This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Coats & Uniformity (or not as the case may be!)

Selecting what coat to wear in reenactment is much like choosing the length of a piece of string.

There are references to coats being issued to soldiers. For instance Oxford regiments were given coats, breeches and montero caps in 1643, so if you were an Oxford royalist in July of that year you would wear a nice bright red or blue coat, though not necessarily a well fitting one as uniform issue clothes have never been made to fit.

The red coats would fade rapidly on campaign, the blue ones less so but maybe after only a month or so in the field they would probably be considerably the worse for wear, so the same Oxford royalist half way through the year would wear a coat of a shabby quality that may take several years of reenacting to achieve. This image, by Tom Aldwinckle shows a red madder dyed soldier's coat after a few months in the sun. You can see that the original bright red (bottom corner) has faded in patches to a pinky hue. Coat by Gilly Morley

Hampden's regiment in the parliament army started in1642 with issued green coats with yellow linings. By spring of the following year the coats were faded and patched, and as the yellow in the green dye would fade faster than the blue, they would have looked more like a blue coated regiment. Up until the autumn when a new issue of grey or red coats was made the coats would possibly have been supplemented by some civilian doublets. By 1644, having gone through several more changes they would have been in red coats and breeches! Quite a range to choose from should you want to represent this regiment, but not uncommon in long lived units throughout the war.
(info from Common Soldiers Clothing by Stuart Peachey and Alan Turton)

Issue coats would also we think be made in batches rather than job lots. A tailor contracted to make a thousand coats for an army would have to subcontract and thus even a bulk order such as for the Oxford army or the army that went to Ireland would be made up of a wide spectrum of cuts and colours as seperate bolts of cloth would be used by different tailors who probably also had their own favorite pattern.

If you were part of a militia or a trayned band you may have had an issue of coats or you may just have worn your own clothes. In this case your top layer would either be a plain Soldier's coat or perhaps a civillian tailored doublet.

Thus the big problem is that civil war soldiers were not uniformed or regimented in their dress in a way that modern troops are, and as I have described, the coats varied widely even from season to season, so for a particular company or group in reenactment you have to decide the period you are presenting and how to portray the effect that campaigning would have had on the clothes whilst presenting some kind of unified whole.

The pictures here show one solution. The soldiers were issued with authentically dyed uniforms that have faded over time. The blue ones become almost grey in hue, whilst red becomes pale also. The fading is uneven in places, shoulders and sleeve tops for instance losing colour more quickly than the underarms. There are batches of uniforms evident here, some coats being newer are less faded, producing a parti-coloured effect that may replicate the Oxford army in issued coats, having been in the field for a few months.

Photos courtesy of Chris Thomas

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