What Are Military Fatigues?

The style and camouflage pattern of military fatigues varies from country to country.
Fatigues are designed to match the specific environment in which a service member has been deployed.
Military fatigues are the field uniforms worn by soldiers.
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  • Written By: Joshua BW
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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The phrase "military fatigues" was coined by the United States (US) armed forces in the mid 1800s, and was used in reference to the clothes worn by soldiers detailed to menial or hard labor. Over time, the definition of military fatigues has changed to essentially mean any uniform worn by a soldier on work detail, on duty, or while on the field of battle. The phrase has also become synonymous with the camouflage-patterned clothing found in civilian fashions.

Prior to World War II (WWII), the standard US military uniform resembled modern dress uniforms — it was heavy and came with unneeded accessories. Some WWII soldiers actually wound up going into battle in jacket and tie. Following the war, the military began looking into new uniforms for its soldiers, recognizing the fact that there was a need for lighter, more practical attire. The military also began developing camouflage patterns for its uniforms, recognizing the potential effectiveness after coming in contact with German forces that used camouflage uniforms with a high degree of success.


While the camouflage uniform saw limited use in the Vietnam War — where the term fatigues took on the meaning of a soldier's basic uniform due to the issuance of Jungle Fatigues — it was not until 1981 that military fatigues took on the modern look. Battle dress uniforms (BDUs) then became the official working uniform of the US military. The original BDU was a woodland-camouflage patterned uniform that came in four variants — temperate, lowland, highland, and delta — and was issued to all branches of the US armed forces. For the next several years, the military would experiment with different versions of the BDU, and in 2003 began the process of issuing unique uniforms to all branches of the armed forces.

Modern military fatigues look different depending on the branch of the service. The Marines use the computer-generated Marine pattern (MARPAT) fatigues, and can be recognized by the lighter tone and the pixelated look of the camouflage patterns. Army fatigues are easily recognized by their simple woodland camouflage pattern of dark greens and browns, while the Air Force has a lighter pattern of grays and blues. The Navy's fatigues are a digital pattern of dark-and-light blues, to reflect their stations at sea.


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Post 5

When Patton took over II Corps in Tunisia, after the defeat at Kasserine Pass, he felt the soldiers lacked discipline. He ordered, among other things, soldiers to wear their neckties at all times. The order caused much grumbling, was impossible to enforce in combat (as seen in every period photograph) and was eventually scrapped.

The use of “fatigues” as a field uniform began in World War II. HBT (Herringbone Twill) fatigue uniforms were worn in combat in warmer weather for the entire war in every theater. The M1942 HBT uniform became the most common US Army field uniform of the war. Reversible camouflaged fatigues (in the so-called “frog skin” pattern) were introduced mid-war and issued primarily to the Pacific, but their use was eventually discontinued. (US Marines continued to wear camouflage helmet covers.)

Post 4

Interestingly enough, battle dress uniform military fatigues for the different branches aren't just worn in battle. My step-father used to work at the Coast Guard headquarters, and BDU's were his required dress, except for special occasions. He said it was basically like wearing pajamas to work every single day!

However, now that's he's in the civilian world, he sometimes has trouble picking out clothes to work. Because for over 20 years, he didn't have to worry about it!

Post 3

@KaBoom - Military uniforms have definitely evolved over time. I saw a chart once that showed the evolution of women's uniforms in the navy, and it was very interesting. The first uniforms didn't look very comfortable or very practical!

Anyway, I think wearing military camo makes a lot of sense if you are actually in the military. However, I have never understood the camouflage look in civilian fashions. It makes absolutely no sense. What are you camouflaging yourself from, walking around a city in camo pants? Plus, I find the trend kind of disrespectful to the military!

Post 2

I thought that military camouflage had been used as long as the United States military has been around! I'm completely amazed that some soldiers went into battle during the World War II in a jacket and tie. That sounds completely ridiculous and impractical to me.

I have a few family members that have been in the military, and to me it sounds like the military usually does what's going to be the most practical thing. So I am not surprised that they got rid of the jacket and tie uniform and went with something lighter and less visible.

Post 1

having served in the army, I know all branches use a form of our ACUs and the marines have the darkest green of all the uniforms, not light as it's said above. and the color pattern on army and air force is the same, however the pattern is different. we have a digital representation of woodland. they use a tiger stripe digital.

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