Uniforms of the Royal Navy
of the British Armed Forces
|History and future|
The uniforms of the Royal Navy have evolved gradually since the first uniform regulations for officers were issued in 1748. The predominant colours of Royal Navy uniforms are navy blue and white. Since reforms in 1997 male and female ratings have worn the same ceremonial uniform.
RN uniforms have served as the template for many maritime/naval uniforms throughout the world, especially in the British Empire and Commonwealth. Modern uniforms of the Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy are virtually identical to RN uniforms, with the exception of nationality flashes at shoulder height and on rank slides. Royal Canadian Navy uniforms are also very similar, though some orders of dress are no longer used, such as "square rig," and some distinctly Canadian rank insignia and titles are used; i.e., Master Seaman.
- 1 History
- 2 Present day uniform
- 2.1 Officers
- 2.2 Senior Ratings
- 2.3 Junior Ratings
- 3 Defunct Uniforms
- 4 Timeline of Royal Navy uniforms
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
- 8 Further reading
Uniform regulations for officers were first issued by Lord Anson in 1748, and remained unchanged for nearly twenty years. Reportedly, the officers themselves advocated its adoption, as they "wished to be recognised as being in the service of the Crown." The "best uniform", consisting of an embroidered blue coat with white facings, worn unbuttoned with white breeches and stockings, was worn for ceremonial occasions; the "working rig" was a simpler, less embroidered uniform for day-to-day use. In 1767 the best uniform was abolished and replaced by the working rig, with a simpler "undress" uniform for day-to-day use. By 1795, as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars, a plain blue "undress" coat had been introduced for everyday use, and epaulettes were officially introduced. By 1846, all officers wore epaulettes. The white facings came and went over the years, briefly becoming scarlet (1830-1843). Though stripes of lace on the cuffs had been used to distinguish the different ranks of admiral since 1795, the first version of current rank insignia, consisting of stripes with a "curl" in the top one, was introduced for all officers in 1856.
In 1825, the white breeches were replaced by trousers for officers serving in the United Kingdom, although the practice of wearing white trousers with naval uniforms continued for officers serving overseas (e.g. in the West Indies and China) until 1939. Throughout the nineteenth century, there was great variation in uniform; officers paid for their own uniform, and often adapted it to fit civilian fashion of the time, as the Admiralty regulations governing uniform were not highly prescriptive.
For service in tropical climates, a white tunic and trousers were introduced in 1877. During World War II, a blue working dress on the lines of battledress was approved. Caps were to have white tops all year around, and blue caps were abolished in 1956.
Uniform for ratings was first established by the Admiralty in 1857. Prior to this, most seamen wore "slops", or ready-made clothing sold to the ship's crew by a contractor; many captains established general standards of appearance for the seamen on their vessel, but there was little or no uniformity between ships. On one occasion in 1853, the commanding officer of HMS Harlequin paid for his boat crews to dress as harlequins, an incident which may have contributed to the Admiralty's decision to adopt a standard uniform.
A number of changes have been introduced since the introduction of the first rating uniform, notably the removal of the blue jacket in 1890, and the replacement of bell-bottoms by flared trousers in 1977. In 1997 there was a major standardisation programme, meaning that all ratings now wear the same ceremonial uniform for the first time in history.
Present day uniform
Ceremonial Day Dress
This is worn only by a few senior Officers (Admirals and Admirals of the Fleet, members of the Royal Family or Royal Household of the rank of Rear Admiral and above, the Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom). In addition, in the past several members of the Royal Family below the rank of Rear Admiral; most notably Charles, Prince of Wales and Andrew, Duke of York wore this uniform whilst holding the rank of Commander and Captain. It consists of a tailcoat with standing collar (white with gold edging - a vestige of the white uniform facings of the 18th-19th century), worn with gold shoulder boards, black and gold belt and gold laced black trousers. It is worn at parades such as Lord High Admiral's Divisions (BRNC) or at state occasions. Introduced in 1959, it is essentially the same uniform worn for ceremonial occasions (Full Dress) before this date only with the cocked hat replaced by the peaked hat and the epaulettes replaced by shoulder boards.
