Drab (color)

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Drab is a dull light-brown color, the color of undyed wool cloth of the same name.

Drab is a dull light-brown color.[1] It originally took its name from a fabric of the same color, made of undyed homespun wool. Drabs were clothes, especially trousers, made of this fabric.

The word was first used in English in the mid-16th century. It probably originated from the old French word drap, which meant cloth.[2] The word gradually came to mean dull, lifeless and monotonous.

In military uniforms[edit]

Several shades of drab have been used for military uniforms, including the above-mentioned light-brown color. The greenish shades of drab, known as olive drab, were used as the colors of the U.S. Army uniforms and equipment during the Second World War.

However, it was the original drab of dull light-brown color that was first used by the British in India, and which the India soldiers came to refer to as "khaki" (meaning dusty). This drab khaki uniform[3] was first introduced in the Corps of Guides that was raised in December 1846 as the brainchild of Sir Henry Lawrence (1806–1857) Resident at Lahore, and Agent to the Governor-General for the North-West Frontier. Lawrence chose as its commandant Sir Harry Lumsden supported by William Stephen Raikes Hodson as Second-in-Command to begin the process of raising the Corps of Guides for frontier service from British Indian recruits at Peshawar. Initially the border troops were dressed in their native costume, which consisted of a smock and white pajama trousers made of a coarse home-spun cotton, and a cotton turban, supplemented by a leather or padded cotton jacket for cold weather. For the first year (1847) no attempt was made at uniformity. Subsequently in 1848 Lumsden and Hodson decided to introduce a drab (khaki) uniform which Hodson commissioned his brother in England to send them - as recorded in Hodson's book of published letters: "Twelve Years of a Soldier's Life in India", first published in 1859. He recorded in his published correspondence that the drab khaki coloured uniform would be more appropriate for the hot climate and dusty terrain, and (as a camouflage) help make his troops "invisible in a land of dust".[4] It was only at a later date, when supplies of the drab (khaki) material was unavailable, did they improvise by dying material locally with a dye. As well as the Corps of Guides, other regiments in India such as Hodson's Horse soon adopted the drab/khaki uniform and it was also used by others during the Indian mutiny of 1857, and by 1896 khaki drill uniform was used everywhere outside Europe;[5] by the Second Boer War six years later it was used throughout the British Army.[6]


  1. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Fifth Edition, 1982.
  2. ^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Fifth Edition, 1982.
  3. ^ "Khaki Uniform 1848-49: First Introduction by Lumsden and Hodson". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 82 (Winter): 341–347. 2004. 
  4. ^ Hodson, W.S.R.; edited by George H. Hodson (1859). Twelve Years of a Soldier's Life in India, being extracts from the letters of the late Major WSR Hodson. John W. Parker and Son. 
  5. ^ Barthorp, Michael (1988). The British Army on Campaign 1816–1902. 4 (1882–1902). Osprey Publishing. pp. 24–33. ISBN 0-85045-849-8. 
  6. ^ Chappell, M (2003). The British Army in World War I (1). Osprey Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-84176-399-6.