The Scoop Deck

Navy’s first uniform rules released 237 years ago today (NWU not mentioned)

Capt. John Paul Jones, wearing “blue cloth with red lappels,” as instructed. (Naval History and Heritage Command image of Cecilia Beaux portrait/Naval Academy Museum)

Sailors who need a full list of up-to-date Navy uniform regulations can head here. But be warned — a printout will take up about five full, single-spaced pages. And that’s just the table of contents.

If you’ve ever wondered what led to all those instructions — the fleetwide message that would launch many, many fleetwide messages — you’d have to go back a few hundred years.

On today’s date in 1776, the first official details for “Uniform of Navy and Marine Officers” were released out of the Marine Committee in Philadelphia. Uniforms for four officer ranks — captain, lieutenant, master and midshipman — each received a sentence worth of explanation. Enlisted uniforms weren’t mentioned; the first regulations for enlisted clothing, along with grooming standards, came in 1841, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.

Blue breeches and red waistcoats were standard among all ranks, according to the 1776 message. Captains and lieutenants needed a coat sporting “blue cloth with red lapells” and yellow buttons — “raised” for captains, apparently plain was OK for lieutenants.

Marine officers also received their wardrobe instructions — green coats with “slashed sleeves and pockets,” among other requirements. And the enlisted leathernecks (who weren’t yet “leathernecks“) got the 1700s equivalent of a shout-out: “Green shirts for the men, if they can be procured. ”

Congress didn’t establish the Navy Department until 1798, meaning U.S. Navy uniform regulations predate the organization that issues those regulations by more than two decades.

It’s been a long road from “red lappels” to bell bottoms to khakis to aquaflage to flame resistant variant coveralls. Have a good uniform story? Share it with us below.

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