was no longer used. The frock coat, formerly known as the undress coat, was to become the Navy’s most formal coat.

Another significant change was the abolishment of the aviation uniform, which had been in use unofficially since 1912-1913 and became part of the official instructions in 1917 as Naval Air was coming into its own. At this late date, it’s difficult to come up with a good reason for doing away with a most serviceable uniform in favor of dungarees as a working dress! The aviation uniform would be reinstated under official regulations before too many years.

The Chief Boatswain’s Mate is shown in the 1922 order’s white dress uniform. Each side of the double-breasted coat had four gilt Navy buttons. Even though the coat was similar to that of the 1913 Regulations, the new version reflected a change in the officer’s blue sack coat’s style, which was introduced in 1919, with longer lapels and a shorter coat. Because the right sleeve displays a distinctive device, the boatswain may be recognized as one qualified for submarine service. The submarine’s bow is flanked by horizontal dolphins in the insignia. Dolphins are an excellent choice for identifying personnel of the Navy’s undersea service because they may be found both on the surface and underwater. 

On white uniforms, the device was embroidered in blue, whereas on blue uniforms, it was embroidered in white. The rating badge is typical for a chief petty officer, an eagle, an arc, three chevrons, and a specialty mark, in the case of a Boatswain’s Mate, two crossed anchors. On the white uniform, all sections of the rating badge are in blue.

The chevrons and arc would be scarlet cloth on a blue coat, while the eagle and specialty mark would be white. The chief wore a cap that was similar to a commissioned officer’s. The device was the gilt foul anchor on which the letters “U.S.N.” in silver had been put, initially adopted in 1897 and still utilized by chief petty officers. Chiefs wore black patent leather straps instead of the gold lace thin straps worn by commissioned officers. Instead of the standing collar and bow tie of the 1913 instructions, the white shirt followed the pattern created by the introduction of the officer’s blue sack coat, namely, white with a turndown collar and a black four-in-hand tie.

The lack of uniforms suitable for aviation duty had been an issue of concern and discussion since the Maritime Bureau announced that it would be phased out in October 1922.  On June 22, 1924, the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy urging him to approve a smaller khaki uniform for summer and a heavier one for winter. He recommended that all officers whose responsibilities included working with equipment may benefit from such a uniform. This idea became a reality right before WWII! On April 8, 1925, “Naval Aviators, Observers, and Other Officers detailed to duty requiring flying” were permitted to wear a working dress.

The newly authorized coat was a modification of the new service blue sack coat, not one from the previous conflict. The self-belted, single-breasted khaki coat was fastened with three bronzed buttons, had notched lapels, a rolling collar, a pocket on either breast and two lower bellows pockets.  Similar to the forestry green winter coat, but with bellows pleats at the back at the shoulders to allow for more flexibility. Instead of shoulder marks, which were used in World War I, the black braid was used on the sleeves to indicate grade, with the Line’s star embroidered in black above the stripes. 

Only breeches and puttees were to be worn with the aviation coats after the 1925 alteration. Regular trousers were allowed to be worn after a modification on May 1, 1929. A soft collared khaki shirt and black tie were worn with both the winter and summer uniforms. The commander wears his grade’s three black braid stripes on his sleeves and the Line’s star. All officers of the grade of commander and captain have gold embroidery on their cap visors. On the left breast is a device that indicates an officer who is qualified for aviation duty. It might be a bronzed, gold-plated pin-on device or gold embroidery sewn on the coat, similar to those worn in 1917.

When the Navy Uniform Regulations were ultimately issued on September 20, 1922, there was no provision for personnel of the Navy Nurse Corps. “Uniform Regulations, United States Navy Nurse Corps,” a separate publication, was published in 1924 and revised in 1927 and 1929. The outdoor uniform’s coat was blue-black in color, double-breasted, and had three black buttons on each forepart. The roll collar and notched lapels were similar to the male officers’ sack coats. The nurses’ grades were indicated on the sleeves with a black silk braid.

The Superintendent of the Corps wore two half-inch wide braid stripes separated by a quarter-inch stripe; assistant superintendents wore two half-inch wide stripes; chief nurses wore one-half-inch wide stripe and one-quarter-inch wide stripe, and nurses wore a single half-inch wide braid. On either end of the collar, an embroidered corps device, the gold foul anchor with the gold oak leaves and acorn on it and the letters “N.N.C.” on top, was sewed.

The white shirtwaist had a stand-up, turndown collar and was made of silk or cotton. A four-in-hand black silk or satin tie was worn. The gored skirt had to be no more than 10 inches from the deck under the 1924 order; this was altered in 1929 to allow the skirt to be 12 inches from the deck. The blue-black plush hat had a strong similarity to 1920s civilian women’s headpieces. A metal corps device shown on the right side of the front gave the hat a military touch. The same metal device was displayed on the white outdoor coat’s collar, which was cut similarly to the blues, and on the white ward uniform’s collar points. The blue uniform required black shoes and stockings, whereas the ward uniform and outdoor whites required white shoes and stockings.

Chaplains were allowed to wear all items of uniform authorized for commissioned officers except the gold-laced, cocked hat, full dress trousers, epaulets, and the sword under the 1922 instruction. Chaplains, like other staff officers, wore their grades on their sleeves with gold lace, and their corps device, the Latin cross in gold, was worn above the lace, as was approved immediately after World War I. The Chaplain Corps lieutenant wore a white shirt with the regulations’ detachable stiff turndown collar. Soft collars were not authorized on shirts until just before World War II when shirts with attached semi-stiff collars were allowed.

When the 1922 order was issued, submarine officers’ working clothing remained the same as it had been under the 1913 instructions: dungarees. Submariners were given an acceptable and serviceable uniform six years after the aviation dress was reinstated. Change 7 of March 31, 1931, allowed for a khaki uniform similar to aviators’, but with long trousers and black shoes instead of brown. The khaki uniform was originally only worn by officers serving in submarines or at submarine bases, but it was extended to Chief Petty Officers in 1939.

The submarine-qualified lieutenant wore his grade’s stripes in black mohair on his sleeves, with the Line’s star in black silk above them and the submarine device on his left breast. A bronzed, gold-plated metal pin depicts the bow view of a submarine proceeding on the surface with its bow rudders equipped for diving. Horizontal dolphins flank the submarine, their heads resting on the top edge of the rudders. The device resembles the embroidered one worn by enlisted soldiers qualified for submarine service.

