June 15, 2006

How uniform does a uniform need to be?

We were talking about Civil War uniforms today -- a digression in a discussion of the Geneva Conventions and the requirement that a lawful combatant wear a uniform. How uniform do uniforms need to be to be uniforms, I asked, realizing that I know very little about uniforms. I was surprised to read recently that in the Civil War, some Wisconsin soldiers had gray uniforms, because they ran out of blue cloth.

Well, did you know about the Zouave-style uniforms in the Civil War?

No! That astounded me. It seems so unmilitary to go for a fashion craze.


Jennifer said...

That is hilarious. The thought of the militia getting together to talk about the style of uniforms. Then getting their wives to sew them all up for them. Ha! Talk about garret troopers.

To answer the question, uniforms have to be totally uniform. Never watch a show about soldiers with a soldier. I don't CARE where that stupid pin is supposed to go or how wrong the rank is!

Ann Althouse said...

"To answer the question, uniforms have to be totally uniform."

Well, but remember the guys on horseback in Afghanistan? Apparently, there was debate within the military about how far off uniform they could go. And, I was told, certain high-ranking officials have changed their uniforms; Douglas MacArthur was known for doing something odd to his hat.

RogerA said...

As a an old retired cavalryman, I can assure you that military uniforms have always been trendy within the military, although not necessarily the larger civilian community. There are some fascinating pictures of the dress uniform of the late 1870s cavalry wherein the American army adopted spiked helmets favored by the German army (apparently impressed by the victory of the Germans during Franco-Prussian war). And within branches of the army, each branch seeks to be distinct.

The difficulty in the civil war with uniform variation had to do with individual state styles (and within states, each regiment adopted somewhat different standards).

Irene Done said...

I learned about the Zouave uniform when I read Gone With The Wind -- in the book, there's actually a character who marries a soldier who wears that uniform. So exotic!

Jennifer said...

Ann - That's a good point. Special Forces don't have to wear the uniform. They're supposed to blend, and win the hearts and minds of the people. They get to mix and match and accessorize. That was actually a big part of the draw for my husband to try out for SF.

Patton, I think, did something with his hat, too. I guess once you've got a few stars, you get some leeway. :)

As for the rest of them, its ridiculous. My husband used to hover over my shoulder to make sure I was ironing the collar in just EXACTLY the right way. And he has to break out the ruler to get his dress uniform squared away.

Jennifer said...

But I should add that regular Army types get really frosted about SF guys wearing what they like. I don't know if its jealousy or disdain but it really rubs them the wrong way.

Bob said...

In my "Law of Land Warfare" classes I had to take in my officer training schools, they said the "uniform" just had to be a distinguishing mark recognizable at a distance. It could be, for example, a colored beret, a sash around the arm, or anything really THAT WOULD DISTINGUISH THEM FROM A CIVILIAN. In the old days, general officers could vary their own uniform, but now only 4- and 5-star generals can (and most of them don't now). SF guys can blend in, but if they don't wear a US uniform, they forfeit the protections of the Geneva Conventions (as if our enemies followed them anyway).

TWM said...

I suppose to civlians the obsession over "uniformity" in military uniforms is amusing, but it has a purpose beyond being recognizable as a military member.

One of the building blocks of military discipline is the uniform, thus Jennifer's husband's insistence on the collar being ironed correctly. If you can't manage a simple thing like getting your uniform to look sharp how are you going to manage to win a battle.

Oscar Madison said...

Pick up any picture book of military uniforms and you'll see that soldiers throughout history have been incredibly fashion-conscious. Tons of brocade, and gold leaf and colorful ribbons and feathers throughout the 19th century. It's been somewhat toned down since the 20th century, but not as much as you'd think. General Pershing foppishly insisted that U.S. officers adopt the Sam Browne belt. It was purely ornamental and its use created a leather shortage for military necessities, like horse bridles.

Schuft said...

Patton actually designed a new uniform for the nascent U.S. Army armored corps. I'm kind of shocked that I can't find a link for it online, but it was a doozy: dark olive with flashy yellow piping, and a 30's style leather football helmet on top.

Jennifer said...

Schuft - What was with Patton and the hat? It's bugging me! Was it that he jammed the rank in all haphazard? That sounds vaguely familiar.

RogerA said...

twm--you are, of course, correct about uniformity--ironically, sometimes the fetish to "look sharp" requires laundering and finishing uniforms so as to ruin the inherent protective qualities of the uniforms--Unless my memory is totally gone, the woodland pattern camouflage uniform was not to be ironed or starched--unfortunately, "looking sharp" made most soldiers iron and starch it--just as the jungle fatigues of viet nam were ironed and starched whilst in base camp.

