Throughout the last 1000 years, red has become a consistent motif for military clothing and heraldic imagery in England. What are the reasons for this? Are there economic, environmental (e.g., dyes used in wool trade), social or political reasons for the primacy of this colour?

  • 1
    There is a lot of red in the Royal coat of arms ...
    – Drux
    Feb 26, 2014 at 18:57
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    Red was a very typical color for many armies as well as rather basic color in heraldic imagery. I don't think England would be special in that sense.
    – Greg
    Oct 22, 2015 at 10:02

7 Answers 7


Although I can't answer for heraldry, there were a number of factors that influenced the red colour of English, then British military uniforms.

During the 16th to early 20th centuries, primary colours and red especially helped to blur soldiers together, so that the enemy from a distance found it difficult to distinguish numbers and individuals accurately. Remember that back then, long-range weapons were highly inaccurate, so blending in with the crowd afforded you an element of safety.

However, up close and personal during the battle, things were fairly chaotic with lots of smoke, etc., so having your kinsmen stand out from your enemy and being able to quickly recognize friend from foe was also a boon.

But still, why red? That actually came down to a number of factors as well.

During the civil war, red dye was the most abundant and easily available dye to use. Red is also a simpler dying process, requiring only a single stage as opposed to other colours, and is cheaper.

Culturally red evolved to become a national colour for whatever reasons, and so we ended up sticking with the colour.


  • Barnes, Major R. M. (1951) History of the Regiments & Uniforms of the British Army.
  • Barthorp, Michael (1982) British Infantry Uniforms Since 1660.
  • Carman, W.Y. (1968) British Military Uniforms.
  • Young P. (1999) The English Civil War
  • 1
    I thought red hid an injury (blood). Is that a myth I read somewhere?
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:42
  • 7
    I believe that's a myth.
    – Lloyd
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:44
  • 4
    Yes I googled it and it pulls up with several sites discrediting it. So its a myth.
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:45
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    Some references would really improve this answer. Feb 26, 2014 at 17:34
  • Good answer. Will be great to see some comments on pre-16th Century use in addition to this! Feb 27, 2014 at 8:44

Red dye was cheap at the time the decision was made. No seriously they had decided they needed a uniform colour for the army and Red was just cheaper at the time.

see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_coat_(British_army) "The adoption and continuing use of red by most British/English soldiers after the Restoration (1660) was the result of circumstances rather than policy, including the relative cheapness of red dyes"

  • 2
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_coat_(British_army) "The adoption and continuing use of red by most British/English soldiers after the Restoration (1660) was the result of circumstances rather than policy, including the relative cheapness of red dyes" read it elsewhere as well. People WANT for it to be some reason , some symbolic idea, but no red dyes were cheaper
    – pugsville
    Mar 4, 2014 at 6:12
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    great, add it to your answer :) Mar 4, 2014 at 8:36
  • This is the right answer. The dye in question was madder. Sep 6, 2015 at 16:50

There have been a number of great answers, but I would add one other reason.

The Patron Saint of England is St George, whose colours are a red cross on a white background (still the flag of England today).

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What better colours to wear into battle than those of your patron saint who fought a dragon and won!?

  • 2
    I'd appreciate an explanation of the downvote - I'm fairly new to History, if this is a bad answer I'd appreciate some guidance.
    – Liath
    Feb 27, 2014 at 8:57
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    I suspect (as I have voted neither way) that it's because there are no references to support your theory. It sounds like good reasoning to me as well.
    – Kobunite
    Feb 27, 2014 at 10:48
  • The lobsterbacks seemed to wear the opposite - white cross on red field.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 28, 2014 at 1:25

Actuallly it goes back to the English Civil War, and Cromwell's raising of the 'New Model Army'- This was the first british army to be given a formal uniform, one piece of which was a leather jerkin- which was tanned in a rusty, orangy-red colour- prior to this english regiments were uniformed in whatever colour the Lord who raised them decided. The only exception to this was the Yeoman Guards of the Tower- A military unit raised by Henry VIII, uniformed in the colours of the royal standard (Red & Gold) and the oldest continuous military unit in the world.

After the restoration of Charles II, the regiments that were in the 'New Model Army' retained their red-ish tunics, and the rest of the army followed suit, albeit with facings of different colours based on regional tradition e.g. Lincolnshire regiments had Lincoln Green, the West Kents had Buff (Thus accounting for their regimental nickname 'The Buffs'). The use of scarlet was only brought in during the late 18th century, when dye technology meant that true red was possible (and was cheaper than trying to reproduce the more traditional russet colour).

Red was only for line infantry regiments, and certain cavaltry regiments. The artillery, engineers and lancers wore Dark Blue, and light Infantry regiments wore Dark green & Some Hussar units wore black. Farriers of all regiments wore Buff coats with red facings.


Red is considered a Royal color (that and blue are the main colors) they can be found in almost every coat-of-arms. Red wasn't adapted until fabrics were used during the crusades (12th century).

Red and blue appeared on the same standards and robes because they compliment each other. When the french decided to use Blue as their main color the British naturally swayed to the red because blue troops fighting blue troops would make the battle field hectic and chaotic.

This is why the American Continental Army chose blue to be their color, the opposite of the british red.

Why Red though?