Uniforms of the U.S Navy 1941

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

On May 31, 1941, Secretary Frank Knox approved a revised edition of the Navy Uniform Regulations. Because there had been no change in the style of civilian clothes, which generally has some impact on the shape of the naval uniform, the descriptions of the items of the uniform were mostly those of the 1922 instruction. A new regulation is never truly “new,” but rather a composite of the previous order and the numerous revisions made after it was first issued.

The Drum Major wears a full-dress, single-breasted dark blue coat with gold-colored frogs and scarlet cuffs and collar, which was originally worn in 1933. Although old ship logs show that bands existed in the early days of the Navy, the Uniform Regulations did not include an official uniform for musicians until 1886. The coat was trimmed with scarlet frogs and cloth, and the uniform was blue. A scarlet tunic trimmed with white braid and yellow lace and sky blue trousers were part of the 1897 bandsman’s uniform, which was seen in an earlier painting in this series. 

Navy bandsmen wore the full dress uniform of enlisted Marine Corps members with minor alterations to indicate that they were part of a naval unit under the 1913 instructions. The full dress uniform of 1941 was similar to the one initially mandated in 1886. Despite being single-breasted, the musician’s 1941 blue coat had three rows of six Navy gilt buttons. A gold-colored silk or rayon cord was used to connect the three buttons in each horizontal row. The pointed scarlet cuffs were fastened with three small buttons, and the scarlet collar had the letters “USN” in gilt on either side. Yellow flannel was piped around the front edge of the coat, the skirts, and the back seams from the lower edge to the waistline. Back at the seams, two gilt buttons were seen on the waistline.

For all musicians, the sleeve device was a lyre surcharged on an anchor, all embroidered in gold. Between the elbow and the shoulder, the device was worn on both sleeves. The drum major in full dress showed three chevrons below the device, points down, with a gold star below the point.  On the waist plate of the white leather dress belt was a spread eagle. On the outer seams of the dark blue trousers, an inch wide stripe of scarlet material was piped with yellow.

The cap had a dark blue cover and was stiffly framed, standing and flaring around its circumference. The scarlet cap band was trimmed at the top and bottom with a narrow yellow braid, with a half-inch wide band of yellow silk in the center. For the cap device—the lyre/anchor of the sleeves—the yellow band was broken in front. The chin strap and visor both were black. Bandsmen wore the blue or white uniforms of chief petty officers instead of full uniforms.

The only prescribed outer clothes for enlisted men in cold weather until the 1886 uniform regulations were a vest and a short blue cloth overcoat or “pea jacket” established in 1866. With the exception of the two lower pockets on the front, the 1941 double-breasted, finger-length pea jacket with black buttons was very similar to the 1886 version. The pockets have been relocated to the side seams. The man’s cap ribbon identifies him as a Naval Reserve member on training duty. Men in the regular component were to wear the words “U.S. Navy” on their cap ribbons, while men in the Reserve would wear “U.S. Naval Reserve” while they were inactive or on a training assignment. On the black bands, the lettering was gold.

The captain’s overcoat is based on the 1922 order, which was in turn based on the World War I bridge coat. The black buttons on the 1913 outer coat were worn completely buttoned. Gilt buttons were first allowed in November 1919, when the overcoat’s design was modified to better match the newly introduced double-breasted sack service coat.

Officers’ overcoats were first mentioned in the uniform regulations of 1841. Rank was represented on the sleeves in 1941, as it had been in 1913, with black braid and shoulder marks indicating both corps and rank. The white shirt is a change from the 1913 order, as white shirts with connected semi-stiff collars may now be worn instead of the prior orders’ detached stiff collars. The cap with a blue cover, indicates Service Dress, Blue A.  On the cap bill is gold embroidery of a commander or captain.

The rear admiral’s frock coat, which the rear admiral wears in full dress, is a 20th-century version of the coat in undress in 1830. Later, the same coat was used for dress. The special full dress coat, with tails and a front cut to the waist, was suspended for the duration of the war in 1917, but it was never reinstated. The frock coat was to be worn for dress, full dress, and undress under the 1922 order, and this was carried over into the 1941 regulations.

Only the lower four buttons were buttoned on the double-breasted coat, which had five Navy gilt buttons on each side. Gold lace, in this case, a two-inch-wide stripe with a half-inch wide stripe above it, was used to indicate rank on the sleeves. Above the lace was the Line’s star, or the device of a Navy staff corps.  Epaulets were worn with full dress. Those of a rear admiral, Line had a gold foul anchor on the strap, and two stars on the pad. In full dress, belt or flag officers made of dark navy-blue webbing with leather backing and three one-quarter inch wide gold stripes woven into the webbing. Captains and commanders wore seven one-sixteenth-inch wide gold stripes on their belts, while inferior officers wore five stripes. All commissioned officers’ sword slings were trimmed with three three-eighths-inch wide gold weaving stripes. 

Except for chief warrant officers, all other commissioned officers wore full dress trousers with gold lace on the outer seams. In 1852, this practice was established. The lace is an inch and a quarter wide for flag officers, an inch and a half wide for commanders and captains, and one inch wide for others. The cloak was not included in the Navy Uniform Regulations until 1852, despite the fact that it had long been a component of an officer’s wardrobe. If cold or rainy conditions made it necessary, the cloak was to be worn on boats or while epaulets were worn. 

The 1941 boat cloak was dark blue with a black velvet collar and was lined with black silk or a similar material. Hooks and eyes were used to fix the collar, and black silk frogs were used to secure the cloak over the breast. The cocked hat’s trim indicated rank. Flag officers wore fans with an inch and a half of lace on them and a black cockade with a loop of the same width lace. The cockade loop was the width of the trouser lace, and all other officers’ fans were trimmed with black silk.

Given the fact that uniforms for Navy Nurse Corps members had been prescribed by competent authority prior to 1941, they did not appear in an official Navy Uniform Regulation until that edition. A formal street dress was not included in Chapter XVII, which provided for an indoor or ward uniform and also protective clothes for use outside. The indoor white uniform consisted of a skirt with a detachable white belt that was attached to a bodice at the waistline.

