In 19th century and early 20th century warfare most armies wore uniforms consisting of brightly colored coats and trousers of matching or aesthetically contrasting colors. Various explanations for this practice have been given through the years. Providing a feeling of unity among the troops by seeing their comrades smartly dressed and making an impression on the general public, which was the source of new recruits, are among the more compelling ideas for having an army dressed in parade fashion.
Another more obvious, no pun intended, advantage of these “stand out” types of uniforms was simply to be easily distinguished from the enemy in combat situations. The easier it was to identify the combatants the more readily the commanders could assess conditions and make decisions on the field of battle. If an army had a reputation as being a competent, tough, fierce fighting unit, just the sight of the uniform may put some doubt and a little hesitation in the mind of the opposition.
With the improvements in firepower, range and accuracy of weapons the brightly colored uniforms of the day became a liability. As battle losses increased, because the troops were such visible targets, changes in philosophy and tactics led too much more subdued uniform coloring. An event with the British Army in India in the mid 1800’s had them dying their red coats a kind of khaki color. This action was a sign of future changes. At the start of the 20th century Britain and the United States converted to the khaki military wear that is prevalent today.
The thought of reducing the visibility of soldiers for their protection certainly led to further experimentation and a broader use of camouflage clothing was one result of this process. Camouflage – from the French camoufler (to disguise) – is common in many forms in the natural world of animals, plants and insects on land and more prolific in the water world. There are two basic types of camouflage clothing. Cryptic resemblance is the similarity of color of the clothing to the background to enable a blending of the clothing to the surroundings. Disruptive coloration is the use of irregular patches of contrasting colors to disguise the outline of the person or object. Another type of camouflage wear which disguises a persons outline is a Ghillie suit. Named after Scottish anti poaching wardens who were called, you guessed it, Ghillies. A Ghillie suit consists of a very ragged full body covering with strands and projections of the camouflage material disguising completely the human outline.
Today there are many camouflage patterns; blotchy, spotted, striped, barred and many color combinations to go with these patterns. Woodland, desert, and city color combinations for specific backgrounds and more fashionable combinations such as sky blue, red, purple and savage orange for casual wear are available. Besides the military style shirts, pants and jackets camouflage shorts, t-shirts, swimwear and headwear for men, women, boys, girls and even infants is being produced. Because of the nature of human behavior there will probably always be a need for military camouflage clothing. For those who are free to choose there will always be camouflage clothing for hunting, work, recreation and leisure activities.