  1. Red would blend in with the fire of muskets and other guns
  2. Red would blend into the brick forts and structures the british were famed for
  3. Red is an aggressive color, studies have shown that if you played against yourself in a game of soccer the one in red would win.

Color Meaning


Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love.

Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage. It is a color found in many national flags.

Red brings text and images to the foreground. Use it as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions; it is a perfect color for 'Buy Now' or 'Click Here' buttons on Internet banners and websites. In advertising, red is often used to evoke erotic feelings (red lips, red nails, red-light districts, 'Lady in Red', etc). Red is widely used to indicate danger (high voltage signs, traffic lights). This color is also commonly associated with energy, so you can use it when promoting energy drinks, games, cars, items related to sports and high physical activity.

Light red represents joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity, and love. Pink signifies romance, love, and friendship. It denotes feminine qualities and passiveness. Dark red is associated with vigor, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing, malice, and wrath. Brown suggests stability and denotes masculine qualities. Reddish-brown is associated with harvest and fall.

Link -http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html

  • 3
    Could you provide sources, especially for that last sentence? Feb 26, 2014 at 18:20
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    This could be a very good answer but it badly needs sources for the strong claims made. Feb 26, 2014 at 20:14
  • @SteveMelnikoff I'd heard that one before as well. Quick google shows Red shirt colour is associated with long-term team success though not sure personally how credible that is... Feb 27, 2014 at 0:04
  • 1
    @jwenting to paraphrase Felix, this could be a very good comment but it badly needs sources for the strong claims made.
    – Mr Lister
    Feb 27, 2014 at 8:38
  • 1
    Yes, good answer. Red, with purple, are considered royal colors from the Roman tradition, right? I'm not sure about the color meanings, though. Colors have different meanings in different cultures and across time.
    – Razie Mah
    Feb 27, 2014 at 18:25

In an age of smoky battlefields and inaccurate muskets it is often more important for your own leaders to be able to find the right units than to 'hide' from the enemy. Thus the bright colored uniforms. You needed mass fire to keep cavalry away and beat down the other side's units and you needed to stand to reload. So infantry wasn't behind any cover.

Even in those days, units that did hide in combat - skirmishers and light infantry - did have more concealing uniforms.

After that, you need to just make sure your brightly colored uniforms are colored different than your opponents. Red suited the English so they chose it.

  • 1
    Muskets and gunfire were invented only after England already had many centuries under those colors. That could be a factor in keeping up with that tradition throughout time, but not a cause for that tradition which precedes firearms.
    – Peteris
    Feb 27, 2014 at 0:09
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    Well, if the important factor was "for your own leaders to be able to find the right units" why then uniform were red both front and back, and not only on the back, where the commanders were? Styling uniforms after Baboons, with blending front and a bright red spot on the behind would serve dual purpose of hiding from the enemy in the smoke and declaring your position to the commander.
    – Michael
    Feb 27, 2014 at 0:18
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    units can be behind the officer, as in reserves, or reinforcements marching towards the battle.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 27, 2014 at 0:39
  • @Peteris - there is always dust when marching as well.
    – Oldcat
    Feb 27, 2014 at 0:39

Not only was red, going back to the raising of the New Model Army, simply the cheapest dye, and the one which kept the colour for longer, scarlet and dark blue are also the Royal livery colours.

This is why military or quasi-military units that pre-date the raising of the New Model Army, such as the Yeoman of the Guard(the 'Beefeaters') of the Tower,the Honourable Artillery Company,the Royal Monmouth Royal Engineers, and the Yeoman Warders, all wear scarlet or red in their full dress uniforms. If, for whatever reason, they wear dark blue (usually, but not always, the colour of the working, or less formal 'undress' uniform), then there will be scarlet detailing, such as piping, etc.

This is also true for officials of the Royal Household, such as the Earl Marshal, the Lord Chamberlain, the Heralds of Arms, and other officials that are officially appointed by the monarch and who have (or had) an official uniform: for example, Governors General, Privy Councillors, Governors of Crown Colonies or British Overseas Territories, and Ambassadors and High Commissioners, all of who had or have a uniform that is scarlet with dark blue detailing or facings, or dark blue with scarlet detailing/facings.

That's also why regiments in the British Army that wear scarlet in their full dress uniforms (such as, today, the Guards regiments, general officers and infantry bandsmen) that are 'Royal' (that is, titled 'Queens' 'King's', 'Royal', etc) have not only scarlet tunics in their full dress uniforms, but also dark blue 'facings' (collar and cuffs) and dark blue trousers (with scarlet piping down the side for infantry, guards and general officers)-because they have the distinction of being 'royal', and are thus given the royal livery colours as a distinction.

Like the other categories, whenever the uniforms are, for whatever reason, dark blue and the unit is 'royal' -if in the full dress uniform, because hey're units that were historically mounted,, so Armoured Units,Artillery, Hussars, Lancers, the Royal Marines, support Corps etc. If they wear scarlet in full dress, they will wear dark blue because it's the less formal dark blue Frock Coat uniform worn by certain personnel (such as Field Marshals and General Officers) or the universal dark blue 'Number 1 dress' worn by the whole Army, then again, there will be scarlet detailing. For example, in Number 1 dress worn by 'Royal' infantry Regiments in the British Army, the band above the peak of the peaked cap, the piping of the shoulder straps, and the piping down the welt of the side of the trousers will all be scarlet.

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