Prince Charles wearing a Sam Browne and lanyard while visiting The Parachute Regiment

What's The Deal With British Military Uniforms?

Prince Charles wearing a Sam Browne and lanyard while visiting The Parachute Regiment

From the full parade regalia worn in battle in the 18th century to the high tech kit designed for modern conflict, there’s no doubt that our military’s uniform has undergone some changes.

What you might not know is that many of the modern British Military’s uniform's features are rooted in history...  

Winter Dress - Queen’s Guard 

They may be famous for their iconic red coats, but in the winter months the Queen’s Guard change into a grey greatcoat to help protect them from the elements.

The red tunic is worn from April until October - hardly surprising considering how cold they must get standing stock still outside Buckingham Palace for hours on end!

The Guard also change their schedule in September, with the Changing the Guard taking every other day rather than daily, alternating between Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

Of course, they continue to wear the iconic bearskin cap made from the skin of culled Canadian bears.

When the Guard aren’t on ceremonial duty, they wear the normal combat gear of other regiments, and are a fully active operational unit.

Sam Browne Belt

During the 19th Century, officers were still using swords in battle.

They hung from a small metal clip on a belt called a 'frog'.

Two hands had to be used to draw a sword from its scabbard because it would move around on the belt.

Sir Sam Browne VC was a British Army officer who served in India during this period.

He was badly injured whilst charging a cannon in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and lost his left hand - leaving him unable to draw his sword.

So Browne had to use another belt that went over his right shoulder to hold his scabbard in place.

It also carried a pistol and included a binocular case with a neck-strap.

The rig had become a standard issue by the end of the Boer War and is now a key part of modern dress uniform (see above).



Perhaps the most famous item of dress in the British Military is the historic Red Coat as worn by most regiments of the British Army between the 17th and 20th centuries.

Although many believe that the iconic red colour was adopted as a way to disguise blood stains, it is actually due to the fact that, during the 17th century, red dye was the cheapest colour available.

The brightly coloured jackets also helped with identifying enemies on the battlefield, as before the invention of smokeless powder in the 1880s, battlefields would become shrouded in thick smoke. 

At the time, Britain was most commonly at war with France (who wore blue) so red coats greatly reduced the chance of confusion. 

Although by the 20th century the red coat was mostly only used in parades.

In the modern British Army, Scarlet is still worn by the Foot Guards, the Life Guards, and by some regimental bands or drummers for ceremonial purposes, and of course the Chelsea Pensioners.

Lanyard worn by soldier from the 5th Regiment Royal Artillery 'The Yorkshire Gunners'


At the end of the 19th Century, field guns requiring a fuse key came into use.

Every man working around these guns had one of the devices and used a lanyard to carry it around their neck – keeping the key securely in the soldiers’ breast pockets.

This lanyard gradually became more decoratively braided until it started to take its present form.

Over the years, the lanyard has been used to carry knives and has even been used as a spare firing lanyard for guns that used a trigger firing mechanism.

It is now incorporated into various regiments' dress uniforms (see above). 

The Royal Navy's Sailor Suit has a long tradition

Sailor Suit

It’s said that sailors used to put pine tar in their hair to keep it out of their way when they were working.

The removable seamen’s blue collar was there to keep tar off the uniform and the lanyard was originally used to carry a Bosun's Pipe.

Although some accounts say that it was used to carry a knife to allow sailors to let go of the tool when both hands were needed.

The black scarf assembly is said to have been used both for cleaning cannons and binding wounds.

Bell-bottom trousers were designed so that they could be rolled up easily when scrubbing the decks.

Pace Stick

Pace Stick

The Royal Regiment of Artillery is credited with first using a "gunner's stick" to measure the distance between guns.

It was quickly adopted and adapted by the Infantry to be used as an aid for drill.

The Royal Navy has a long history associated with the beard.


Soldiers in the British army have largely been forbidden to grow a full beard.

However, some ranks are allowed to have a beard on parade. The pioneer sergeant, who acted as a blacksmith, was allowed a beard to protect his face from the heat of the forge.

The navy has a long history of hair-covered faces, but even sailors have restrictions.

In the 1870s Queen Victoria ordered the First Lord of the Admiralty that "on no account should moustaches be allowed without beards. That must be clearly understood."

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