Royal Navy Uniform

The uniforms of the Royal Navy have evolved gradually since the first uniform regulations for officers were issued by Lord Anson in 1748. The predominant colours of Royal Navy uniforms are navy blue and white. Since reforms in 1997, all ratings, regardless of gender, have worn the same ceremonial uniform.

Cross”>”>Cross BraceletUniform regulations for officers were first issued by Lord Anson in 1748, and remained unchanged for nearly twenty years. Reportedly, the officers themselves advocated its adoption, as they “wished to be recognised as being in the service of the Crown.”[3] The “best uniform”, consisting of an embroidered blue coat with white facings, worn unbuttoned with white breeches and stockings, was worn for ceremonial occasions; the “working rig” was a simpler, less embroidered uniform for day-to-day use. In 1767 the best uniform was abolished and replaced by the working rig, with a simpler “undress” uniform for day-to-day use. By 1795, as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars, a plain blue “undress” coat had been introduced for everyday use, and epaulettes were officially introduced.[1] By 1846 all officers wore epaulettes. The white facings came and went over theyears, briefly becoming scarlet (1830-1843). Though stripes of lace on the cuffs had been used to distinguish the different ranks of admiral since 1795, the first version of current rank insignia, consisting of stripes with a “curl” in the top one, was introduced for all officers in 1856.

In 1825, the white breeches were replaced by trousers for officers serving in the United Kingdom, although the practice of wearing white trousers with naval uniforms continued for officers serving overseas (e.g. in the West Indies and China) until 1939. Throughout the nineteenth century, there was great variation in uniform; officers paid for their own uniform, and often adapted it to fit civilian fashion of the time, as the Admiralty regulations governing uniform were not highly prescriptive.[1]

For service in tropical climates, a white tunic and trousers were introduced in 1877, and replaced by a new design in 1938 comprising a white shirt and shorts.[1] During World War II, a blue working dress on the lines of battledress was approved. Caps were to have white tops all year around, and blue caps were abolished in 1956.[4]

The distinctive white collar patch of the Midshipman first appeared about 1758.

RatingsUniform for ratings was first established by the Admiralty in 1857. Prior to this, most seamen wore “slops”, or ready-made clothing sold to the ship’s crew by a contractor; many captains established general standards of appearance for the seamen on their vessel, but there was little or no uniformity between ships. On one occasion in 1853, the commanding officer of HMS Harlequin paid for his crew to dress as harlequins, an incident which may have contributed to the Admiralty’s decision to adopt a standard uniform.

A number of changes have been introduced since the introduction of the first rating uniform, notably the removal of the blue jacket in 1890, and the replacement of bell-bottoms by flared trousers in 1977. In 1997 there was a major standardisation programme, meaning that all ratings now wear the same ceremonial uniform for the first time in history.

Present day uniformPresent-day Royal Navy officers and ratings have several different uniforms; some are blue, others are white.

Blue No. 1 dressThis is the formal uniform worn on ceremonial occasions. For officers it consists of a double-breasted, navy blue jacket; matching trousers; white shirt and tie; peaked cap; and black leather shoes. For ratings it is a traditional navy blue sailor suit. It is divided into 1A (with medals and bearing arms), 1B (same as 1A, but without arms), and 1C (with medal ribbons). Female personnel may wear skirts except when carrying a sword or rifle.[6]

Blue No. 2 dressThis mess dress is worn in the evenings for dining. 2A is the formal evening dress for ceremonial dinners; it consists of “ball dress with [a] white waistcoat (cummerbund for female officers) with miniature medals.” 2B is “mess undress” for other mess functions, and is worn with a cummerbund and miniature medals. 2C, “red sea rig”, is worn for informal evening wear on board ship.

Blue No. 3 dressThis is worn all year round for general duties; it consists of a white shirt with rank insignia on the shoulders, and appropriate headgear. For officers, warrant officers and senior ratings, 3A dress includes a long-sleeved shirt and tie, while 3B includes a short-sleeved shirt without the tie. Junior ratings wear a short-sleeved shirt in both uniforms.

No. 4 and No. 5 dressThese are specialist working uniforms. No. 4 is IAWD (Improved Action Working Dress) with flame retardant properties. They are worn as required for duties.


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