The corps device was worn on each side of the open collar’s points. The device was a gold-plated brass oak leaf with an acorn superimposed on a gold foul anchor, as seen before. The letters “N.N.C.” in bright silver were put over the device. The nurse’s indoor white cap indicated her rank within the Corps. The Superintendent’s black velvet band featured two quarter-inch wide gold lace stripes separated by an eighth-inch stripe; Assistant Superintendents wore two quarter-inch stripes; Principal Chief Nurses wore a one-quarter-inch stripe and one-eighth-inch wide stripe; Chief Nurses wore a one-quarter-inch stripe, and nurses who had completed their probationary period wore an eighth-inch wide stripe. 

On the black velvet, nurses who were still on probation showed no lace. The dark blue fur-felt outdoor hat had a metal pin on the device on the right side of the center. The blue cape had a black velvet collar and was lined with maroon cloth. The cape was fastened across the breast with black frogs, and the collar was closed with hooks and eyes. Nurses were only permitted to wear white shoes and stockings under the 1941 order. Complete outdoor uniforms, both blue and white, were prescribed for the Nurse Corps in March 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1942-1943

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

In addition to a section on working uniforms, the 1941 Navy Uniforms included a section on tropical clothing. Prior to the United States’ outbreak of World War II, the Navy’s worldwide activities, which were often in tropical and semi-tropical conditions, indicated that some type of dress, other than the white service dress of earlier regulations, was required. Shorts and short-sleeved roll collar shirts were the basic tropical uniform for officers and chief petty officers. Shorts and shirts were either khaki or white. To match the outfit, the headpiece was a standard cap with a white or khaki cover.

Except for the chiefs, all enlisted men wore white undershirts and shorts. In place of caps or enlisted men’s white hats, all personnel could wear white or khaki helmets. Officers and chiefs were not required to wear anything on their helmets at first, but in 1943, officers were required to wear miniature cap devices. Officers and chiefs wore black khakis and white shoes with their white tropical uniforms. Officers, on the other hand, were allowed to wear tan shoes with their khakis. Black shoes were used by enlisted soldiers with both khaki and white uniforms.

Officers’ ranks were marked by miniature pin-on collar devices on both khaki and white uniforms. On both collar points, a line officer had rank devices, whereas a staff officer had the corps device on the left. Chief petty officers did not wear rating badges on their tropical shirts, thus their only means of identification was the cap device, which was the standard anchor/USN insignia on the front of their caps.

With one exception, the captain, Naval Aviator, wore the official 1941 white tropical uniform. His headpiece is a white garrison cap, rather than the white-covered cap or helmet. To match the uniform, this cap was allowed in January 1941 and may be white, khaki, blue, or forestry green. Except for aviators, all commissioned officers wore a rank device on the right side and a miniature cap device on the left side after the 1943 modification. 

Aviators wore a miniature aviation device on the left side of their garrison cap until August 28, 1943. Then they took on the cap device that all other cops wore. The garrison cap was only to be worn by commissioned and warrant Naval Aviators, as well as chief petty officers designated as Naval Aviation Pilots, according to the original 1941 instruction. To match the summer and winter aviation uniform, the cap was to be khaki or green.

The commander of the Supply Corps wore a white service uniform that evolved from the white drill, a double-breasted jacket adopted in 1852 for use with light-weight blue trousers in tropical climates. When the former white coat trimmed with white braid was discontinued in June 1901, under General Order No. 48, the new coat style became effective.

In normal circumstances, an officer in the rank of commander’s visor would be decorated with gold embroidered oak leaves and acorns. Except for formal occasions, officers were required to wear caps with polished black visors under a change on January 2, 1943. Instead of gold lace, a black braid was supposed to be used for the chin straps. Due to the difficulties in obtaining gold lace during the war, several adjustments took place. Because of the shortage of lace, the gold lace sleeve stripes were modified. Half lace was to be worn on the outer side of the sleeves, from seam to seam.

The Navy’s Construction Battalions were established in 1942 to do overseas construction work, replacing civilian employees of contractors who had been building the Navy’s bases in the Pacific and Atlantic previous to the outbreak of the war. It was evident after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that people could not be used in battle areas. Civilians who bore arms and resisted attack would be considered guerrillas and so be liable to immediate execution.

The Bureau of Naval Personnel authorized the formation of the first three Construction Battalions on January 5, 1942. The total strength was expected to be around 3000 officers and men, drawn from the building trades. A peak of nearly 259,000 people was reached before the war ended. The Navy’s construction crews saw action in every combat zone, and its slogan, “Can Do,” was well deserved. Construction battalions were quickly renamed “C.Bs,” and then “SeaBees.”

Officers and men were required to wear a working uniform under Chapter XI of the 1941 Regulations. The chapter was divided into two sections: first, officers and men wore dungarees, and second, officers and chief petty officers wore a cotton khaki uniform. The khaki uniform was inspired by World War I aviators’ clothing and was reintroduced in 1925 for aviators before being extended to submariners in 1931.

The chief petty officer wore dungarees, which were only to be worn when the duties required a less formal uniform. The complete dungaree uniform comprised blue denim trousers with a black belt, a blue denim jumper, a headcover, and a soft-collared blue chambray shirt.  With the jumper off and a level rod in hand for the Civil Engineer officer acting as chief of a survey party, the chief surveyor can only be identified as a chief petty officer by the device on his khaki-covered cap.

It would not be for many years, and rating badges for dungarees in dark blue against the lighter blue of the chambray or denim chambray would be authorized under a new uniform instruction.  On blues or whites, a chief surveyor’s specialty mark would be a measuring scale (target on a cut-off section of a level rod). This device is still in use today.

Nurses had no rank status from the beginning of the Nurse Corps in 1908 until World War II, although being members of the Regular Establishment. According to a January 1943 publication from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Navy nurses were to have the same relative rank as male commissioned officers under an Act of Congress approved on July 3, 1942:

Superintendent—lieutenant commander

Ass’t Superintendent—lieutenant

Chief Nurse—lieutenant (junior grade)


The President had signed a bill on December 22, 1942, giving the Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps the relative rank of captain, and such Assistant Superintendents as the Secretary of the Navy might designate, the relative rank of either commander or lieutenant commander.  Regarding the “Special Notice,” the January 1943 publication stated that the insignia was to be worn only for the relative ranks of ensign to lieutenant commanders. 

