Remembering War Heroes Through Service Uniforms

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Memorial Drive

Remembrance Day is sombre day. Leading up to the 11th, there is pride filling my heart and quiet reflections in my mind. As I thought about the history, I got to thinking about the uniforms of the effort. Who made them? How many were made? And what impact on fashion did it leave?

Who made the uniforms?

I scoured online articles to get a sense of who made what and, honestly, it was a bit hard to pinpoint exact companies or agencies. What I did find was no real surprise: it was collaboration between the governments and manufacturing plants. Simply put, whoever could manufacture, did. They hired whomever they could. Civilians at home added to the effort by knitting socks, gloves, and blankets, really anything to provide warmth and, in many cases, much needed comfort. 

How many uniforms?

Canadians serving made up an astounding 650,000 in World War One and 1.1 million in World War Two in just those two conflicts. Add the two together and multiple that by a couple, few, many uniforms per soldier and you get to 2, 4, 8 million uniforms very quickly via that rather conservative estimate. Providing so much clothing for these men and women for service in the combined ten years of war is an incredible feat on its own.

Was there an impact on fashion?

Sure was. While at first it may seem trivial to look at the impacts that wartime uniforms has on fashion, I will remind you that fashion has a purpose. It serves more than to delight. It functions and protects. I found a few interesting lasting contributions:

  1. Waist length jackets, also know a jean jackets, were said to be inspired by Battle Dress in the decades that followed World War II. I will think of that every time I slide mine over my shoulders.
  2. According to British sources, the trench coat was borne out of World War One via trench warfare. The greatcoat that soldiers were outfitted with was too long and heavy once the rain and snow came. The long thick coat was modified into the now beloved trench coat. The lighter, yet water resistant fabric enabled improved soldier mobility. Those roomy pockets were ideal safeguards for maps and the vents provide much needed airflow to the soldier. There’s nothing like a trench coat to keep you covered, stylish, yet breezy on a crisp, rainy day. Now it has a deeper meaning for me.
  3. How about pants, ladies? Until the war, many women were expected to wear skirts on their lower half, as they had no work commitments outside the home. Thanks to factory effort to support the war, women were encouraged to wear pants while producing supplies. After the war ended, many women carried out this newfound liberation (or frankly enjoyed having another style option and you know, choice). 

There you have it. Anyone and everyone who could make clothes, did. Thank you. Millions of uniforms were made for our service men and women and some of those clothes stay with us today. Again, thank you.

Regardless of my opinion of the roles of war in present day, I’m sure thankful for the efforts of our veterans. I’m proud that our ancestors made sure they were outfitted. It’s part of our history and - dare I make a most genuine pun - the fabric of our country.

If you’d like to learn more about our veterans, check out Canada Remembers. I will remember.