And again, IIRC, the camouflage uniform (woodland pattern--dark) was referred to as BDUs (battle dress uniform) and the whole set was actually called an ensemble--

who knew!

Jennifer said...

RogerA - You're right about the BDUs. They were actually NOT allowed to be starched until about 3 years ago. But everyone starched the heck out of them anyway.

We're starting all over with the ACUs. Not supposed to be ironed, not supposed to be starched. Whatever.

Jennifer said...

Oh, but RogerA, I should add that they really held fast to the DO NOT starch the DCUs (Desert Camoflauge Uniform) rule. Ruins the doesn't-show-up-on-night-vision-ness.

RogerA said...

Jennifer--Patton was in a class by himself as far as uniform design--With respect to hats, you may be thinking of General MacArthur who adopted a purposely weathered and beatten up hat with considerable amount of gold braid around the head band--MacArthur, never one for understatement, also affected sweaters and scarves under his trench coat as a young general following world war one. His portrait as superintendent of the military academy is a study in ego.

Pogo said...

I suppose in the heat of battle, when a musket-bearing guy in Zouave-style uniform is coming at you, well, then I might be in fear of the Rebel Aladdin. But, um, otherwise....

Verif. Word: saylr: As in Hey, saylr, new in town?

Jennifer said...

Hmm, RogerA. The more I think about it, the more I remember Patton being really fussy about uniforms in the movie. Like you said - a class of his own.

I must be thinking of someone else. Because I'm picturing somebody jamming stars into the front of their kevlar haphazardly.

MacArthur sounds like the antithesis of my husband. He squared his uniform away back when he had to. But he sneers at the garret trooper types. Now that he doesn't have to anymore, you won't catch him near an iron or a tin of polish.

The Drill SGT said...


When I was at Knox, we called that the Green Hornet look.

As an aside, the French Army is the worst about flashy uniforms, or should I say best dressed. I remember a good anecdote about the French, circa 1954, during the French Indo-China problem. American's fresh out of Korea, where sartorial splendor was not a high point, commented that the French were always very flashly with lots of braid and medals. A general responded that, if you had lost as many battles and wars as the French had (in succession, back to when? the American Revolution?), then you needed to motivate the troops with something other than victories.

PS: before some smart ass decides to correct me, you really can't call WWI and WWII French victories given their losses. and of course they lost in 1870 and again in Mexico. and eventually several times in the wars of Napoleon.

PPS: Of course, they won the French Revolution, but that was because they were fighting the French. :)

dick said...

I remember when I was in the Army back in the early 60's. The major I worked for was the man who briefed the Sec Def and all the high officers of the Army and Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had to take his coat off and measure with a ruler the distance for each of the medals and insignia he wore. The Asst Chief of the Army had a colonel who sat outside his office. When officers came to see him this colonel would measure the insignia and medals and if they were off, he would send the officers back to straighten them out before the officer could get in to see the general. I wondered when the major had to give the briefing about the Cuba Missile Crisis or the Berlin Wall if they would have sent him back to redo his medals.

The major thought it had something to do with a Napoleonic problem since the general was barely tall enough to qualify for the Army and the major was about 6'4" tall and looked as if he could qualify for marching at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That was the only one who was that much of a stickler but he was a real pain.

On the other hand Gen LeMay used to just walk in carrying a cigar to talk to the other generals. He looked a bit like a slob but if you had done what he had I guess you were entitled to a little slack.

RogerA said...

There are a couple of anecdotes with respect to (old) soldiers and perhaps Drill Sgt could confirm:

(1) the difference between a fairy tale and a war story: a fairy tale starts "once upon a time...."; the war story starts "This is no sh*t......."

(2) the longer removed from combat experience, the flashier and more extreme the military uniform.

Generals Grant and Bradley have always been my personal ideal of the fighting general--definitely not spit and polish.

tiggeril said...

Very Swiss Guard-esque. Eddie Izzard would have a field day with those.

Ann Althouse said...

Tiggeril: Yeah. I've been waiting for the first "don't ask, don't tell" joke. (And I know Eddie's not gay.)

Tibore said...

Hmmmm... seein' a guy dressed like that would make me want to shoot him. It'd be an act of mercy.

Fashion victim? I'll save yooooouuu!

Johnny Nucleo said...

That looks exactly like my uniform!

