Redcoats Drop Breeches
The 18th of June 1823 AD
With all the alacrity for which military authorities are famed, on June 18th 1823 the 32 year process of abandoning the impractical and unloved breeches, gaiters and shoes long sported by British infantry regiments came to its completion.
An order was announced in Horse Guards stating 'His Majesty has been pleased to approve of the discontinuance of breeches, leggings, and shoes, as part of the clothing of the infantry soldiers; and of blue grey cloth trousers and half-boots being substituted.’
Although trousers – the unofficial uniform of the French revolutionary and thus perhaps viewed with suspicion by our leaders – had been worn at times by soldiers since 1791, these were generally of the overall style to keep breeches beneath them clean and tidy. In hot climates – North America, Egypt and so on – linen trews had already been adopted, offering greater comfort than tight breeches (some in impractical white) and the black leggings that were sometimes known to cause sores and even ulcers.
During the Walcheren Expedition in 1809 an experiment was tried with three different designs of uniform incorporating trousers – one regiment’s trousers with gaiters, another with buttons up the sides, the third loose with the half boots that were so preferable to shoes (these shoes of the one size fits neither variety, i.e. they were the same for left and right feet). Needless to say the loose version with boots proved best. Thus a mere 14 years later the army, in 1823 commanded by the Duke of York, adopted that style definitively. Thank goodness military decision making and procurement are both so much better organised today.
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