However, another document from August 1943 stated that the Superintendent’s rank device would be a silver eagle of a captain. Assistant Superintendents were separated into three groups: commanders were given a silver oak leaf as a device, lieutenant commanders were given gold oak leaves, and lieutenants were given two silver bars. It’s worth mentioning that when male staff officers were given rank in 1899, the term and status “relative rank” was eliminated!

The white service uniform described in the August 1943 instructions is worn by the chief nurse, who is a lieutenant (junior grade). Three gilt Navy buttons adorn the single-breasted coat, which also had four outside pockets, two of which are bellows type. Only half of the wearer’s grade was shown on the blue flexible shoulder marks, and there was no corps device. A silver bar, a metal grade device, is worn on the right collar tip, while a miniature Nurse Corps insignia is worn on the left. The white visorless covered cap’s shape was circular at the top.  The front band of the black mohair cap was an inch and a half wide, tapering to three-quarters of an inch behind. A metal device of the Nurse Corps was worn as a cap insignia. White shoes and hose were required to wear with the white uniform.

The lieutenant of the Civil Engineer Corps wore the tropical khaki uniform of 1943. The shirt and shorts had the same design as the Naval Aviator’s whites, but instead of a garrison cap, a khaki helmet was used. The miniature gold and silver cap device allowed in April 1943 is decorating the helmet. Officers could wear brown shoes with khakis, despite the fact that the basic 1941 instructions mandated black shoes. Both short and long socks were allowed with the tropical uniforms, with the colors matching the uniform.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1943-1944

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

A dungaree working uniform was supplied for both men and officers under the 1922 Regulations, although it was hardly used. Submarines and aviators had a proper working uniform after modifications between 1925 and 1931. Officers on duty at submarine bases and air stations, who were not certified as submarines or flyers, were later allowed to wear greens or khakis. The use of the khaki uniform was expanded as protests continued ahead of the United States’ outbreak of World War II, to include officers performing responsibilities for which the standard white or blue service uniforms were inadequate.

On February 21, 1941, an “AlNav” permitted all officers to wear the khaki uniform at the discretion of their commanding officers. This adjustment helped all officers, particularly those in the Civil Engineer Corps who were working on a global construction project. According to a message dated April 25, 1941, khakis should be worn with gilt buttons and shoulder marks, rather than the bronze buttons and black sleeve markings of previous orders.

The 1941 Regulations maintained the current adjustments, as well as allowed officers to show their corps and rank on the khaki shirt collar tips. Staff officers indicated corps on the left and grade on the right, while line officers wore rank insignia on both sides. The metal pin-on devices were about 5/8th of the size of the embroidered ones on the blue coats’ sleeves.

The formation of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Emergency Service) on 30 July 1942 required uniform modifications to accommodate this latest addition to the US Navy’s ranks. In March 1943, the first instructions for women’s uniforms were issued, which included White and blue service uniforms as well as a working dress. A letter entitled “All Hands” dated April 16, 1943, brought in a significant change in both men’s and women’s working clothing.

The khaki uniform would be replaced with a slate gray uniform with black-blue plastic buttons, flexible gray cloth shoulder marks, and black corps and grade devices, according to the letter. Tradition die hard, and the new uniform’s concept was not warmly embraced! Any alteration appeared needless after years of “blue and gold” and a strong preference for the comparatively recent khakis. While the change to grays initially impacted male officers, it eventually influenced WAVES and Navy nurses’ clothing.

The lieutenant is shown in the new gray dress.  A letter dated 7 April 1943 from the Chief of the Bureau of Naval Personnel to the Secretary of the Navy, via the Commander in Chief and Chief of Naval Operations, explains why the color was changed. The suggested modification was justified for two reasons: first, to adhere to the Army and Marine Corps’ officers’ uniforms’ simplicity and utility, and second, to obtain a uniform more appropriate for our current shipboard camouflaged.

The first reason is a little perplexing since neither the Army nor the Marine Corps wore gray uniforms. The second is a little more straightforward. Admiral King advised approval to stabilize the ‘whole working uniform’ problem in his recommendation. On April 16th, Secretary Knox authorized the modification. Another factor was the use of plastic and fabric instead of metals, which were critical in the war effort.

The slate-gray coat was designed in the same pattern as the former khaki coat, with the exception that the two lower patch pockets were to be somewhat smaller. The blue-black plastic buttons were designed to match the gilt buttons they were to replace. Gray cloth with grade stripes and a black embroidery device were to be used for the flexible shoulder marks, which were to be stiffer than those established in 1897. Collar devices were to be worn with the gray shirt. For all grades, the gray-covered cap was to have a plain black visor and a black braid chin strap.

Shoes were supposed to be black, however, tan shoes could be worn during the transition period. Khakis could be worn until the gray uniform was fully produced, and officers were informed that research was being conducted to see if khakis could be colored gray. The latter project was a complete failure!

The nurse, a member of whose corps was given relative rank in 1942, wore the slate-gray uniform approved on May 2, 1944. It was a double-breasted dress with notched lapels and a rolling collar that came in one piece. The indication of grade, in this case, the two silver bars of a lieutenant, appears on the right side of the collar. The metal miniature device of the Nurse Corps is attached to the left collar tip.

An order dated 30 June 1944 removed the silver letters “N.N.C.” from the device, leaving the gold spread oak leaf and acorn superimposed over a gold foul anchor. Black shoes, beige stockings, and gray gloves were to be worn with the gray uniform. The purse was made of black cordé and lacked a handle. The standard, circular, visorless cap of the Corps with a commissioned officer’s device, authorized in May 1944, or a garrison cap may be worn with the gray working uniform. On the left side of the gray garrison cap was a miniature cap device, and on the right side were the two silver bars of a lieutenant.

Later in World War II, the commander, Civil Engineer, is shown wearing the khaki working uniform of January 1941. The three gold lace stripes of his grade are shown above the device of the Civil Engineer Corps on the blue-covered shoulder marks. The device was made up of two gold-embroidered live-oak sprigs, each with a silver acorn at the stem. The device was in the form of a diamond.

Officers of the grade of commander or captain have oak leaf and acorn embroidery on their cap visors. Corps and rank and corps devices were not to be worn on the khaki shirt collar unless the coat was removed, according to the original 1941 instruction. Khakis might be worn with either brown or black shoes in 1941.

