What uniforms did old armies wear?

The meaning and purpose of this rubric?

With this section we would like to show a series of the most important milestones in the clothing history of the Swiss Army.

Until 1852, each canton had its own small army, with its own uniforms and badges. The only common badge for the thrown together armed forces was the red federal armband with the Swiss cross, which has been in use since 1815.

Although this variety is interesting for the uniform expert, it is confusing and difficult to understand for the layman. The regulations of 1842 created the basis for uniform uniformity for all federal troops. It then became binding with the regulations on armament and equipment of 1852, which, initially on paper, ensured that all federal troops were uniformly uniform.

As before, however, the various branches of arms differed in color and equipment. It was still a long way to a uniform appearance as we know it today. The reasons were, on the one hand, the tight finances and the fact that the Swiss military man usually kept the "range" once he had made, perhaps with the exception of the weapon, until he withdrew from compulsory military service.

Structure and structure

The rubric is structured in such a way that whenever there is a major change in terms of clothing and equipment, there is a new section with the common designation (orderly). The basis is the relevant regulations and pictures, drawn by reliable, detailed artists and later documents from the war engineering department, enhanced by individual photos that were taken from the second half of the 19th century.

What does orderly mean?

The word ordonnance comes from the French word “ordonner” for to order or to decree. Together with a year, it denotes the year in which a piece of equipment, clothing or a type of weapon was officially introduced into the army. As a rule, this is the date of the introductory decision by the Federal Council or the competent military authority. Sometimes various smaller changes to the existing regulations were summarized under a year as an orderly.

A few years could still pass before the newly introduced item came to the troops, as most of the items of equipment still available from the previous orderly had to be removed. So there is always a time difference between the implementation decision and the effective implementation by the troops. In addition, mostly only recruits got the benefit of effects according to the new orderly. One should not fall into the mistaken belief that when a new orderly was introduced, all soldiers were immediately equipped with new effects. As a rule, what was once considered a recruit remained with the personal equipment until retirement from the army. Exceptions were the replacement in the event of loss, defect or exchange due to an increase in body size. In fact, it was always a juxtaposition of items of equipment from various orderlies.



Ordinance 1817 (and revision of August 8, 1843)

In the period before and after the Helvetic Republic, the cantons still had absolute military sovereignty. Not only were they free to determine the size and composition of their contingents, but also their armament and equipment. When the Helvetic era was over, it was possible to reorganize and equip the military again. In 1817 another attempt was made to regulate the uniform and it was accepted by the cantons, although it was only partially implemented. However, the cantons of Zurich, Bern and Aargau accepted these proposals as the basis for a new uniform, and these cantons then later became groundbreaking for the development of the first national uniform. On August 8, 1843, another regulation on uniforms was approved by the Diet. Among other things, it provided for the order of the colors for the various branches of arms as well as uniform headgear within them.

Ordinance 1852

With the extensive ordinance in 1852, uniform uniforms and equipment were prescribed for all cantons for the first time in modern Switzerland. However, this only affected new acquisitions, existing uniforms could still be worn for years. The federal armband introduced in 1815 remained in place as a common badge. The uniform itself was based heavily on the uniforms worn in France at the time and consisted (except for the cavalry) of a tall, slightly conical shako, a tailcoat with different colored trimmings, dungarees, gaiters and white bandeliers for sabers and cartridge pouches. The cantons were free to wear epaulettes with their uniforms.

Ordinance 1861

What is commonly referred to by the term orderly in 1861 are all changes that have taken place since the introduction of the order of clothing from 1852 to 1868. This applies in particular to the uniform and leather items. Some of the main changes are: the introduction of a lower shako model, which from now on is also called a kepi (snipers and engineering troops with spherical hats), the replacement of the previous bib with a slit, the introduction of the tunic for infantry and engineering troops instead of the tails that were previously worn , Replacement of the cross-worn bandeliers with a waist belt, on which the side arm and cartridge pouch are now carried. Wearing epaulettes remained optional. Like the previous model, the whole uniform was very much inspired by French models.


Ordonnances 1868/69

After a short time the uniforms were renewed and now a short tunic was also handed in for those on horseback. The uniform was now very simple and functional, the colored trimmings were reduced to a minimum. Epaulettes as badges for officers were replaced by American-style bracelets. Mounted soldiers were equipped with the new saber model introduced a year earlier and no longer had epaulettes, as did the elite associations. In 1869 the lower shako was replaced by the so-called "conical hat" or "kepi hat", a lower kepi with a surrounding brim. This was now prescribed for all branches of the army. There was also a simple policy cap.

  • December 21, 1867 Federal law concerning some changes in the clothing and equipment of the armed forces
  • 02/12/1868 Instructions regarding clothing and equipment
  • 04/27/1868 Amendment to the dress code
  • 01/20/1869 New headgear
  • Trimmings for the headgear Ord 1869
  • Pictures orderly 1868/69

Ordinance 1875

The Federal Constitution of 1874 gave the federal government the right to dispose of the armed forces (Art. 19), the cantons had only a few powers left, for example infantry and cavalry still formed cantonal troops. The cut and finish of the uniform became a bit more attractive again, new models of trousers were introduced and the woven armpit number was introduced as a new identification symbol for the new troops. The kepi remained, partly supplemented by a new set.

