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Best guide to WWII US uniforms (print or online)?


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Well, it (inevitably?) happened. What began months ago as a "$30-Amazon-costume-and-maybe-$85-Levi's-somewhat-if-you-squint-correct-looking-G1-jacket" thrust has now blossomed into a full-blown "I-want-so-many-of-these-services-and-all-these-types-and-oh-look-the-good-A2s-are-already-$800-so-why-not-spring-for-an-Eastman-maybe-4?" passion, and likely new obsession :).

 

Really, did anyone doubt this would happen? No, no they did not and either on this forum or on thefedoralounge someone literally called this out :).

 

So! I'm now in the deep research and learning phase. For years I've known about and looked through the Men-At-Arms series, but I have no idea if they're the best place to look for an exhaustive and definitive guide to all this (to be clear, this is all for service and dress uniforms, i.e. what one would wear to formal or informal social gatherings (in my case, dances), and not utility/combat wear. Though who knows how deep I'll end up going down the road! But those aren't for now.)

 

Where should I look- are there great books or online resources for this? I've definitely come across the Time (or was it Life?) spread showing the uniforms, and a buying guide or two pointing to Soldier of Fortune, What Price Glory, etc. items to create certain looks.

 

But I have to imagine somewhere there's a resource that just lays everything out in exhaustive detail- eras, units, branches, campaigns, the lot. Thoughts?

 

Thanks so much, and let me know if I need to bring donuts to the next meeting :).

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13 hours ago, patches said:

Here's the Navy, a series of big fat books.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Navy-Uniforms-World-War-Amphibious/dp/076432621X

I'm sorry to say there are more glaring errors in those books than one can count. Maybe not a good source for someone new to the field, unless you just look at the vintage photos and ignore the text.

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Welcome to the club.

Are you looking for service/dress uniforms of WW2 US Army, USAAF, USN, USMC, or all of the above?

Really the badging and insignia to reflect the specific theater of war and specialty of the individual are the primary differences I think.

Navy officer winter dress and khaki uniforms are pretty much the same for all officers; dentists, supply clerks, submariners, or battleship gunnery officers (the sleeve specialty badges are different). Aviators also had the optional aviation greens.

USMC uniforms are pretty standardized throughout the Corps, both Alphas and Blues.

Dress uniforms of an Army infantry officer, doctor, and bomber pilot from 2LT to General are the same uniform with different insignia. 

My advice would be to learn the insignia and badges so you can tailor a blank uniform to the scenario. If I'm not making sense, let me know.

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9 hours ago, MattS said:

Welcome to the club.

Are you looking for service/dress uniforms of WW2 US Army, USAAF, USN, USMC, or all of the above?

Really the badging and insignia to reflect the specific theater of war and specialty of the individual are the primary differences I think.

Navy officer winter dress and khaki uniforms are pretty much the same for all officers; dentists, supply clerks, submariners, or battleship gunnery officers (the sleeve specialty badges are different). Aviators also had the optional aviation greens.

USMC uniforms are pretty standardized throughout the Corps, both Alphas and Blues.

Dress uniforms of an Army infantry officer, doctor, and bomber pilot from 2LT to General are the same uniform with different insignia. 

My advice would be to learn the insignia and badges so you can tailor a blank uniform to the scenario. If I'm not making sense, let me know.

 

I would say all of the above, with the exception of the USMC, as, for better or for worse, they've maintained the closest look to that era into the modern day (I suppose with the exception of the *new* pinks and greens and the cracker jack, but for the former, I still think they read very WWII, and same for the latter- cracker jack just reads WWII.) Wearing any of the WWII USMC service/dress stuff in my opinion doesn't really scream WWII, and, at worst, stands more of a chance of being called out for stolen valor. In any case, USMC reenactment doesn't hold the same appeal for me as USAAF (why do we all want to look like aviators? Hah.), USN, and Army.

 

To be honest, I perhaps overemphasized the importance of badging and insignia. I just threw those in to describe the sort of guide for which I was looking- something tome-like and definitive. Much more important to me are all the various permutations of shirts, pants, ties, jackets, belts, and the like. I see so many versions in pictures of green and khaki and black and this and that, it would be great to get a guide to it all, not unlike what I've read on the firearms side of things. Just as an example, the to-me famous thread on here:

 

https://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/231999-1941-life-magazine-color-photos-of-us-military-uniforms/

 

shows so many variations I don't really see elsewhere, it would be great to get something explanatory of it all.

