At Fort MacArthur

While military uniforming is somewhat outside of the focus of this blog, from time to time I’ll make some references and especially when discussing the historical context of fashion. I have always had an interest in uniforming and it’s reflected in my participation in various living history recreations and displays. So for something a little different…

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It was a busy weekend, attending various events, getting some production work done and even getting in some trail time on my horse. 🙂 Saturday found me at the Old Ft. MacArthur Days event in San Pedro. This event is a living history time line event featuring groups from the Romans all the way on up to Vietnam War Era (on year, there was even a caveman living history group). Naturally, I participated with my First World War living history group, the Great War historical Society, and this year I came out as German soldier who was assigned to the Minenwerfer (mortar) detachment. It was a good day seeing old friends, some who I hadn’t seen face-to-face in over a year (but electronic media keeps up close 🙂 ).

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Me and one of my Austrian compadres.

In terms of fashion, the First World War was an era of profound transformation and this was especially true when it came to uniforms. Before the way, many uniforms were colorful and featured many individual distinguishing characteristics which was usually manifested in distinct buttons, trims, and insignia. However, as the war ground on, uniforms increasingly became utilitarian and practical, dispensing with many of the traditional trims and decorations both for economy (we’re talking about producing uniforms by the millions and rationing increasingly scare supplies) and practical considerations (all those flashy trims and bright colors were inviting targets for enemy fire).

Below are some pictures that capture the transition taking place by 1916:

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Probably not the best backdrop but with this uniform, we see a minimum of trim- the two biggest things are the shoulderboards and the red band on the feldmutze (the hat). technically, the red band on the feldmutze was supposed to be covered by a band of gray cloth but this was often left undone. At this point, many german soldiers were issued low boots (to save leather) accompanied by wool puttees to wrap the legs (which those look impractical, they were perfect for the near-constant damp conditions found on the Western Front). The tunic is a 1915 pattern coat which was a simplified tunic that had only four exposed metal buttons (which were usually painted over) and was designed to be universal uniform tunic to be issued to all branches of the German Army. This is only a brief description and there’s a lot more to it but it should convey the idea.

Below is a friend of mine portraying an Austro-Hungarian soldier. His uniform is a mix of prewar and wartime, the breeches are from the prewar hechtgrau or blue uniform and wartime tunic:

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And just for comparison, another friend of mine portrays the Americans:

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By the time the United States entered the war on April 9, 1917, they had developed a practical uniform that was devoid of any extreme colors. The war had turned into a relatively static affair, fought in networks of trenches that was more reminiscent of Medieval siege warfare than anything else.

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