The gray and white working uniform prescribed by the Bureau of Naval Personnel in October 1943 is worn by First Class Petty Officer WAVE Yeoman. A gray cotton seersucker shirtwaist dress with a matching jacket was the standard uniform. The collar of the dress was short and rounded, and it was worn over the jacket. The jacket had no collar and had peaked lapels. The WAVES device—a three-bladed propeller with a foul anchor superimposed—is shown on the rounded end of the coat lapel.

The whole device was an inch and a half in diameter and could be inscribed in a circle. The propeller was navy blue and the anchor was a lighter shade called “Reserve” blue on the gray working uniform. Four blue-black plastic buttons were used to fasten the jacket. Three chevrons, an eagle, and the specialty mark, two crossed quills, make up the rating badge. The badge was navy blue from top to bottom. The badge was worn on the left arm to denote that the wearer was not a member of the Navy’s seaman’s branch.

Except for chief petty officers, enlisted women wore a hat with a navy blue cotton or woolen brim and blue, white, or gray covers. The brim of the hat was turned up at the back, near to the hat’s body, then gradually sloped down to the front. The front of the brim was not to be turned up. “US Navy” was inscribed in gilt letters on the dark navy blue cap ribbon. Officers and chiefs wore a cap with a brim up on the sides and a straight front and back. Grays were recommended to be worn with black shoes and beige stockings.

The clothing of the Naval Aviator captain is a modification of the gray working uniform. A transition period was provided under the alteration that replaced the khakis with grays. The standard blue shoulder marks or the new ones might be worn throughout this time. It was also allowed to use either gilt or blue-black plastic buttons. The gold embroidered visor caps were only to be worn on special occasions according to a message dated 8 June 1943, however, they were declared optional in August 1943.

On March 7, 1944, the Secretary of the Navy ordered that only plastic buttons be worn instead of gilt buttons. It was challenging to keep up with the gray working dress’s changes and alterations! The captain is shown in the “optional” uniform, which includes gold buttons, a cap with an embroidered visor and gold lace chin strap, and standard blue shoulder marks with four gold lace stripes of his grade and the gold star of the Line. To match the outfit, the cap cover is gray, and the shoes are black. The silver spread eagle insignia of his grade is worn on both sides of his collar.

Until 1949, the gray uniform was part of the official uniform regulations. Prior to its abolishment, it may be worn with either standard shoulder marks and gilt buttons, or the original order’s plastic buttons and gray marks.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1951-1952

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

Secretary of the Navy Forrestal approved the first uniform instruction given following World War II on May 2, 1947. Several general modifications of the 1941 Regulations were issued in an attempt to bring essential portions of the often changed and amended instructions up to date. The Bureau of Naval Personnel informed all ships and stations on March 21, 1947, that as soon as funds were available, a totally up-to-date uniform instruction would be provided. The 1947 order was a long-overdue adjustment, but it was obvious that funds were limited when it was issued! The format was not as complete as in previous editions, and there were no illustrations as there had been for many years.

The formal type uniforms that had appeared in the 1941 instructions but had not been worn during the war years were removed under the 1947 instructions. For formal occasions, the white and blue service uniforms were to be worn. Khakis and grays were both permitted under the heading of working clothes. The Navy Nurse Corps’ clothes were described in Chapter XI of the 1947 regulations, but there was no mention of the WAVES’ uniforms, which were covered in a separate publication. The 17 August 1951 uniform order was the first comprehensive and fully illustrated postwar uniform regulation.

On June 12, 1948, Congress established regular status for women in the Navy, both officer and enlisted, in recognition of their outstanding performance in the Naval Reserve and the continued necessity for their services in an uncertain world. Certain items of clothing were to be worn solely by nurses, according to the section on the attire of women officers. Ward uniforms and blue capes, as well as a specific attire for flight nurses, were among the things. The blue and white service uniform was the standard uniform for all officers, female and female, with provisions for working dress. For warm weather use, male officers were given a khaki service dress uniform.

The addition of an evening dress uniform for both female and male officers in the 1951 order indicated a loosening of wartime restrictions. The frock coat, which had served others in the Navy for many years for the dress and full dress until early in 1941, did not emerge in the 1951 regulations, and it is unlikely to do so in the coming. The elaborate dress clothes of the earlier appear to have no place in today’s world.

The gray working uniform for women, first introduced during the war and composed of white and gray seersucker, was now in the shape of a one-piece shirtmaker style dress with short sleeves. The gray working uniform of 1951 is very similar to the WAVES working costume, which was introduced in October 1943. Then a similar costume, but with a gray jacket, was requested. The change from blue to gray for women in 1943 coincided with the introduction of the gray working uniform for chief petty officers and male officers.

The gray working uniform worn by the First Class Petty Officer Aviation Storekeeper has four gray Navy buttons on the shirtwaist part and three below the waist. The rating badge is worn on the left sleeve, with the rear edge of the badge aligned to the sleeve’s side view centerline. The first-class petty officer’s three chevrons and eagle, as well as the specialty mark, winged cross keys, are all embroidered in dark blue. All rating badges were to be worn on the left sleeve under the 1951 regulation.

Men in the seaman’s branch wore their badges on the right sleeve, while everyone else wore them on the left. A black silk necktie with a square knot is worn with the dress. Except for chief petty officers, all enlisted women in the Navy wear a gray garrison cap with a hat device. A similar insignia, a gold foul anchor superimposed on a silver three-bladed propeller, was created in 1943 to act as a corps device for all WAVES personnel. With the gray seersucker working outfit, black shoes and beige stockings were required.

The three stripes of white tape worn on the two-button cuffs of the dress jumper are not displayed because the sleeves of the blue undress jumper for male enlisted soldiers are cut square at the sleeve openings. The three white tape stripes on the collar are removed in undress. The black neckerchief that is used in formal clothes is not worn in casual clothes. The Third Class Petty Officer Aviation Machinist’s Mate rating badge is worn in front of the left sleeve’s centerline.

The chevron is scarlet, while the eagle and specialty mark are white. A winged two-bladed propeller, the specialty mark of an aviation machinist’s mate, originates from the early days of Naval Aviation, having been established in March 1918. The only difference between the World I mark and today’s is that today’s eagle is looking to his right. Early in World War II, the American eagle was changed from a left-looking to a lefdexter-looking eagle, which affected all naval insignia.

