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Originally made from brass, each coat has nine buttons.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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David Hinds - Self Portrait
Community, creativity and connection - Chelsea Pensioners and the Soldiers’ Arts Academy

The Soldiers’ Arts Academy links serving and veteran Army personnel and their families with professionals from the creative arts. Through a range of workshops, projects and productions they give participants the opportunity to discover new interests, recover from difficult experiences, transition into civilian life and even find new careers. 

Burial Grounds Thumb
Researching our old Burial Ground gives Chelsea Pensioners a new lease of life

The monuments in the old Burial Ground record Chelsea Pensioners who took part in famous battles, former Governors and other members of staff and their families – and famous figures from the Royal Hospital’s history.


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