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Maguire's books are great, but geared toward USAAF obviously. 

The Life pictures are pre-war and a lot of those variations were dropped in wartime (tall boots, Sam Browne belts, etc.). During the war, the Army used winter (green) and summer (khaki) dress uniforms for the most part, and the only variations would be the shirt and tie color combo and service vs garrison cap. That's about it. 

You could get one naval winter dress uniform and make it work for almost any time, anywhere. Navy officers wore winter dress predominantly with whites only on formal occasions. 

As far as one source that covers every uniform combination for the Army and Navy, I can't think of one. 

 

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This might work for USN uniforms of WW2: https://www.amazon.com/US-Navy-World-War-Elite/dp/1841763012

 

This page covers pretty much every officer specialty/rank possible: https://www.uniform-reference.net/insignia/usn/usn_ww2_officer.html

So I guess the only decision is blues, white, or greys. 

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9 hours ago, MattS said:

The Life pictures are pre-war and a lot of those variations were dropped in wartime (tall boots, Sam Browne belts, etc.). During the war, the Army used winter (green) and summer (khaki) dress uniforms for the most part, and the only variations would be the shirt and tie color combo and service vs garrison cap. That's about it. 

You could get one naval winter dress uniform and make it work for almost any time, anywhere. Navy officers wore winter dress predominantly with whites only on formal occasions. 

As far as one source that covers every uniform combination for the Army and Navy, I can't think of one. 

 

 

This is very, very useful! I'm trying to understand the various permutations of khaki, chocolate, "pink", OD, and black with everything (basically just for Army and USAAF). If I go by this guide here:

 

http://www.usww2uniforms.com/figures_army.html

 

what you say makes sense. But then I've seen so many pictures where khaki and OD are mixed, I'm trying to fill in the missing pieces. For example, that guide there doesn't seem to include the wool officer's uniform as shown here:

 

https://www.wwiiimpressions.com/collections/od-serge-wool-officers-uniform

 

which I see everywhere. I mean, to be fair it has some version of that but not in the buttoned jacket, standard way I've seen. I do wonder if https://www.wwiiimpressions.com/ is actually the very guide I've been looking for :).

 

As another example for why I'm somewhat confused, look at these pics. Yes, they're from Pearl Harbor which I understand did *not* do things correctly, but they do reflect the same thing I've seen in authentic pictures:

 

https://imgix.bustle.com/lovelace/uploads/273/5be6f420-2a83-0133-4749-0a2ca390b447.jpg?w=760&h=500.17499999999995&auto=format%2Ccompress&cs=srgb&q=70&fit=crop&crop=faces

 

https://www.tweaktown.com/images/content/4/1/4101_1_pearl_harbor_2001_blu_ray_movie_review_full.jpg

 

It's all over the place. Pinks with khaki with black with OD with arrrrrghhh!!!

 

I think though, as I type this and get a handle on things, I'm starting to understand. Let's see if I have this right:

 

Summer khaki uniform: you're talking head to toe khaki, but a necktie that can be either khaki or black (?) Headgear would only be a garrison cap.

Winter wool/OD uniform: damnit I thought I had this figured out but the various sites have now confused me again. I was going to say that you had this wool all-OD ensemble for all, but now I think that's for enlisted only. In any case, it's OD wool top and bottom, tie is always khaki (?). Headgear can be either service or garrison?

Pinks and greens: Sorry for the typing diarrhea here :). First I was going to say that maybe this was the officer's formal uniform (but they still got an all OD winter uniform), then I thought hold on, it appears enlisted got all OD winter, officers got the pinks and greens, then I couldn't understand where the OD vs. chocolate divide came in, then I thought maybe enlisted got OD, officers chocolate, THEN it appeared to me that chocolate and OD were interchangeable... GAHHHH

 

Then this complicates everything. It appears to be pink trousers (so officer winter), with a khaki shirt (so officer summer):

 

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1227/2064/collections/offwinter2_medium.JPG?v=1499734674

 

I am mildly more informed now.... or is it more confused? :)

 

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Even now I just caught an inaccuracy in what I wrote:

"Summer khaki uniform: you're talking head to toe khaki, but a necktie that can be either khaki or black (?) Headgear would only be a garrison cap." You can totally have a service cap, which I realized when just thinking of MacArthur or any other images I have in my mind of officers in the Pacific. Sigh :).

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Hah, and then where the heck does *this* fit into everything?