An insignia for Naval flight nurses was prescribed by a Bureau of Naval Personnel letter dated March 30, 1945. The present Nurse Corps device—the gold anchor, gold spread oak leaf, and acorn—was added to the gold-plated winged metal pin. The device was supposed to be worn on the left breast of coats or one-piece work clothes. Flight nurse uniforms took a long time to create. They were allowed to wear the WAVES’ blue slacks in 1946, then blue slacks, a short-sleeved white or long-sleeved blue shirt, a blue garrison cap, and a blue sweater in 1947.

The nurses’ flight uniform was to be forestry green in the winter and khaki in the summer, both of the same patterns, according to the 1951 Regulations. The single-breasted jacket was zipped closed and featured a roll collar, peaked lapels, and two patch pockets. The bronzed Navy eagle buttons were worn by male officers who were authorized to wear the winter aviation uniform. The jacket might be worn with a traditional-length skirt or khaki-colored pants to match the jacket. The khaki shirt featured a diagonal zipper closure that extended from the collar to the lower right side, and the collar points contained metal pin-on rank and corps devices. The jacket’s shoulder straps were optional until July 1, 1952, when they became necessary.

Metal-grade devices, such as a lieutenant’s (junior grade) silver bar, were worn on the straps at the arm seam. The khaki or green garrison cap features a miniature officer’s device on the left and a grade insignia on the right. A flight nurse’s device is displayed on the left breast. The anchor and acorn were removed from the Nurse Corps’ device in October 1948, leaving a gold spread oak leaf. It’s worth mentioning that the flight nurse insignia’s wings are stylized, as opposed to the more traditional wings of the device worn by naval aviators.

Officers qualified as Naval Aviators wore the same uniform as flight surgeons, but their breast insignia had the Medical Corps device, a gold spread oak leaf with a silver acorn. The oval of the item has a silver background and stylized wings, as do those Nurses who have been certified as Flight Nurses. The surgeon is shown in a khaki service uniform made of tropical worsted or equivalent lightweight material in the grade of lieutenant commander.

This uniform was designed as lightweight aviation clothing for all officers and chief petty officers. Both grade and specialty are shown by blue shoulder marks with gold lace grade stripes and a gold embroidered corps device. In this example, there are two half-inch wide gold lace stripes with a quarter-inch stripe between them and the Medical Corps’ oak leaf/acorn insignia above the stripes. The cap cover is made of the same khaki-colored cloth as the uniform.

The commander’s winter aviation uniform is essentially the same forestry green uniform that was initially approved in 1925, then to be worn only with breeches and, after 1937, to be worn solely with trousers. The grade is represented on the sleeves by black braid stripes, as it was in the original 1925 order. The black embroidered Line star is embroidered above a commander’s three stripes. Although they were formerly worn on khakis, the bronzed buttons have only survived on the forestry green uniform. The gold embroidery of an officer of the rank of commander or captain may be seen on the green-covered cap. The winged foul anchor on the breast insignia is the same as that worn by the United States Navy’s first qualified aviators in October 1917.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1961

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

On April 6, 1959, a new, or more accurately, up-to-date, uniform instruction was issued to incorporate the significant revisions to the previous 1951 order. The 1959 regulation was similar to the previous one in format, but instead of presenting illustrations of insignia, devices, and uniforms in the relevant sections, all graphic material was put in the appendix.

Photographs of dressed female and male manikins were used to illustrate the various outfits in Appendix A. As a result, the specifics of the cut or devices are often hidden. Line drawings and photographs are used to depict the insignia, accessories, and awards in Appendix B. In fact, the way of displaying the instructions was restored to the 1941 Regulations’ approach.

Only two service uniforms were available for women under the 1951 Regulations. Officers and enlisted men wore a light blue uniform in the 1959 version. The corded dacron/cotton light blue and white striped uniform was intended to be worn as a complement to the khaki service uniform worn by chief petty officers and male officers. The collar and lapels of the short-sleeved jacket were turned back and worn open at the neck. This jacket, which was trimmed with navy blue piping and fastened with four blue Navy eagle buttons, was worn without the need for a shirt.

On the collar points, women officers wore pin-on insignia of grade and/or corps; enlisted women wore marks or rating badges on the sleeves. The specialty mark of the Second Class Petty Officer Yeoman is a spread eagle, two chevrons, and two crossed quills, as it has been for many years. The rating badge was embroidered totally in dark blue on the light blue uniform and was placed just ahead of the centerline of the left sleeve. The skirt, made of the same material as the jacket, was supposed to come to the middle of the wearer’s calf, according to the regulations. The stockings were beige and the shoes were black.

The cap is quite similar to the one used by newly formed WAVES officers in 1943, and it was worn with a cover to match the jacket. A gold-colored foul anchor placed on a silver three-bladed propeller was the cap insignia for enlisted women other than chief petty officers. The WAVES originally utilized this device as a corps device. Except for chief petty officers, enlisted women wore the same insignia on the navy blue service uniform on the rounded ends of the collar with the anchor in white silk and the propeller in light blue.

When the blue uniforms were worn, a plain black handbag made of leather or synthetic material was carried. When the white uniform was worn, a comparable white bag was carried. The bags included detachable shoulder straps that allowed them to be draped over the shoulder or carried in the hand.

The blue service coat is straight-backed, single-breasted, easy fitting in front, with a rounded collar that overflows the half-peaked lapels and is prescribed for all women in the United States Navy, including enlisted and officers. The guidelines specify that officers and chief petty officers wear dark blue coats, whereas enlisted women other than chiefs wear navy blue coats. The lieutenant commander nurse is dressed in the 1959 order’s “Service Dress, Blue C,” which is now known as “Service Dress, Blue, modified.”

The blue coat is worn with a white skirt, white dress shoes, a hat with a white cover, a black handbag, and beige stockings.  Gold lace on the sleeves, with a star of the Line or a corps insignia above the lace, denotes grade in the same manner that it does for male officers. The cuffs of the officer have two half-inch wide gold lace stripes with a quarter-inch stripe between them, and the device is a gold spread oak leaf, which is the Nurse Corps’ device. The white summer coat has the same shape as the blue one, but instead of gold sleeve lace, a white braid is utilized with a yellow embroidered device. The hat is essential for every Navy woman. Officers wear the traditional cap device, which consists of two crossed gold foul anchors on a silver shield with a silver spread eagle above. The white shirt has short sleeves and is matched with a square-knotted black tie.

