By: Zuhra Tukhtamisheva, Isaac Troncoso, and YueMin Chen
While working all summer as Teen Leaders in the pop-up exhibition, Revolution: NYC & the War for Independence, we were frequently asked questions by visitors regarding the British military’s uniform. Based on those interactions we decided to do some research of our own to try to answer those questions and better understand the uniforms from the time of the American Revolution.
Isn’t it obvious the British soldiers were called Red Coats because of their red uniforms? But, why were they red? While the vibrant color is very aesthetically pleasing, it also the standout color played an important role in battle, as well. Battlefields during the American Revolution were very smoky, but the red cut through the haze, making it easier for the British to identify each other in the midst of chaos. Shooting at their own troops was definitely one of the potential consequences the British were able to avoid. In addition, red was seen as a ferocious color, and had been proven to increase aggression in soldiers. Over time, however, due to the chemical nature of the vegetable dyes used to British uniforms red, over several years on campaign their uniforms would fade to brown and be less obvious targets for American sharpshooters. Red was also a symbol of the British nation during this time, and an element of the British “Union Jack,” flag. The distinctive bright red color of the British uniform encouraged Americans to think of derogatory nicknames, most notably: “Lobsters,” from the scarlet color of a boiled lobster, and “Bloody Backs,” referencing both the color of their uniforms and the liberal use of flogging in the British Army.
Why Are There Different Colors on the Uniforms?
Every day the British army would spend hours making sure that all their uniforms were spotless. Each regiment has its own specific color elements in addition to the red coat. The colors of the special elements of the uniform represented which regiment the soldiers were part of. For example, the 63rd Regiment of the British Army had dark green on their uniform.
What’s with the Fuzzy Hats?
The British Army had many soldiers who were grenadiers. What do you think grenadiers did? Yes, they threw grenades. They also distinguished themselves by wearing grenadiers (the hat), which were made out of bear fur and added fierceness to the appearance of the soldiers. These extravagant, vertical hats also made it easier for grenadiers to sling their muskets over their shoulders and throw a grenade without knocking their hats down.
How Did They Keep Their Uniforms Clean?
It was mandatory for British Army soldiers to keep their uniforms immaculate. By doing this, the commander ensured that his soldiers marched into battle with higher morale. The soldiers were inspected daily to make sure every part of the uniform was polished—down to their brass buttons. The cross belt, carriage box, and gaiters (a protective piece of clothing that would go over the shoe and slightly up the pant leg), also known as the white gaiters, had to be whitened everyday with pipe clay.