The long scarlet coat is an icon of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and is worn with pride by the Chelsea Pensioners. However, many people do not realise that Pensioners wear two types of uniform, known fondly as ‘scarlets’ and ‘blues’.
In the first of this two part series (see second part), we look at the uniform the Chelsea Pensioner are known for across the world - the scarlets. The scarlet coat and the tricorne hat are worn together with white gloves for ceremonial occasions. For all other events the scarlet coat is worn with the shako cap.
1. TRICORNE HAT
The tricorne hat is a ceremonial headpiece that
the Chelsea Pensioners wear usually if a member of the Royal Family
is present. The tricorne hat evolved from necessity out in the field.
Floppy felt hats were worn by soldiers and due to the sides of the hats
getting in their way during battle they would pin both of the sides up.
To stop the rain dripping down their necks they would pin the back of
the hat up too, thus creating the tricorne shape. At the Royal Hospital
Chelsea the legacy of the tricorne lives on. The hats are still made from
felt in a traditional method, unchanged since the 19th Century.
Originally made from brass, each coat has nine
buttons. In 1959 the brass buttons were replaced by anodised ones,
which was incredibly popular with the Pensioners as the new buttons
didn’t require polishing. The buttons are engraved with the symbol of
the crown and the letters RCI, the initials of the Royal Corps of Invalids
(to which the Chelsea Pensioners were once a part of).
All Chelsea Pensioners wear the badge of the rank on their
uniforms that they held on discharge from the army. Stripes are worn
for non-commissioned ranks from Lance Corporal to Staff Sergeant.
For those who were Warrant Officer and above they wear either a
crown or a coat of arms badge to define their rank.
In 1843 trousers were introduced instead of
breeches. In 1961 dark blue tweed trousers adorned with a thin scarlet
stripe running down the outer seam were issued and the same style is
in use today.