A History of Battledress

Military dress is a relatively modern invention, aside from the clothing ascribed to specific ethnic groups or tribes throughout history. Below, we analyze some of the key forces that have influenced the need for battledress and how the garment has evolved.  

Battledress Evolves With Warfare

The carrying of weapons may have been the earliest identifier of the warrior class within a tribe. However, as societies grew, it is believed that some resourceful civilizations created specific dress codes for those tasked with protecting civilians. As Love to Know points out, the Papal Guards in Rome are one example of those who wore these early uniforms.

As gunpowder made its appearance on the fields of war, the needs of the battlefield heavily influenced the look of battledress. With battlefields often clouded by smoke, largely thanks to gunpowder, the need to tell friend from foe became a matter of life and death. As such, bright colors were used by different armies, in order to avoid shooting at their own peers during the heat of battle.  

Battledress Evolves With Globalization

Battledress evolved as leading-edge technologies made their appearance on the world stage and trade across continents became more prevalent. Better weapons were developed, delivering more precision at farther distances. So, battledress no longer needed to be distinguishable in nature. Instead, they came to be used as a means of camouflage.

As such, military uniforms around the world took on the colors found in the fields of war: greens, khaki browns and desert colors, which made soldiers “invisible” to their enemies. This fantastic graphic from Military History Now shows the evolution of British battledress and how it has changed throughout history.  

Tradition Still Has Its Place

While those engaged on the ground need to blend in with their surroundings, the more ceremonial and traditional elements of battledress are now reserved for ranking members of the military. Those who war through diplomatic channels against their adversarial counterparts use emblems, medals and other ornamentation to communicate rank, power and military might.  

As we move into an era of cyber warfare, it will be interesting to see how battledress evolves to reflect modern trends. For example, will military robots figure in future wars? Similarly, how will nations distinguish themselves during non-violent conflicts?  Or, will anonymity be a weapon of its own?  Only time will tell. Nevertheless, the battledress remains a stalwart element of modern warfare.