Denim is touted as collectible primarily in the sector of the early American laborer – coal miners in particular. But it was adopted widely in the military throughout the 20th century. I really think it’s an unsung aspect of military garb that ought to be recognized.
Here’s some info I found via the internets:
Blue Denim work clothing was adopted as Standard by the Army on 11 June 1919, replacing brown work clothing used before. The top was a jumper style pullover, the trousers had five pockets — two front, two hip, and a watch pocket. In 1933 a one-piece work suit (coveralls) was adopted in blue denim for use by mechanics, drivers, machinists, and others in similar roles. This was in addition to and did not replace the two piece work uniform. These blue denim coveralls were used until replaced by herringbone twill (HBT) one piece coverall in 1938.
The Army Blue Denim Work Uniform of 1940
In 1940, after field complaints about pullovers ripped down the front, the jacket style of blue denim work uniform was adopted. It had two large front pockets toward to bottom of the garment and buttoned up the front. It was made to be closed at the collar.
At the same time in 1940, the blue denim trousers were improved by using a style made from the same pattern as the khaki summer uniform trousers, with the front pockets moved to the side. The M-1937 “Daisy Mae” style hat was also provided in blue denim (with white stitching visible) to complete the uniform, as seen in the photo at left, made in 1940. These blue denim garments were used until replaced by the HBT two piece field uniforms in 1941.
Although the replacement was standardized, the blue denim uniforms continued in use for a few more years as supplies were used up. Since the great increases in supplies for World War II came after the HBT uniforms had been adopted, blue denim garments were relatively rare and are not much associated with the Army in World War II.
Blue Denim in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps
Prior to World War II the Marine Corps also used blue denim fatigue uniforms, similar to the Army pattern but with a two-piece bib overall and jacket design. They also adopted a one-piece coverall. All USMC garments had “USMC” metal buttons. As with the Army, the USMC blue denim work uniforms were replaced in the early 1940s by sage green HBT or camouflage utility uniforms.
In 1901, Navy regulations authorized the first use of denim jumpers (shirts) and trousers. Regulations were changed in 1914 to allow the dungaree outfit to be worn by both officers and enlisted sailors. Enlisted personnel in the U.S. Navy wore blue denim trousers for work duty throughout World War II, with long or short-sleeved blue cotton chambray shirts. Several shades were used, but the shirt was usually a lighter shade of blue than the trousers, and lighter than the Army or USMC utility uniforms. Most enlisted personnel on board a ship would be dressed in the denim dungarees with the lighter blue shirt, a tee shirt, or no shirt. The trousers were straight-leg, not bell-bottoms. In the photo to the right, taken at Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas in August 1942, an aircraft mechanic is fueling a Navy plane dressed in the blue denim trousers and short sleeved chambray shirt topped by a swabbie hat.
All of these government issued pieces made names for themselves during their time and were affectionately sought after by military veterans and denim customers in US Government surplus stores and yard sales. Many surplus stores sold used garments with the ominous abbreviation “PW” worn by foreign prisoners of war under U.S. authority. Dungarees in particular became the popular style worn by sailors in the Navy. The Army called their styles “Denim Work Uniforms for fatigue duty” — needless to say, many an Army potato peeler put his back into his work wearing his denim fatigues.
Some more pics:
Buzz Rickson repros of the military pants and jacket and a navy jacket, taken from the Lightning Denim Indigo master issue:
1940s WWII Denim Navy Sailor’s Jacket: