During the forty years of peace before Crimea the dress of the army had grown ornate, elaborate and impractical. The British infantry went to the Crimea dressed in tight coatees, those of the officers ornamented with heavy gold epaulettes and wearing cumbersome shakos which were universally disliked.
During the war the worst defects of this uniform were remedied. The coatee was replaced by a looser tunic, epaulettes abolished with the loops of white tape which ornamented the coatees of the rank and file. The shako was replaced by a smaller one – scarcely more popular. Shakos were hardly worn in Crimea, instead used as flower-pots or draughts excluders. Most photographs of Crimea show soldiers wearing undress caps even on full-dress occasions.
Up to Crimea a battle was a full-dress occasion, and full dress was intended to be a battledress. Some more ornate items were sometimes removed but for a set battle out came the gold-lace. Crimean was the last to which this applied.
In India at this time khaki, or dust-coloured uniform appeared. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 saw many Indian regiments, raised to put down the Mutiny, clothed in khaki. When later mustered into the regular Indian Army khaki was their ceremonial and their battledress. Khaki was first worn by the regular British Army during the fighting to suppress the Mutiny.
Red coats had many critics. The 60th Rifles and the Rifle Brigade had always been dressed in green, no doubt to aid concealment in their role as skirmishers. Lord Elcho, who raised what is now the London Scottish in 1858, dressed them in a colour similar to khaki.
After Crimea regiments were distinguished by the colour of their facings and their badges and by virtually nothing else. But the red coat died hard: on home manoeuvres and in barracks line infantry wore red ‘jumpers’, a red serge coat; the foot guards wore either short white jackets, or full-dress tunics.
In India, after the Mutiny, khaki was worn on manoeuvres; in cold weather red was worn for walking out. To this day, every old garrison town in the subcontinent has its ‘lal kurti bazaar’, or red-coat shopping area, which has not seen a red coat for 100 years or more.
Infantrymen were progressively better housed, fed, and generally cared for. By the time of Crimea they were housed in proper barracks at home, but on active service they were neglected largely through inefficiency. The efforts of Florence Nightingale in the Crimea began a general overhaul of the supporting services of the army which have ensured that now the British soldier is as well cared for in the field as any other soldier in the world.
Like all Britons the British soldier likes to feel he is part of an old-established concern, and he works the better with that feeling. The preservation of tradition, even if it is only in some minor item of dress, is an important matter and some thought devoted to this preservation will reap its reward when the British infantryman is again asked, as he will be, to stand between the country and its enemies.