The third-class petty officer of the Hospital Corps is displayed in the long, white tropical uniform.  This modification of the previous white tropical uniform of shorts and undershirts for enlisted soldiers gives practical clothing for work in hot climates when shorts are not appropriate. These are the trousers that go with the white service uniform. The open notched collar of the short-sleeved shirt forms a Vee’s neck. There are pockets on either side of the shirt, and the rating badge is worn on the left sleeve, with the back edge of the badge aligned with the sleeve’s centerline.

Only chief petty officers’ badges are centered on their sleeves. The caduceus is used as the specialty mark on the rating badge of the Third Class Petty Officer Hospital Corpsman, which is made up of a spread eagle, a single chevron, and a single chevron. On the white shirt, everything embroidery is done in blue. The usage of the caduceus as the hospital corpsmen’s specialty mark is a return to the item that was used to identify apothecaries under the 1897 Uniform Regulations.

The red Geneva Cross was selected as the corps device for all rated personnel when the Hospital Corps was founded in 1898. The caduceus was first used by personnel of the Hospital Corps under the 1951 Regulations. Enlisted personnel, with the exception of chief petty officers, wear a white belt with a brass buckle white trousers, and black shoes with all uniforms. Except for chief petty officers, all-male enlisted soldiers wear a white hat with their uniforms. A blue flat hat may be worn with Blue A, Full Dress, Blue A, and Working, Undress, Blue A, Service Dress uniforms until April 1, 1963.

The blue service uniform for male officers in 1961 was essentially the same as the one introduced at the end of World War I, with minor cut changes to maintain a suitable civilian appearance. The officer in Service Dress, Blue B, wears a blue coat, a white cap cover, blue trousers, and four stripes of half-inch gold lace on his sleeves and a gold star of the Line above them. He is either a naval attaché or a naval aide, based on the four aiguillette loops on his left shoulder. Normally, aiguillettes are not worn outside of the accreditation area, although they can be worn if the officer to whom they are assigned requests it.

Dress aiguillettes are made up of four loops of aiguillette cord, two of which are braided with gold or gilt thread and dark blue silk, and two loops of unplaited yellow cord, which are worn with the blue service uniform. The dark blue is inserted so that it creates spiral bands about 3/16ths of an inch wide at intervals of 7/16ths of an inch on the plaited cords. The blue and gold cords come to an end with gilt metal pencils adorned with silver anchors. The Aide to the President and Aides to the White House is the only naval officers that wear aiguillettes on their right shoulder. These officers’ aiguillettes are entirely made of gold, with no blue plaiting.

The Master Chief Petty Officer, Utilitiesman, is depicted in the khaki service uniform.  The addition of silver stars above the eagle’s wings to the conventional rating badge of a chief petty officer is especially interesting. In 1958, Congress amended the Career Compensation Act of 1949 to create pay grades E-8 for Senior Chief Petty Officers and E-9 for Master Chief Petty Officers to allow for the recognition and promotion of excellent chiefs. The special devices to be used to identify the newly formed ratings for superior petty officers are described in the 1959 Uniform Regulations. Their rating badges were to be the same as those worn by chief petty officers for years but with the addition of stars. 

The Master chief is represented by two stars, one over each wing of the eagle, while a senior chief is represented by one star above the eagle’s head. All chief petty officers were required to wear metal insignia, miniature cap devices, on the tops of the collars khaki, tropical white shirts, and blue flannel according to the 1959 instruction. A modification made on October 31, 1959, required a master chief to display a silver star on either side of the gold foul anchor ring, and a senior chief to display a single star directly above the ring. On the anchor, like the cap, the letters “USN” were engraved in silver.

The three chevrons and arc on the service dress khakis are blue, while the eagle, specialty mark, and stars are silver. When a Chief Petty Officer Construction Electrician is promoted to Master Chief, he is renamed Utilitiesman, but he keeps the construction electrician’s device, which is a telephone pole with an electric spark superimposed on it. On the left sleeve cuff, the chief wears four navy blue stripes arranged at an angle, indicating sixteen years of service.

Except that the chin strap is black patent leather instead of gold lace, the cap is similar to the cap worn by commissioned officers and is covered with khaki to match the uniform.  The cap device, known as the foul anchor in the US Navy, was first used in 1897 to distinguish the newly established Chief Petty Officer rank.

Uniforms of the U.S. Navy 1967

pictorial history of us navy uniforms

The 1959 Navy Uniform Regulations, as predicted, were changed nearly as soon as they were printed, as has been the practice with uniform regulations from their origin. Today, advanced modifications to the fundamental regulations are issued to all ships and stations as needed by a Bureau of Naval Personnel “Notice”; larger adjustments, which may include new and substitute pages as well as a few pen and ink corrections, are printed by the Government Printing Office (GPO). Change 1 was issued on October 31, 1961; Change 2 was issued on January 25, 1963; Change 3 was issued on April 1, 1964; and Change 4 was issued on September 16, 1966.

Midshipmen’s uniforms were first mentioned in September 1776 orders provided by the Continental Congress’s Marine Committee. Until the 1883 instruction, midshipmen’s clothing was still mentioned in official Navy Department instructions. This rule governs the attire of Naval Cadets who have completed the Naval Academy’s four-year program. When the Naval Academy was founded in 1845, the Superintendent was given the authority to issue consistent instructions for midshipmen, based on the regulations that already existed for other officers.

Only cadets who had completed their studies at the Academy and were awaiting promotion to the rank of ensign were required to wear uniforms in the instructions of 1886 and 1897. Midshipmen’s insignia and devices were provided for in the 1905 and 1913 orders, although the Superintendent was in charge of day-to-day clothing regulations. Under Naval Academy instructions, midshipmen’s uniforms were to adhere to the broad terms of the official order covering other men and officers, according to Article 18 of the 1922 regulations. The 1941 instruction maintained this, but the 1947 Navy Uniform Regulations only mentioned “Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Midshipmen” and “Aviation Midshipmen,” leaving the clothing of midshipmen at the Academy up to the Superintendent.

The 1951 instruction, for the first time in years, included a section, Chapter 4, on “Naval Academy Midshipmen”. The 1959 order included the dress of midshipmen and authorized the Superintendent to prescribe such items of uniform and insignia, in addition to those covered by the official regulations, as might be required within the limits of the U.S. Naval Academy or at activities outside the Academy in which the Detachment of Midshipmen participated as a body.