Blue No. 1 dress
This is the formal uniform worn on ceremonial occasions. For officers it consists of a double-breasted, navy blue reefer jacket; matching trousers; white shirt and black tie; peaked cap; and black leather shoes. It is divided into 1A (with medals and bearing arms), 1B (same as 1A, but without arms), and 1C (with medal ribbons). Female personnel may wear skirts except when carrying a sword or rifle. It was originally introduced in 1889 and was initially known as 'undress'.
Blue No. 2 dress
This mess dress is worn in the evenings for dining. 2A is the formal evening dress for ceremonial dinners; it consists of "ball dress with [a] white waistcoat (cummerbund for female officers) with miniature medals." For officers of the rank of Captain and above, a navy blue tailcoat (known as an 'undress tailcoat') may optionally be worn in lieu of the mess coat. 2B is "mess undress" for other mess functions, and is worn with either a cummerbund or black waistcoat and miniature medals. 2C, "red sea rig", is worn for informal evening wear on board ship; it consists of a white short sleeved shirt, worn with shoulderboards, without medals and with black trousers, black shoes and a black cummerbund.
Blue No. 3 dress
This is worn all year round for general duties; it consists of a white shirt with rank insignia on the shoulders, and appropriate headgear. For officers 3A dress includes a long-sleeved shirt and tie, while 3B includes a short-sleeved shirt but without the tie. 3C is the same in all respects as 3A but with the addition of a navy blue woollen jersey.
No. 4 dress
A new dark blue "modernised" combat uniform known as No 4 dress was introduced in 2012 on a trial basis for the crew of the new type 45 destroyer HMS Daring, the Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster and Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Talent. It is meant to be more versatile and adaptable to weather conditions, and has rank badges at the front rather than on the shoulders, collars that fasten with Velcro rather than buttons, and an optional baseball cap. This was adopted navy-wide during 2015. It is divided into two categories: Number 4 RNPCS; which consists of a navy blue fire-retardant jacket (worn tucked in and with the sleeves rolled up), black beret, navy blue stable belt, navy-blue fire-retardant trousers, steaming boots, navy-blue t-shirt and an optional navy-blue microfleece, and Number 4R dress, which is the same only without the jacket and with an optional baseball cap. This replaces Number 4 Action Working Dress (AWD), which consists of blue shirt and trousers, both with flame retardant properties, worn with pullover (optional) and cap or beret. Specialist badges are worn on the sleeves; each branch and specialisation has its own insignia and are to be worn accordingly. Number 4AWD may still be worn by units that have not yet been issued Number 4 RNPCS. This is worn by all ranks and rates. 
No. 5 dress
No. 5 refers to the wide range of job-specific working kit worn by different personnel (e.g. medical, flight deck, boat crews, chefs, divers, etc.) for particular tasks. They are worn as required for duties.
White No.1 dress
In the Tropics, officers wear on formal occasions a short sleeved white bush jacket with an open collar; matching trousers; peaked cap; and white leather shoes. Like temperate number 1 dress, it is divided into three categories: 1WA (with medals and bearing arms), 1WB (with medals but not bearing arms), and 1WC (with medal ribbons rather than medals and without bearing arms.)
Officers above the rank of Commander, and those holding certain appointments, may optionally wear instead a long-sleeved, high-necked white tunic. Other ranks and senior rates may be instructed to do so 'when required to conform with accepted international standards of dress on state or major ceremonial occasions'. The white tunics worn by senior rates do not have shoulder boards.
White No.2 and No.3 dress
There are also white No. 2 and No. 3 dress which fulfil the same functions as their blue equivalents. White number 3A dress is the same as 3A dress, only worn with white shoes, white socks, and white trousers. White number 3B dress is the same as Number 3B dress, only white shorts, long white socks and white shoes are worn. White number 3B dress is currently under review and may be abolished. White number 3C dress is likewise the same as number 3 dress, only white shorts and boat shoes are worn. White number 3C dress is presently (2015) in the process of being withdrawn, but may still be worn at the discretion of the commanding officer. Both White 3B and white 3C dress are intended to be replaced by the new number 4 RNPCS dress. 