I am of two minds when it comes to cool uniforms. On the one hand, cool uniforms are cool. On the other hand, the Forces of Evil often have the coolest uniforms. Nobody did cool uniforms like the Nazis. (Why is it that in so many 60s and 70s WWII movies the Yank or Brit heroes at some point just have to put on Nazi uniforms? You think that's an accident? They look cool in those uniforms, don't they? Kinda disturbing, isn't it?) In fact, I think I read or heard once that the Nazis used to make fun of our comparatively bland uniforms. Well, they can laugh it up all they want now in Hell!

Another thing I think I read or heard once was that through the ages, men's fashion and military uniform style have been symbiotic. Men's fashion evolved based on what the military was wearing (and vice versa). Think of what soldiers were wearing in the 17th century (big hats, puffy pants) and the 18th century (knickers, jackets with tails). I think the point of what I read or heard was that the modern suit evolved from a military uniform.

Deep down, all men want to be warriors. But most men don't have it in them. But anybody can dress like a warrior.

Glenn said...

About zouaves. etc.....

Uniforms, 300+ years ago, met uniform within a regiment. The regiment would be dressed however the colonel wanted it to be. The idea of an army-wide uniform started with Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army in 1645--the beginning of British redcoats. Even then each regiment had distinctive colors for the linings, lapels, etc.

Maxine Weiss said...

Are those knickers, or lederhosen?

I love knickers, kool lots (sp?) jhaudpurs, pedal pushers, gauchos, cigarette pants, hostess pants (for all those "smart" dinner parties), parachute pants etc..

Remember "skorts"? Those were a skirt from the front, and shorts from behind.


Peace, Maxine

Senescent Wasp said...

jennifer, forgive me. It is not "garret", as in starving artist, It is "Garrison" as in REMF's, a term for another day (Google is your friend). Garrison Troopers were guys in the rear who affected the look of Bush Soldiers. We also called them STRAC soldiers, as in "S__t The Russians Are Coming". Actually STRAC meant something else altogether.

When I went on active duty in the "mumbles", Officers were actually allowed to wear British style shorts. I only knew one guy who look good in them because he wore them with Imperial panache. That didn't last too long.

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

Stonewall Jackson wore his old blue VMI uniform through the early part of the war.

Jennifer said...

Wasp - Garet Trooper is a song by SSG Barry Sadler.

Jennifer said...

And, you know, I don't mind making fun of a certain type of soldier (best characterized by the Garet Trooper song). But I don't buy into the whole REMF/pogue/garrison thing. My husband couldn't do his job without those guys - they serve their purpose.

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ron said...

These Zoaves look like they're from the musical of Birth of a Nation!

nedludd said...

I was in the Navy when they switched the women from the skirt and jacket dress blues to the same jumpers as the men. It was not a good idea, they all looked liked they were trying out for a musical at quarters.

Jeff said...

For the ultimate in self-promoting uniform alterations, go no further than "Gen" Custer!

Note the velvet fabric, sailor's collar, and utterly superfluous gold braid on the sleeves!

Wickedpinto said...

A "uniform" is a "uniform" as soon as you fight for your nation, and as soon as EVERY WOMAN ON THE PLANET either wants to sleep with you, or they want you to sleep with their daughters.


Wickedpinto said...

On the other hand, a Uniform, is a Uniform, that it Saves your FRIGGEN LIFE!!!!

reader_iam said...

Funny, in a personal and idiosyncratic way, that this post show appear today, when I was sweating over how to perfectly place the initial patches on my son's very first "formal uniform": for Tiger Cub Scouts.

Something about uniforms make me feel as if I need to straighten up and fly right: in this case, no shortcuts for you, missy (mommy)! Match that thread color! You'll have to watch those stitches! And so forth.


Callimachus said...

Those zouave uniforms were the height of male fashion in the early 1860s. We forget what peacocks our male ancestors were, and having a stylish uniform like that was a good recruiting tool for a regiment -- "join up with us and you get to wear one of these." Apparently the girls liked the way they looked on a man. But so did the enemy: Those bright colorts made you an easy target.

dew said...

Maxine Weiss: “Are those knickers, or lederhosen?”

Possibly knickers (short for knickerbockers, an early 1800s American invented word), or more likely just pantaloons (baggy pants). I think they were longer than what would normally be called knickers (or breeches in the 18th century and before). Strangely, both knickers and pantaloons became terms for undergarments in Britain.

You might also like 17th-18th century knee breeches, which were fashioned the way they were to show off men’s calves. In the 18th century there is evidence that some men wore “falsies” to help give a better curvature if they were not well enough endowed in the leg.

I think the different collars and facings in 17th-18th century British uniforms were more by design than colonels trying to differentiate – you could quickly tell what regiment was nearby in an age where there were no radios. The musicians were often the paper dolls for the regiments though, covered in braid and lace.

Goesh said...

Ain't they dashing, but easy targets as already pointed out.

monkeyboy said...

In the US in the 1850s there were a couple of drill teams going around based on the Algerian Zouvave regiments in the French Army, which were doing pretty well at the time. It became a mini craze and a lot of the state militias on both sides had some type of Zouave based uniforms.

The big thing about the uniform Patton designed was the football helmet was painted gold.

MadisonMan said...

Jennifer, I admire your restraint in not blurting out "Iron your own damn collars!" :)

Simon Kenton said...

Jennifer and Callimachus are right. You don't want to wear a sidearm, carry a radio, wear a Sam Browne belt, or even get saluted, within view of a sniper. Anything that says 'officer' says 'shoot me first.'

Pogo said...

Now that I think about it, that uniform has an early Mighty Morphin Power Rangers vibe to it.

"Let's do it Sabba... Tigerzord Power Now!"

Alan Kellogg said...

The term is garritroopers. A derogatory term for personnel assigned to "holding down the fort". They were supposed to be combat ready, but tended to draw officers who prefered to take it easy.

The zouaves were defintiely not garritroopers. Often they were in the forefront of battle. But once they had experienced battle, and the extra attention their uniforms brought them, they pretty much switched to a more standard rig.

The cavalry dress uniform somebody mentioned? That was the work of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, executive officer of the U. S. Army's 7th Cavalry (the commanding officer preferred to handle administration). It was particular to the 7th and not worn by any other unit. Yes, Custer would've been cashiered in today's Army.

The spiked brass helmets? Those were inspired by the Prussian Spahelm. A construction of leather or pressed paper designed to impress rather than protect. By making his version of brass Custer actually improved on the original.

Alan Kellogg said...

Almost forgot. Those baggy pants from the 17th century? That was the result of the way the material was sewn together. Near the end of the 17th a new sewing technique was introduced and pants legs took on much the shape they have now.

monkeyboy said...

"Garritroopers" was created by Bill Mauldin of Willy and Joe fame. "Too far forward to wear ties and too far back to get shot."

When Zuoave uniforms wore out they were usually replaced with standard issue. So interestingly enough (getting back on topic) your average civil war unit that started in fancy uniforms spent the middle war years in a mix of uniform items. (Many reenactors have several uniforms they mix and match according to the time period.

Hey said...

One of the best things about being a man is that fashion is derived from a most brutally efficient environment. Suits move well, store lots, take you through a range of climates, come with first aid equipment (tie and handkerchief) and make you look good.

The best aspects are the little details, how the vents in a jacket help you sit (in a chair, or best on a stool, just as on a horse as per the design) with the same look, the pockets angled for access and placed to work seated or standing, inside pockets...

All in all, much better than the design for women's clothes, which while wonderful to look at are much less functional (or, rather, have a much different function...).

As to what uniforms look better... winning is immensely aesthetically pleasing. Though I do find that much of the British Colonial kit looks darn good, as do more traditional Navy outfits. Overalls, camo, and the ragged local rags that work so well for SF aren't quite as aesthetically pleasing nor as useful in an urban setting.

The Drill SGT said...

There is a rule of thumb that says the side with the simplier dress uniform (or none) is more likely to win. Ever seen an Israeli dress uniform? Neither have I, but their tankers overalls are pretty good.

Another rule of thumb is that Army's that demilitarize their uniforms (make them more civilian) aren't likely to win many wars. Think about the Dutch for example. Demilling the uniforms tends to accompany devaluing the Army and directly impacts morale and fighting ability.

The Drill SGT said...

Changing subjects slightly as we head into summer:

Washington DC before air conditioning was a pretty miserable place in the Summer. So much so that the pre-WWII Britsh regulations for Military Attaches authorized shorts and pith helemts for officers assigned during the Summer to DC.

Jennifer said...

Drill SGT - Speaking of uniform changes and military success, what do you think of the ACUs?

The Drill SGT said...

My wife has some. She's a lawyer, not an officer though :) I have a difficult time getting used to the look.

They are a visual distraction, but not having looked at the science of it, I can't tell you whether they work better to break up the human shape thaan the older camo shapes and colors.

Doug Sundseth said...