For the first time in years, Chapter 4 of the 1951 instruction contained a section on “Naval Academy Midshipmen.” The dress of midshipmen was included in the 1959 order, which authorized the Superintendent to prescribe such items of uniform and insignia as might be required within the confines of the United States Naval Academy or at activities outside the Academy in which the Detachment of Midshipmen participated as a group, in addition to those covered by the official regulations.

“Evening Dress, Blue” is the full dress blue uniform worn by midshipmen. The undress jacket, which was introduced in 1802, was a short double-breasted blue jacket with a standing collar and nine gilt buttons on each breast. The gold lace trim on the top and front edges of the standing collar harkens back to the 1852 uniform order, while the nine-button arrangement harkens back to the early clothing of US Navy officers. On either side of the collar, a plain gold anchor, a mark of midshipmen since 1830, is worn in a horizontal position.

The Navy’s “Evening Dress” uniforms date back to 1866 when dress uniforms were reinstated after being abandoned during the Civil War. The first uniform instruction issued after the war not only reinstated the full-dress body coat but also enabled officers to wear a uniform in social situations within the United States for the first time (upon occasions requiring them to appear in evening dress). The coat was supposed to be cut in the popular civilian full dress coat style, with five gilt buttons on each breast. Shoulder straps, sleeve lace, or epaulets were not used on the coat, and collar devices were used to indicate grade and specialty. 

Evening dress coats remained in the uniform regulations until 1941 when they were replaced with sleeve lace. Both coat and the evening dress coat and the full dress frock coat were eliminated under the 1947 regulation. At social events, the blue service uniform with the black bow tie was to be worn while civilians dressed up. The evening dress uniform was reinstated and continued under the 1959 order when the 1951 regulations were issued. The blue evening dress coat, as it was in 1866, is a military duplicate of the civilian full dress coat, with three gilt Navy buttons on each side, two small buttons at the rear waistband, and sleeve lace.

Plain gold studs, a winged collar, and a square-ended white bow tie are paired with a stiff, plain bosomed, or piqued shirt. The image of the commander depicts his grade’s three half-inch gold lace stripes, with the Line’s gold star above them. On the left lapel of the uniform, miniature medals are worn. The blue trousers are high-waisted, and the white vest has three Navy buttons in a traditional design. The usual white cap cover is worn in “Evening Dress, Blue.” The blue cap cover, however, remains an optional item of uniform apparel under a directive issued on December 18, 1962.

Chief petty officers’ dinner dress uniform consists of a service blue coat in the same style as commissioned officers’, blue trousers, and a standard cap with a white cover. Chiefs wear a plain white shirt with a semi-stiff or stiff collar, attached or detachable, and a black bow tie instead of the stiff bosomed shirt and winged collar worn by officers in evening dress.

The rating badge for a boatswain’s specialty mark, the long-used crossed anchors, depicts the eagle and mark in silver, as well as the three chevrons and arc in gold. The gold and silver device, as well as the gold lace stripes on the sleeve instead of the usual scarlet stripes, denote that the chief has served on active duty for at least 12 years and has been awarded the Navy Good Conduct Medal on several occasions. Change 3 specifies the wearing of small medals instead of campaign ribbons, as required by the original 1959 regulations.

The Supply Corps lieutenant’s “Dinner Dress Blue Jacket” uniform was approved by the Secretary of the Navy in November 1958 and is specified in the 1959 Uniform Regulations. The blue mess jacket was originally produced in 1901 and is essentially a blue variation of the white mess jacket. The jacket has the same button arrangement on the breast as the evening dress coat but without the tails.

Grade and specialty are indicated by gold lace sleeve stripes and an embroidered device instead of the shoulder insignia used on the 1901 white mess jacket to identify an officer’s rank. The officer is a lieutenant of the Supply Corps, as evidenced by the two stripes of half-inch gold lace, the gold sprig of live oak, and three silver acorns. The stiff white shirt is paired with a stiff turn-down collar and a black bow tie. The high-waisted blue trousers were supposed to be worn with a plain black pleated cummerbund, according to the original 1959 instructions. 

Change 1 replaced the rigid white dress shirt with a pleated gold cummerbund and allowed the wearer to wear a soft front white dress shirt instead. A white mess jacket with two navy buttons on each forepart is also required to be worn with shoulder marks, according to current regulations. This is the current version of the 1901 jacket, however, instead of the original white vest, it is worn with a black cummerbund.

In October 1948, women officers were given permission to wear an evening dress uniform, which was continued under the 1959 regulation. The blue-black jacket was Eton-styled in the initial 1959 order, single-breasted with a rounded collar overlapping the half-peaked lapels. The collar/lapel cut was similar to the blue service uniform for women. On the sleeves, gold lace and embroidery depicted the grade and corps.

Instead of the gold lace with the star of the Line or the appropriate corps device embroidered in gold above the black stripe, Change 2 used a narrow shawl collar with an inch-wide strip of black velvet to show officer status instead of the gold lace with the star of the Line or the appropriate corps device embroidered in gold above the black stripe. The white, short-sleeved, ruffled shirt has corps and grade insignia embroidered on the collar points. The necktie is made of black velvet ribbon in a crescent shape, with an inch width in the middle and a half-inch width on either edge. The evening dress skirt was floor length and circular, with a dark blue cummerbund on top.

Change 2 included dinner dress coats for female officers. The evening gown jacket is paired with a regular-length skirt. With both the evening and dinner dress jackets, a crescent-shaped black velvet tiara with an officer’s cap device embroidered in the center of the brim, which is turned up in front, is worn. For female officers in the ranks of captain and commander, oak leaves and acorns are embroidered on both sides of the device. Female officers were issued white evening dress and dinner dress jacket uniforms in 1963. The patterns are similar to the blues, except that the white jackets and skirts have a white cummerbund, and the white braid replaces the black velvet on the sleeves of the blue jackets.

This is an in-depth look at the pictorial history of US Navy uniforms. We hope to help you improve your knowledge and increase your chances of joining the Navy.

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    Marvin Shaw - ASVAB-Prep Writer

    Marvin Shaw is a homeschooling high school teacher and an ASVAB tutor. He's one of the creators of our ASVAB question collection. With his broad knowledge and a big love for the U.S. military, he's mentored hundreds of students to successfully enter the military.

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