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1885 - 1885: The South Wales Borderers Mess Dress


Around the 1880s, there was a shift in British Army uniforms. The introduction of khaki-coloured uniforms marked a significant departure from the traditional red coats. However, the red coats were actually kept and were reserved for full dress occasions, where their vibrant colour and distinctive appearance served to convey a sense of honour, tradition, and military heritage. Mess dress is the military term for the formal evening dress worn by military officers in the mess or at other formal social occasions and events. The purpose of mess dress is to signify the formal and prestigious nature of the event and to provide a sense of unity, tradition, and professionalism among military personnel.

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century revolutionised the production and appearance of military coats. With the advent of factories and mass production, the textile industry experienced significant advancements, including the development of new dyeing techniques and the availability of vibrant synthetic dyes. This allowed for brighter colours to be applied to military coats, replacing the subdued hues of previous eras. Furthermore, the industrialisation of textile manufacturing enabled the production of coats on a larger scale, ensuring a more standardised and readily available supply.

This jacket was worn by Major (later Brigadier-General) Henry Mainwaring who served with the 2nd Battalion throughout the Zulu Campaign (BRCRM j1948.1).



Mess Jacket

This mess jacket was worn between 1881-1905. The collar has embroidered sphinx badges. The jacket is of scarlet red cloth with the collar and cuffs of facing cloth, which in the case of the South Wales Borderers was white, since the Regiment lost their green facings in the Army Reforms of 1881. The edge of the jacket was bound all round with gold Russia braid, including the top and bottom of the collar. It is fastened with gold hooks and eyes all the way up to the neck. The white collar and cuffs are both embellished with gold bullet hole braid for the rank of Major. The jacket has gold cord shoulder boards with regimental screw buttons to hold them in place. Worn embroidered crown pips can be found on the shoulder boards which further shows that the wearer was a Major. Additionally, officers often had the privilege of having their mess dress tailored to their specific measurements and preferences. The tailored mess dress not only provided a sharp and distinguished appearance but also emphasised the officer’s status and attention to detail.


Medal Ribbon

The South Africa ribbon is fastened to the jacket. The ribbon has golden yellow with blue pinstripe bands.


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