They say that the way you dress is the first insight people have of what kind of person you are and this goes double for the military. It’s a hard athletic lifestyle that builds an epic physique and it’s a phenomenal military performance that gives the duds of these soldiers the glory that they demand. If you look great, you perform great. Check out our top 10 epic uniforms throughout history and see the function behind the form.
The British 95th rifles were a prototype force of riflemen who popularized the effectiveness of rifles over muskets. Spread apart, the riflemen’s green-jacket uniform allowed them to appropriately progress ahead of the main infantry and pick off key targets in the enemy lines.
Picking off generals and NCOs? Send in the Rifles. Take out enemy artillery from a distance? Send the Rifles. The Rifles or Grasshoppers (as they were nicknamed by the French) would be Britain’s first step to come up with a camouflaged uniform.
By far one of the most grandiosely-style cavalrymen of the colonial period, the Polish Hussars or Winged Hussars were a sight. With wings made of wood and ostrich/eagle/swan feathers, the Polish Hussars used their appearance as psychological warfare
The winged hussars embodied the relevance of heavy in an era of muskets and rifles. Imagine a squadron of winged, armoured, almost-angelic looking horsemen descending down on a hapless company of line infantry
Samurai armour went through an incredible evolution in armour development. The most prominent was scale armour. Scale armour of the samurai was made of small, steel, which was either trapezoidal or rectangular in shape. These pieces, called kozane, were laced together with cords called odoshige and used as larger pieces for protection of various parts of the samurai‘s body.
The armour consisted of six segments of kozane sheets:
- The cuirass (do)
- Helmet (kabuto)
- Face mask (men yoroi ro menpo)
- Armoured sleeves (kote)
- Greaves (suneate)
- Cuisses (haidate)
As anywhere else in armour/weapon development history, it was the armour that adapted to the fighting environment. For this reason, Classical Samurai armour was a lot lighter than its European counterparts. The Samurai fighting environment was not focused on bludgeoning or piercing one’s opponent. For that reason, heavy plate armour never truly was. The relatively lighter armour of the Samurai’s classical age was built as a defense against the predominant slashing style of sword fighting of its time.
Roman plate armour
The beauty of the roman army was that it was very adaptive and flexible to its changing environment, a testament to the Roman Empire as a whole for its survivability and longevity. The roman segmented armour, the lorica segmentata, is the icon of that legacy.
What was the catalyst for its creation? The Germans. The Germanic tribes were accustomed to using slashing weapons and fighting guerilla style. Getting your head cleaved by the long, hacking, German swords, was a common occurrence when facing these tribes. The armour of the roman units facing this style of warrior/warfare had to thus adapt.
The segementata armour provided more shoulder protection against the weapons faced by frontier soldiers. In combat zones where segmentata provided an advantage, both legionaries and auxiliary units incorporated the armour for combat. Usually this was in areas on the Northern frontiers of Germany or on Hadrian’s Wall, particularly hilly/mountainous areas (potential better protection from missile fire).
Cuirassiers of 19th century
The word Cuirsassier comes from the French, “one with a cuirass” which was a breastplate of armour. The cuirassier was an adaptation for medieval knights in an age where guns were on the rise. Filled with only ¾ of their full body plate armour, the cuirassier was an effective charging force against infantry. Eventually, the armour would be stripped away, down to the breastplate, as speed became more and more important over power. Actually, even though the cuirassier would adapt to the gun age with carrying short pistols or a blunderbuss, the saber would remain the primary weapon.
The Cuirassiers, in their last incarnation, were dangerous in turning the flank of a musket line. In fact, their swords were deadlier than their pistols as the old school weapon would remain the primary weapon of the cuirassier to its end.
Nazi –Germany uniforms
Although Hugo Boss did not design them, they did act as the primary manufacturers of the Nazi party’s uniforms. Hugo boss was a pragmatist and his alliance with the party was common sense as a German- based clothing manufacturer. Even though he even joined the Nazi party (for gaining clothing contracts more easily) Boss gets a bad rap for allegedly designing the Nazi uniforms.
However, with the atrocities that were committed by the party, the very uniforms that these people wore are iconic in a nightmarish sense. They were smart, they were frightening, and they were a legacy of authoritarianism. The uniforms aimed to depict a very sleek, efficient visage of the wearer.
Bikaner Camel Corp
Now the Bikaner Camel Corp would go down in fame as the British Commonwealth’s distinguished camel cavalry unit, seeing use in both world wars. Maharaja Ganga Singh of the state of Bikaner in India, proposed the raising of 500 camels before world war 1 (1899) and his proposal was accepted. The Bikaner Camel Corp served in famine relief, in the boxer Rebellion of China, and the Somaliland campaign.
Their ornate status as camel cavalry was compounded with the illustrious uniforms of the princely warriors of Bikaner. The colourful turbans and battle sashes were monikers of this unit. Now relegated to border services, the camel corps retains its ornate uniform but also its relevance as the camels serve as useful beasts in patrolling the desert-like border between India and Pakistan.
The Greek hoplite saw the rise of organized heavy infantry, as per the iconic, phalanx formation. He would carry a round wooden shield that was covered in bronze layer was called the Hoplon or Aspis (also where the hoplite gets his name). Moreover, protection came from pteruges/greaves for the shins. The shield would provide the most bodily protection. There was also the Corinthian helmet which would be modified in different ways, including the black-horse hair plume that came off the top. For the most part he helmet covered the nose, cheeks and ears.
The actual clothing would consist of a garment with several layers of linen interwoven with tiles into a corselet of sorts. Some would also wear a bronze breastplate for protection, however this would weight much more than the linen wear (up to 30 pounds). Moreover, if the spear of the Greek hoplite fell/broke, he could quickly draw his xiphos/sword that was a 26 inch long, double edged iron sword.
Medieval European plate armour
Medieval armour was the age of full body plated armour and although it was still expensive, the noble lords had the purse needed to look swanky and downright daunting in it. In fact, due to its protection against early guns, more and more combatants strove to incorporate plated armour for their protection. It’s no wonder that even into the late middle ages that plated armour became the most prominently used armour in Europe.
It’s been argued that medieval armour would be terrible to move around in, but this is to the contrary. Jumping jacks, climbing robes, and running were all possible, save for the restriction of added weight and thus reduced speed. It is surprising how mobile you could be in full armour. In fact, medieval re-enactors have used the knight, Boucicaut’s, 15th century writings to depict his full-armour workouts.
The Ottoman Janissaries wore very lose fitting clothes. They wore loose fitting trousers called a salvar with a long cotton/linen shirt that draped over just above the knee. Over the salvar, would be worn a sash that covered over the shirt and pants. The sash would act as a utility pouch for weaponry, ammunition, and other equipment as needed by circumstance. On top of that, was a long-sleeved overcoat, tied at the waistline. To top it off, the Janissary would wear tubular white felt which covered his head which would run down to below his belt.
It was this uniform in which the Janissary soldier would be tasked to take the field in much of the Ottoman expansion into Europe, all while acting as the Sultan’s bodyguard. Armed with the infamous trench musket, the janissary would become a military icon in Ottoman history.
For More Reading:
The 95th Rifles History of the 95th Rifles
Sharpe Compendium Uniforms
Message to Eagle Winged Hussars Facts and History about the Polish Cavalry
Husaria by Jerzy Cichowski, Andrzej Szulczyński
Kismeta How Hussars’ Fought
The Samurai A Military History by Stephen Turnbull
My Armoury Japanese Armour
Roman Body Armour by Hilary and John Travis
The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D. By Graham Webster