18th Century British Naval Uniforms

Howdy folks,

From what I’ve been able to learn so far, enlisted men in the British Navy didn’t have a standard uniform until the mid 19th century. Officers, on the other hand, did have uniforms but were they the blue like we see in the motion picture Master & Commander or were they red like the army uniforms? I’ve read that the dye used to make the blue was made widely available following the 7 Years War but it doesn’t tell me what color the Naval officers wore.

Anyone know?


Blue, definitely blue. There’s a history of the British Naval uniforms at the British National Maritime Museum Web site. The second page lists changes in 1795 – mostly about the application of gold lace to officers’ blue coats. Starting on the fourth page, they list the components of different officers’ uniforms. They all feature blue coats, with varying colors of breeches and waistcoats (usually white, though breeches could sometimes be blue).

You can also view extant uniforms through their online collections. Naval uniform coats are all blue, and there are a couple red Marine coats thrown into the mix, as well.

The movie “Master & Commander” was heavily researched by the way, and past discussion of it on the boards has revealed that the only quibble most history buffs have with it is that the uniforms were too up-to-date; that is, officers on a ship during wartime would have uniforms that were several years out of date compared to the ones back home.

ETA: I forgot to mention/emphasize that if you see a guy in a red coat on an 18th-century ship in the British navy (as one does), the guy is a Marine. I’m not too sure on the differences between naval uniforms and marine uniforms, as apparently Marines could sometimes wear blue coats, too. I guess being a Marine isn’t as exciting as being a naval captain – the uniforms aren’t as shiny.

I love that National Maritime Museum site. While I was participating in the “Finish the wooden navy” story written on the Dope, I used it to find illustrations not only of uniforms but of all sorts of navy items. And there is an extensive portrait gallery that lets you see officers from all periods wearing the uniforms.

The following is a surgeons hat.


Thanks. Almost all the information I found on uniforms dates to the around the Napoleonic era but I have since found some portraits of officers from pre-American Revolution wearing the blue uniforms. I appreciate the answers you two.


From what I saw, some of the lesser “Non-com” officers did have a Uniform of sorts, even though it wasn’t a complete guide (headgear, rank badges, and coat). For the enlisted men, the uniform was set by the ship.

The Royal Navy until 1730-1750 or thereabouts possessed neither distinct officers’ ranks nor uniforms. These changes were part of an effort to increase both esprit-de-corps and the prospects of officers, who now had a clearer line of succession. The choice of color fell on blue, largely a matter of taste rather than anything else, but was (initially) limited to the color of the overcoat and breeches, rather than, for example, cut, stylings, or other paraphernalia. From evidence and comments in N.A.M. Rodger’s The Command of the Ocean, I would say these uniforms became common around the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian for youze 'Mericans), but, as noted, were not really standardized until the Napoleonic Wars; and even then, it would not be surprising to see rather non-standard “uniforms”.

Apparantly there was one captain who had his men dress like court jesters. I can’t recall the name though but it was mentioned in David Cordingly’s Women Sailors and Sailor’s Women.