 

https://onlinemilitaria.net/products/4115-US-Officer-Tropical-Worsted-Summer-Uniform-Service-Coat/

 

UPDATE- ok it appears this was an optional summer uniform jacket for officers, near-identical to the chocolate/OD winter one. Per:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_uniforms_in_World_War_II#Summer_uniforms_2

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Well, it appears the wikipedia entry on all this is the best starting point:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_uniforms_in_World_War_II#Officer's_service_uniforms

 

It also has reinforced my growing notion that the best approach is just to get each piece separately in the colors I like, and then mix and match taking into account aesthetics and the level of historical accuracy I'm going for for the particular event!

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If you are trying to find something to wear that is "correct" and looking for a resource to help you with the detail, I would suggest that you pick a year and season, then a branch of service, then a theater of operations, then a specific unit. Otherwise the subject is way too broad unless you simply want to look like a "soldier, sailor, marine, airman or coastguardsman"

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Please, don't use that horrible movie as a reference, blechhh.  🤮

 

Get on eBay and find a copy of the 1943/44/45 edition of the Army "Officer's Guide". It lists the uniform components and authorized fabrics and colors.

You're overthinking this, the "Coat, service, winter" is "wool, elastique, or whipcord olive-drab No. 51 (dark shade), 14 1/2-26 ounce" is the authorized coat. 

The permissible shirts to be worn with it are listed as well along with the disclaimer, "Either the olive-drab or the khaki shirt may be worn when the service coat is worn." Authorized colors and fabrics of trousers and ties are listed as well. Any combination is allowed so long as the individual components (shirt, tie, trousers) are of authorized material and color and you're not mixing summer and winter uniform items. 

 

And yes, officer service caps were authorized in either winter (OD) or summer (khaki).  

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Some photographic examples of what I'm talking about. 

All these officers are "in uniform" in that the colors of shirts and ties are authorized, but notice the various combinations of shirts, ties, and trousers.

 

officers.jpg

officers 2.jpg

 

Of the 9 American officers on the right, 3 are wearing the dark trousers and one is wearing a dark tie (and sunglasses!). 

Source: https://wartimeni.com/wwiini-raf-personnel-at-toome-airfield/

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15 hours ago, BigBrother said:

Summer khaki uniform: you're talking head to toe khaki, but a necktie that can be either khaki or black (?) Headgear would only be a garrison cap.

Winter wool/OD uniform: damnit I thought I had this figured out but the various sites have now confused me again. I was going to say that you had this wool all-OD ensemble for all, but now I think that's for enlisted only. In any case, it's OD wool top and bottom, tie is always khaki (?). Headgear can be either service or garrison?

Pinks and greens: Sorry for the typing diarrhea here :). First I was going to say that maybe this was the officer's formal uniform (but they still got an all OD winter uniform), then I thought hold on, it appears enlisted got all OD winter, officers got the pinks and greens, then I couldn't understand where the OD vs. chocolate divide came in, then I thought maybe enlisted got OD, officers chocolate, THEN it appeared to me that chocolate and OD were interchangeable... GAHHHH

 

If that is your area of focus you want a book called U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II by Shelby Stanton. It is out of print but you can find used copies online for $20 or less, delivered. There is also an ebook version, and you can see a preview here:

https://books.google.com/books?id=Lita2OQpHDsC&newbks=0&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

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@MattS, great stuff. It's funny, between doing my own research and coming back to your posts here, it really did become blatantly obvious to me. In fact, the answer was ironically already in my question: "Much more important to me are all the various permutations of shirts, pants, ties, jackets, belts, and the like. I see so many versions in pictures of green and khaki and black and this and that, it would be great to get a guide to it all." The permutations ARE the answer! It was literally all just mix-and-match, except for, as you alluded to, summer and winter, although even that was permitted in one way:

 

"Some officer's were authorized to wear their service coats and were give the leeway to wear a lighter weight summer tan uniform shirt under the coat.  This was done for the comfort of the wearer."

 

per

 

https://www.wwiiimpressions.com/collections/officers-mens-wool-winter-uniforms

 

Put another way, I realized the answer is to literally just mimic what, as an officer, I would've had back then- with a full set of summers and winters, including the light and dark shades for the latter, I will have the entire assemblage needed to make any uniform I want, correctly.

 

I'll make sure to also get a summer coat, although they seem to have been used more rarely, to make sure I have everything down.

 

The one thing remaining I suppose is to determine *which* summer material I want- worsted wool or cotton. But that perhaps is a topic for another day!