A few points that I don't think have been covered:

The Zouave uniforms were popularized in part as a result of the success of the allies (Sardinia, France, Great Britain, Ottoman Empire) against the Russians in the Crimean war.

While the brightly colored uniforms don't look very military now, they were designed to meet an entirely different set of imperatives than current uniforms. Before the widespread adoption of the Minie "ball" allowed a reasonable rate of fire with rifled guns, the effective range of small arms was somewhere in the 50-100 yard range, and then only en masse and unaimed. This meant that units stood in close order and in very close proximity to the enemy. When you are a part of a three-deep line two miles long, hiding isn't really possible, and so morale was the primary goal. Brightly colored and easily recognizable uniforms improved both morale and unit recognition.

With the rise of rifled small arms, the range of lethality and the ability to aim at a single person changed the battlefield. This was perhaps the greatest tactical change seen in the American Civil War. Interestingly, though the Europeans had many observers in the US during the ACW, they really didn't learn any lessons from us, but had to pay in blood for the same lessons during the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars and subsequent conflicts.

Not only did Wisconsin and many other northern states have grey-uniformed troops, many southern militia units were dressed in blue (the basic uniform color of US troops). In addition, the early-war Confederate flags were very difficult to differentiate from Union flags on the battlefield. The result was quite a few instances of friendly fire and a few cases where enemy troops were able to fire by surprise from positions in the open. (See 1st Bull Run, for instance.)

Finally, I recently read an article indicating that the US Army is reverting to its traditional blue uniforms for at least dress occasions. It's nice to see the traditional color revived.

Jennifer said...

MadisonMan: LOL. I never had to - it usually ended up like this: No, no, no, you're doing it wrong. Move over. Same result - no snit. :)

The Drill SGT said...


The Army (for the last 40+ years at least) has always used both "Dress Blue" and "Mess Dress"

So at least the color has always been something akin to civil war blue. The cut of the uniforms has chnaged serveral times however. Today, the Dress Blue is styled like a civilian suit, with badges, and breaid/etc. Mess Dress sort of has a navy braid / Tux look to it.

The Drill SGT said...

Mess Dress (Army)


Army Service Dress Blue Uniform Update:
Updated: 6/5/06 The Army has announced transitioning the Dress Blue Uniform to an Army Service Dress Blue Uniform. The change to AR-670-1 and other details about the accessories are yet to be determined.

John R Henry said...

Drill Sgt said:

There is a rule of thumb that says the side with the simplier dress uniform (or none) is more likely to win. Ever seen an Israeli dress uniform? Neither have I, but their tankers overalls are pretty good.

Are you a Marine drill sergeant?

In any event, I think the Marine standard dress uniform may give the lie to that. Colorful, functional and very military looking. It used to be a big selling point in recruiting.

The older Navy enlisted uniform was also very military and nautical looking as well as easy to care for. Properly folded, it was self ironing.

The newer uniforms look like bus drivers or postal workers. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

And the Air Force uniforms.Don't even get me started. Just one more reason why the AF is known as "the alternative to military service."

1st army officer (after being insulted by an AF enlisted man: "I don't suppose it would do any good to report that man for insubordination would it?"

2nd army officer: "None at all. It is not an offense in the air Force."

Evelyn Waugh

John Henry

P. Froward said...

Patton was an incredible priss, and not only about uniforms. I tried to read War As I Knew It, but as he knew it it seemed to be a series of formal receptions. But Bradley (and lots of others qualified to judge) considered him one hell of a general, so whatever worked for him suits me just fine.

How about the Napolonic Wars, for uniforms? A dozen armies of variegated fancy orchids in furs, on horseback, slashing each others' heads off. And they kept it up, with regular costume changes, for twenty-odd years.

Soldiers have always been peacocks. Who can get away with it more?

The Drill SGT said...

OK, John,

I was not a Drill Insructor (USMC), I was a Drill Sergeant (USA).

The USMC Dress uniform is spectacular, yet conservative in that it hasn't changed much in quite a while. It is an exception to my rule of thumb for certain, but I think you can sense there is an underlying rightness to the inverse relationship between Army's that care about fancy clothes and about Army's that care about fighting.

With your USAF examples, you prove my point about civilianizing uniforms at the peril of demilitarizng your service. In the work that the USAF does, it can get away with effectively high tech civilians in uniform calling everybody by their first names, only because it's few real warriors still maintain a close nit warrior ethos (in the air at least).

Doug Sundseth said...