Blue No. 1 dress
For Warrant Officers, Chief Petty Officers, and Petty Officers, No. 1 Dress consists of a similar reefer jacket to commissioned officers; with eight buttons for Warrant Officers and six buttons for Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers. Relevant rate insignia is worn on the arm of the jacket (and also on the lapel by Chief Petty Officers), and three buttons are worn (horizontal to the cuff) by Chief Petty Officers to indicate rate. Two buttons are worn vertical to the cuff by Petty Officers to indicate rate. Like their counterparts as worn by commissioned officers, it is divided into 1A, 1B and 1C dress. Warrant officers carry swords, but Chief Petty Officers (except for the Master at Arms) and Petty Officers do not.
Blue No. 2 dress
This mess dress is worn in the evenings for dining by all senior rates Petty Officer and above. 2A is the formal evening dress for ceremonial dinners worn a white waistcoat and miniature medals." 2B is "mess undress" for other mess functions, and is worn with a cummerbund and miniature medals. Those senior ratings who have not applied for mess dress may in lieu wear 1C dress with a black bow tie substituted for the black tie.
Blue No. 3 dress
This is the same as the various types number 3 dress as worn by commissioned officers.
Blue No. 4 dress
Senior ratings currently wear 4AWD dress, (see above) which is currently (2015) being replaced by the new number 4 RNPCS (Royal Navy Personal Combat System) dress.
White No. 1, 2 and 3 dress
These are the same as the white uniforms currently worn by commissioned officers in the Royal Navy.
Blue No. 1 dress
This is the formal uniform worn on ceremonial occasions. For junior ratings it is a traditional navy blue sailor suit. It is divided into 1A (with medals and bearing arms), 1B (same as 1A, but without arms), and 1C (with medal ribbons). Female personnel may wear skirts except when carrying a sword or rifle.
The current uniform for junior ratings dates in its present form from 1906, replacing an earlier version introduced in 1856 that featured an untucked frock instead of the navy blue seaman's jumper, that was itself based on the traditional (but unregulated) dress of the seaman.
Blue No. 2 dress
Mess dress is not worn by junior ratings but 1C dress is worn instead. 2C, "red sea rig", is worn for informal evening wear on board ship.
Blue No. 3 dress
This is the same as for Officer's No. 3 dress but with the relevant rate insignia and seaman's cap (or beret). Junior rates are only issued with short-sleeve shirts and are not issued with ties. This is divided into 3B (without jersey) and 3C dress (navy-blue jersey worn over the shirt with the shirt collar out). There is no 3A dress for junior ratings.
No. 4 dress
Junior ratings, in common with all ranks and rates of the Royal Navy, are currently (2015) in the middle of the process of being issued the new No4. RNPCS uniform, which, is intended to be the primary working uniform for junior ratings. Similar to the British Army's PCS uniform, the rate / rank insignia has moved from the shoulders to the centre chest, sports a "mandarin collar" to enable anti-flash to be worn tucked in when the collar is up and replaces buttons with a hook and loop fastening, meaning a more comfortable fit when wearing body armour during boarding operations. No. 4AWD (Action Working Dress; blue shirt and trousers with flame retardant properties; and optional pullover, may still be worn by units that have not yet been issued No. 4 RNPCS.
No. 5 dress
No. 5 is the collective category for all specialist working uniforms. They are worn as required for duties. These include overalls, dry and wet suits, PTI uniform, dental and medical scrubs and combat uniform.
White No.1 dress
In the Tropics this is the uniform worn on ceremonial occasions. For junior ratings it is a white version of the traditional sailor's suit.
White No.2 and No.3 dress
These are the same for the counterparts worn by Royal Navy officers.