 

As a final note, I did come across this site in my research which is absolutely SUPERB for the women's side of things. I wish such a site existed for men's, though it would probably have to be MASSIVE. The level of care and attention to detail in describing everything is exemplary:

 

www.blitzkriegbaby.de/homepage.htm

 

In fact, if you look at the WASP uniform subpage specifically, you will see a great breakdown of exactly the sorts of permutations we discussed above:

 

www.blitzkriegbaby.de/wasp/wasp3a.htm

 

That actually helped me realize all this!

 

Thanks all.

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12 hours ago, BigBrother said:

I'll make sure to also get a summer coat, although they seem to have been used more rarely, to make sure I have everything down.

 

The one thing remaining I suppose is to determine *which* summer material I want- worsted wool or cotton. But that perhaps is a topic for another day!

 

Happy to help, it's sometimes a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. You get caught up in the details and overlook the obvious, happens to all of us. 

As far as summers, you see these more often in WW2 photos being worn in Italy and the Pacific theater than in England (for obvious meteorological reasons). I can say that the one major advantage of cotton over tropical worsted (TW) is that moths don't eat cotton. It's not uncommon to find holey TWs. Whether you choose wool or cotton, make sure your service cap material matches! 

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15 hours ago, BigBrother said:

 

The one thing remaining I suppose is to determine *which* summer material I want- worsted wool or cotton. But that perhaps is a topic for another day!

 

Tropical worsted dominated for officer summer coats and trousers, to the point "TW" became widely used as the name of the uniform. The lightweight wool had been a kind of "wonder fabric" in the '30s, it looked sharp and felt lighter than the cotton twill and was preferred by wearers and tailors alike.  The summer uniform with coat was optional for officers in WW2 so if worn overseas was often off duty, on R&R or social occasions, and primarily in rear areas with dry cleaning available.

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1. I'm assuming the jacket was only made in the worsted wool and not cotton (?) And if worn, was probably matched with TW parts and not cotton- although I'm sure this was broken if it was a rule. I'm guessing there must've been officers who just heaped materials together as the summer uniform seems a bit less formal as was its enforcement, just going off of what I've seen. Although, you did advise above to match the cap's material with the uniform's, so maybe I'm wrong.

 

2. Was there an enlisted version of the tropical coat? Nothing I've seen seems to indicate it, but curious.

 

3. As I go along this journey :), I'm now at the point of finding out about overseas versus domestic regulations. I've seen a lot of mention of this when it comes to headgear, though haven't yet studied it. Were the differences indeed reserved for headgear, or were there other uniform regulations that changed based on if overseas or not. There's the whole "UK-only-wool" part but that's all I've encountered thus far. If this is getting into the "buy the damned book we recommended" territory, willing to hear it :)!

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"The Officer's Guide" 1944 edition in reference to summer uniforms:

 

1944 guide summers.jpg

 

I don't believe there was an 'official' enlisted version of the summer uniform.

 

Summer service caps with cotton tops were often worn with the cotton summer khakis (as sold by WW2 Impressions).

https://www.wwiiimpressions.com/collections/khaki-cotton-officers-uniform

 

If a TW coat was worn, the cap had to be made in TW as well and not cotton. 

 

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3 hours ago, BigBrother said:

1. I'm assuming the jacket was only made in the worsted wool and not cotton (?) And if worn, was probably matched with TW parts and not cotton- although I'm sure this was broken if it was a rule. I'm guessing there must've been officers who just heaped materials together as the summer uniform seems a bit less formal as was its enforcement, just going off of what I've seen. Although, you did advise above to match the cap's material with the uniform's, so maybe I'm wrong.

 

Other materials were authorized but lightweight wool like TW or "Palm Beach" was by far the most popular for the uniform with the coat. The coat and trousers (and usually cap) would match because they were bought together, like a civilian suit. There was a variety in shades of material, and even if the differences were minor they were quite  noticeable if variant pieces were mixed. Because it was optional the summer service with coat was used as a dressy uniform, and a mis-matched appearance would reflect poorly on the wearer.

 

The cotton khaki summer shirt and trousers worn for ordinary duty could be mixed and matched, the appearance wasn't as big a deal. Even so, some people marked sets and kept them together so top and bottom would wear/fade at roughly the same rate.

 

 

3 hours ago, BigBrother said:

2. Was there an enlisted version of the tropical coat? Nothing I've seen seems to indicate it, but curious.

 

Not in WW2. Optional purchase by enlisted personnel was authorized in 1951. In practice I believe only senior NCOs usually made the investment.

 

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