Scarlet Secrets

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.

Find out more about our special Scarlets Appeal.


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Originally made from brass, each coat has nine buttons.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.

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Pensioners on parade for the Royal visit
“It’s a lovely day tomorrow”

The pandemic has meant it’s been a very difficult year for us all. The Chelsea Pensioners are no exception and have missed getting out and about. Nevertheless, they’ve put a brave face on it and, as one Chelsea Pensioner puts it, “the banter continues”.

Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Watch Now: Christmas Carols from Chelsea

We are delighted to be able to share an exclusive opportunity to join the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for the 2020 Christmas Carol service, which this year has been recorded to allow our friends and supporters to enjoy the concert from the safety and comfort of their home.


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