Suited & Booted

A History of the Design and Wear of Military Uniform

The exhibition, ‘Suited and Booted’ tells a history of the design and wear of military uniform. It builds on the common narrative in military uniform exhibitions, looking at the reasons for changes in uniform by instead exploring the design, making, tailoring and upkeep of uniform.


What has remained constant throughout military history is the Suiting and Booting of a soldier from the Quartermasters clothing store where uniform is issued. Military uniform has been formally worn since the end of the English Civil War (1649) where the use of armbands as a symbol of loyalty was not enough to distinguish armies.

Until 1855 it was the Regimental Colonel’s responsibility to supply the uniform. After this the Army Clothing Department dealt with suppliers directly and shortly after began manufacturing uniforms in a purpose-built factory in Pimlico, London. Since its closure in 1932, the Defence Equipment & Support Agency has taken over the supply of uniform.

Listen to soldiers' experiences of uniform regulations

Fabric & Pattern

A key component in the design of military uniform is the decision around which fabric, colours and patterns to use. Fabric decisions affect a soldier’s comfort, body temperature and protection from the environment. The considerations for colour include camouflage in combat situations and symbolism, tradition, and identity for ceremonial occasions. Until the mid-twentieth century, all fabrics used in uniforms were made from single natural materials e.g cotton, wool and leather. Advances in textile technology resulted in the use of blended fabrics for modern uniforms such as Gore-Tex for water repellency and Kevlar for bullet-resistant kit.

Video - Recent Changes to Women's Body Armour


The role of the tailor in the military has changed throughout history. As standard uniforms have become increasingly mass manufactured, designated regimental tailoring companies and their services are reserved for the construction of officer’s ceremonial and mess dress or regiments like the Household Division who require such uniform for their ceremonial duties.

In the nineteenth century, a master tailor, or ‘the regimental stitch’ was based within a regiment to fit and repair uniforms. The tailor would select a suitable sized garment according to the soldier’s measurements as recorded annually on the measurement roll. These uniforms were already made up from the Army Clothing Factory and fitted to the soldier by the master tailor. Within the factory were tailors learning their craft as shown through two tailor’s books in our collection from 1905 and 1929.

Video - Making a Bespoke Uniform

Care & Repair

The British Armed Forces have precise dress regulations right down to how to label your uniform to identify it. In service books dating back to 1809 we see evidence of soldiers keeping record of what uniform they have had replaced and how much it cost. Soldiers would receive an allowance for ‘necessaries’ such as shirts, forage caps and braces and keep record of this in their service book. Typically in the nineteenth century, every day items such as trousers and boots were issued annually, a shako every two years and a guards bearskin every six years. In 1915 the quarterly allowance for upkeep of clothing and necessaries for soldiers was £1 10s 6d equivalent to £165 in 2022.

Soldiers are in charge of caring for their uniform to maintain the standard outlined in the dress regulations which may include polishing boots or darning a hole. As with all clothing, uniform has a life expectancy and will reach a point where it is not suitable for wear. 

Video - How to Polish Boots