Introduced in 1827, this uniform was worn by all commissioned officers from Sub-lieutenant upwards, as well as warrant officers. It consisted of a blue double-breasted tailcoat with eight gold buttons worn with blue trousers with gold lace down the side, bicorn hat, sword belt and sword with scabbard, and gold epaulettes (gold 'scales' were worn by sub-lieutenants and neither epaulettes nor scales were worn by warrant officers). It was placed 'in abeyance' (i.e. not used but not abolished) in January 1916 until the end of World War One. It was restricted between the world wars to court levees. On all other ceremonial occasions, Frock Coat (with epaulettes) was prescribed. In July 1930, officers of the rank of Commander and above were required to provide themselves with Full Dress. It was again declared in abeyance with the outbreak of war in 1939, but was not formally abolished. Used on several ceremonial occasions after the war (such as the coronation of Elizabeth II), it was replaced in 1959 with the current Ceremonial Day Dress. A version of Royal Navy Full Dress, complete with epaulettes and cocked hat, is still worn by the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, but the current incumbent (Lord Boyce) wears his Royal Navy ceremonial day coat in lieu of this. It was last worn by Sir Robert Menzies during his tenure as Lord Warden from 1966 to 1978.
Frock Coat Dress
This was introduced in 1847 and was divided into several categories: Frock Coat with epaulettes; which was worn with the bicorn hat and medals, Frock Coat without epaulettes, which was worn with the peaked cap. It was altered in 1933 by having only four buttons (instead of five) each side, three of which were to be buttoned. This enabled longer lapels to be incorporated, reflecting civilian fashions of the time. Frock Coat Dress was (like Full Dress) placed in abeyance and 'landed' in 1939, and although not formally abolished was not worn until it was finally abolished in 1949. A modified version of this uniform is still worn; with peaked and without epaulettes, by the Master and Elder Brethren of Trinity House.
This was not introduced until comparatively late in World War Two, in contrast to its Army and RAF equivalents. From 1941, Army battledress was approved for use by Royal Navy personnel until 1943, when a Navy Blue version of battledress was introduced to be used only by the Royal Navy.
- 1748:First Royal Navy uniforms (for officers) introduced
- 1795: Epaulettes introduced.
- 1827: Full dress coat (of cut ) introduced.
- 1840: Peaked cap introduced.
- 1840:Frock Coat introduced.
- 1857: Uniforms introduced for ratings. 'Executive curl' introduced
- 1939: Full dress placed in abeyance.
- 1945: Action working dress introduced.
- 1947: Frock coat abolished.
- 1959: Full dress, along with epaulettes and cocked hat abolished. Ceremeonial Day coat introduced.
- 1975: Jersey (known coloquially as 'wooly pully' introduced).
- 2014: Introduction of RNPCS.
- British Armed Forces uniforms
- British Army uniform
- History of the Royal Navy
- Royal Air Force uniform
- Royal Navy officer rank insignia
- Royal Navy ratings rank insignia
- Uniforms of the Royal Marines
- The Royal Hospital School
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Royal Navy uniforms.|
- Information on uniforms was removed from the RN website and given to the National Archives at Kew according to this website. The National Archive link for the various uniforms is . For current regulations see External Links below.
- Rank and Style, National Maritime Museum
- 'The Dress of Naval Officers', National Maritime Museum, 1966
- RN dress regulations 2014, annex 39b
- "Royal Navy Puts New Uniform To The Test". Retrieved 21 February 2014.
- Whitehead, Tom (18 March 2012). "New Royal Navy uniforms to involve baseball caps and Velcro". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- Malik, Shiv (18 March 2012). "Navy crew trial first new-look uniform in 20 years". The Guardian. London.
- "RN dress tables" (PDF). Royal Navy. February 2013.
- Miller, Amy (2007) Dressed to Kill: British Naval Uniform, Masculinity and Contemporary Fashions, 1748-1857. National Maritime Museum, London. ISBN 978-0-948065-74-3.
- Chapter 38 - Policy and Appearance (PDF). Royal Navy Book of Reference 3. February 2013.
- BR 3 Annexe 39A - Royal Navy dress tables (with photos)
- BR 3 Annexe 39E - Naval Officers and Ratings: Illustrations of RN and QARNNS Badges of Rank, Rate and Other Insignia