Drill Sgt:

"has always used both 'Dress Blue' and 'Mess Dress' uniforms"

Yes, and it's a good-looking uniform. (There're also dress white and dress black uniforms.) Perhaps I misunderstood the press release, but I understood the description of the uniform as "Service Dress" to mean that the uniform would replace the green Class A's.

It's entirely (too) possible that I'm mistaken, but if I'm not, I'd certainly take a return to blue Class A and B uniforms as a positive step. There's quite a bit of tradition in Army Blue.

The Drill SGT said...


As I read the announcement here




Service Green, what was called Dress Blue, and Mess Dress White go away, replaced by a uniform, blue in color, cut and using accoutrement's that are similar to the Green uniform.

Mess Dress Blue survives I think.

In my nearly 40 years around the army, I have never heard of a black uniform. Black beret yes.

The Drill SGT said...

A US Army visual display of uniforms over the past 200 years


Doug Sundseth said...

My mistake on the black uniform. While the white mess jacket is used with black trousers, that's not what I was thinking of. (And what I was thinking of doesn't seem to exist.)

Per Wikipedia (with the appropriate reservations about accuracy), the blue Service Dress uniform is intended to replace the green Class A and B uniforms and the blue and white Dress uniforms in the relatively near future.


Johnny Nucleo said...

The Drill Sgt. said: "There is a rule of thumb that says the side with the simplier dress uniform (or none) is more likely to win. Ever seen an Israeli dress uniform? Neither have I..."

Ha! Great point! Think about the ridiculous dress uniforms of generals in third-world hellholes.

You know what they should bring back? Capes. I may be wrong (I probably am) but I think one of the few things that distinguished Roman officers from the men were capes.

Johnny Nucleo said...

One more thing. If you watched HBO's Rome you know that centurions, which were roughly equivalent to sergeants, wore the Roman helmet we all know so well - with the scrub brush on top - but the scrub brush was sideways! The stuff one learns from television...

The Drill SGT said...


There is a much more recent example of your Roman scrub brush.

If you look at WWII footage or movies like Saving Private Ryan, Longest Day or Band of Brothers, look at the backs of the helmets.

Officers have a vertical white stripe and SGTs had a horizontal white stripe, just like a centurian had 2500 years before.

Theory is that when everybody has their head down, and facing forward, you wont see faces, but officers and NCOs will tend toward the front. regular troops can see the guy waying and yelling "follow me" and know that even if he isn't my officer, he is an officer and support the mission.

Great Army saying:

Follow!, or
Get the hell out of the way!

Mitch H. said...

The zouaves were a feature of the French and French-influenced craze for "light infantry" tactics, which featured a lot of emphasis on gymnastics and physical fitness, so the baggy pants were supposed to be functional for the special pace - essentially, the job - which was a distinctive feature of zouave training. Ellsworth's touring zouave company, which did so much to popularize zouave fashion among the state militias in the years before the war, were a great draw - sort of like a martial circus, tumblers and acrobats with muskets.

The zouaves got a bad reputation during the war, mostly I think because the uniforms were so distinctive that in the course of a number of memorable early-war routs, in which the guys with the flashiest and most identifiable uniforms got blamed for the general failure, while the guys in standard blue disappeared into the general, anonymous azure herd. The most famous case of this would be the final stampede at First Bull Run, supposedly started by a New York unit, the Fire Zouaves, formed from a number of NYC firefighting companies.

Most units which affected zouave fashions weren't actually trained in the tactics to go along with the silly pants. But I wouldn't exaggerate just how important the bright colors were in terms of survivability. As far as I can tell, units in actual zouave colors didn't tend to incur higher casualty rates, and after the first volley generally the other side were visible as rows of boots below the billowing clouds of black-powder smoke. *Maybe* your zouave unit would be distinguishable by the red fabric bloused into the boot-tops rather than blue pantaloons hanging loose over top of them, but I doubt it did much one way or the other. The real disadvantage was how unheroic they looked bursting out the backside of the battle-cloud in retreat, and that was largely the result of the contingent impression of a few early accidents of appearance.

Pete said...

I just heard Garet Trooper by Sgt. Saddler of Ballad of the Green Berets fame. Didn't know what the song was referring to. Then I googled it and got this thread. Actually, there is a character in the movie (not the TV show) M*A*S*H who is on the blue teams side. He is a major and wears colored service ribbons on his fatigues at all times. Probably on his bath robe too. This is a Garet trooper? I also saw a soldier in the airport who waqs wearing all 3 types of jump wings all at once! The Drill Sgts there took him somewhere I didn't see. Obviously a fake.