First off, I just want to quickly add that Shara is home from the hospital. Mom, dad and son are all healthy and happy (though certainly tired). Johanna is there right now, rendering some assistance, but all is well and we’re very excited!
It has been some time since we’ve updated everyone on the status of the uniforms, in classic Behind the Uniform fashion. I had intended on finishing this “series” with Part III, but have since realized I have neglected a fair bit of information, specifically as it relates to the second Royal Navy uniform, and the Royal Marine’s uniform. This blog, then, is intended to bring these up to speed on that front, and to chronicle the key differences, inspirations and details behind these selected uniforms. If you haven’t read the first three parts, you can play some catch up here, here and here.
I’ll begin with the second Royal Navy uniform, as it deviates in style from the first iteration significantly. One might already notice in photos we’ve published that they do appear different—perhaps the easiest variation to pick out would be the style of pants. The first uniform uses dark navy pants, while the second makes use of white, knee-length breeches. You can see the difference quite clear in our first video blog. I’ll take a moment to reference back to Behind the Uniform, Part I:
So you can imagine the difficulty we had in deciding what type of uniform to create. They were all different! There wasn’t a step-by-step process we could take in developing something that demanded accuracy. To deviate from the uniform’s intended appearance would be a grave mistake—these reproductions are not swashbuckling outfits or thrown-together seafarer costumes. They represent a proud history of servicemen, and to capture such a dignified history demanded a certain attention to detail.
The above illustrates the difficulty Man the Capstan has had in designing these various uniforms. Before regulation came into effect in the 18th century, every uniform was different from another in some manner. Even after Royal Navy uniforms became regulated by the Admiralty, there were some deviations they could not account for. At this juncture we could not depend upon the rigidity of uniform policy, and had to find the correct, or the favoured style to emulate. This is where personal taste came into play.
Myself, I am more partial to the uniform of the early 19th century, a style that came about during the height of the Napoleonic Wars. C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series, and its A&E made-for-T.V. version, is a perfect example of this slow transition. The stoic Captain Edward Pellew is commonly found in white knee-length breeches, stockings and a cocked hat. As time progresses, however, and fashions change (the blue pants come into being, the naval chapeau de bras sees its introduction, etcetera), Pellew and his contemporaries (Captain Sawyer, from the Renown episodes) are rigid in their favouring of white breeches, while younger officers take to the blue. The first naval uniform, then, is far more similar to the uniforms worn by younger officers in the early 19th century. It’s worth pointing out, however, that white stockings and breeches were still worn, but perhaps in a more formal environment.
Tim (our Captain Edward Martin), however, has taken to the breeches and buckled-shoes style, and had his uniform fashioned in such a manner. To complete the look, and perhaps to add a bit of flare to the normally rigid, formal look of stockings and shoes, he had his shirt ruffled and acquired a jabot. It gives the second uniform a certain roguish, swashbuckling appearance. A great contrast with the first uniform. You can see a great shot showing the three pant-styles of each uniform, taken at the Blomidon Inn.
These two uniforms also deviate from one another as far as the coat is concerned. The first coat is laced with 1″ bias-and-stand gold trim, while the second uniform uses 1/2″ bias-and-stand gold trim. The difference can sometimes be hard to spot, as both coats are trimmed in the exact same manner. The reason for this was not a question of taste, but rather one of convenience; our supplier of military trim was out of 1″, and October 31st was quickly looming ahead, and we wanted to debut the uniforms on that date (you can read about it here). Rather than wait, we ordered the 1/2″, which suited just fine. In fact, there are instances where such lace was used, and there was no set system for how wide the gold trim had to be.
Now, though the Marine uniform was the last design to be decided on, or planned for, it was the first uniform completed. Technically speaking, it’s the only uniform really complete. We’re still waiting on lace for both of the navy uniforms, while the Marine is 100% complete. The design and layout of the Marine coat was far more difficult to nail down, and we referenced quite a few sources, including historical references (the NMM), artistic renditions (old paintings and portraits of serving Marines) and Hollywood. The Marines had some differences in their uniforms as well, just as the Navy did, and it was proving to be a challenge to decide how to arrange it. Eventually, just as with the others, we settled on personal taste. Steve, our Marine, chose a design worn by Major Côtard (Greg Wise) in Loyalty, the second-last episode of the Hornblower series. It seemed perfect, as Steve had already decided on the rank of Major. The pants are the same material as the first Royal Navy pants (the navy blue)—the coat is fashioned with scarlet gabardine. The buttons are an interesting story, actually. They were originally purchased for the RN coats, and are solid brass with an anchor stamped on them. When we found the King George RN buttons, they were quickly discarded. Finding RM buttons, in silver (the tone we wanted) is hard! So, with some silver plating Johanna had procured, we plated the brass buttons and they came out a brilliant silver. They matched the uniform perfectly.
The trim of the Marine coat is very different from the RN coats. First off, it is silver (that much is obvious, I trust). It is a wire lace, however, which is significantly different from the bias-and-stand variety we’re using for the navy uniforms. While roaming for appropriate lace, we decided to check with Military Heritage first (our lace supplier), and stumbled upon this silver metallic wire trim, the same used by many Government agencies, and also typically very expensive. It was on sale (I assume they had limited quantities, or had to buy a lot to complete an order, and had leftover), and we picked up 10 metres to trim the Marine coat. The final result was spectacular—it had an aura of quality and authenticity that’s difficult to replicate.
Save those differences noted above, there are smaller variations as well—all of the swords of the uniforms are different, and there are some accessories that one uniform will have, but another won’t. Guns, sashes, pocket-watches, hip-flasks, etcetera. They are all wonderfully different and unique, each of them an individual creation that has grown and will continue to grow as we acquire more accessories for them. We really have discovered that half the battle is sewing these uniforms—the other half, and the more challenging portion, is decorating them with the flash and pomp that is expected of imperial Great Britain.
That’s about it for the uniform variations. There may or may not be another Behind the Uniform post—it depends how construction proceeds! Hopefully the bias-and-stand trim we’ve ordered from Military Heritage arrives soon, and we can finish the RN coats.
Before I go, I’ll give you folks a peek at an album cover I’ve been working on for our Capstan CD, titled Man the Capstan: Sea Shanties and Folk Music. I most assuredly will use an old painting of some sort. Before I do, I need to make certain it’s in the public domain. I must say, though, I’m quite attached to this one, showing the bold H.M.S. Victory breaking the French line at Trafalgar. Let us know what you think!