The experiences from the occupation of the border and the subsequent internment of the French Eastern Army flowed into the equipment and the introduction of the breech loader model Vetterli shortly before that also led to innovations in the equipment.

Ordinance 1898

The numerous additions, innovations and changes since 1875 made it necessary to create a new uniform order. This was passed by the Federal Council on January 11, 1898 and was the basis for the “Regulations on the Clothing and Equipment of the Swiss Army”, referred to as Ordonnanz 1898 for short. Officer equipment followed a year later. With the introduction of new arms and branches of service, new uniforms and badges were necessary. Much that did not yet exist in 1875 had been created in the meantime or was about to be introduced, for example cyclists, telegraph pioneers, balloon pioneers and mitrailleurs. Signal pioneers, headlight pioneers, aviators and motorists followed later. The cavalrymen had received a new, more attractive uniform with epaulettes and a new kepi since 1883, and since the beginning of the 1890s all recruits also wore a new kepi (model 1888). The orderly orderly in 1898 was designed in such a way that it could be easily combined with the previous orderly orderly.

Ordinance 1914/17

Shortly after the introduction of the last “blue” uniform, it was recognized that it could no longer meet the demands of a modern army and in 1904 attempts were made to find a new uniform that was more suitable for field service. Germany introduced field-gray field uniforms as early as 1907, which were sold from 1910. France made attempts with reseda green uniforms, but did not introduce them. In Switzerland, attempts were made with uniform models, some of which were revolutionary, during the entire first decade and were nevertheless surprised when the war broke out. As an emergency solution, gray camouflage blouses and cap covers had to be handed in. With the Federal Council decision of October 28, 1914, the first step towards the introduction of the felgrey (green) uniform was taken. The colors of the branches of service and service displays could be read off the collar and sleeve flaps as well as on the protrusions on the tunic and trousers. The degree badges and their placement on the uniform (officers) were also new. Further additions and changes were made up to 1917, for example that all advances should only be carried out in marengo (black).


Ordinance 1926

This means the “Regulations on Clothing of December 30, 1926” (Federal Council resolution). For its part, it is based on the Federal Council resolutions regarding the introduction of the field gray uniform from the years 1914 and 1915 and in particular on the "Federal Council resolution concerning field gray clothing of the army and badges" of June 4, 1917 and supplements these in essential parts, especially with the distinctive badges the (new) military branches and branches of service, as well as the execution of the degree and function badges. In the case of non-commissioned officers, for example, from this ordinance onwards, all of the upper collar edge has an 8 mm wide, black edged gold or silver border (depending on the button color).

The kepi that had been worn so far definitely made way for the steel helmet, which until then had been part of the corps material and was now part of the personal equipment in the sprayed green version. Further adjustments and additions followed annually up to the new clothing regulations of 1940.

Ordinance 1940

After extensive tests and clarifications, the Commission for the Revision of the Clothing Regulations on February 7, 1941, in the middle of the war, under the chairmanship of General Guisan, adapted and supplemented the previous dress regulations. The colored sleeve flaps have been rearranged and the symbols embroidered on them have been simplified or omitted entirely. The tunic experienced significant innovations, it was given a turn-down collar and could subsequently also be worn open by turning the collar back and fixing it with two small buttons. The armpit flaps had a point at the end instead of the previous rounding and the cuffs were larger so that both buttons came to lie within the cuff. So that the tunics of the previous orderly could continue to be used in large numbers, they were allowed to be modified, that is, provided with turn-down collars. These uniforms are usually referred to as Ordonnanz 1926/40

These detailed regulations also received numerous amendments in the following years and were in turn replaced with the Ordonnanz in 1949.


Ordinance 1949

Not much has happened in the field of uniforms and personal equipment since the introduction of field gray uniforms. Although the turn-down collar and a new hat model were introduced in 1940, the majority of the army still wore uniforms in the old style. In the meantime, the passive air raid protection was set up, from which the air raid troops emerged, the auxiliary services, both men and women, were reorganized, as was the Red Cross service. This made new uniforms necessary, which resulted in the "Ordinance on Clothing for the Swiss Army (Clothing Ordinance) of March 8, 1949" signed by the Federal Council. The main features of the new uniform were the new police hat, tunic skirts with lapels, which were now to be worn with a military shirt and tie, a new cut in the trousers and in the hood. Motorcyclists and armored troops also wear the new helmet 48 from allied stocks. The badges of the NCOs are given a new shape and are only worn on the upper arm; those of the officers are now worn on loops on the epaulets. Two years later (1951), new blue uniforms were introduced for members of the women's service and the female members of the Red Cross service.