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Indian Navy Uniform

The uniform of the Indian Navy has by and large been inherited from the Royal Navy. In that Service, the uniform has evolved over the past 250 years. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was no standard uniform for naval personnel, and each ship conformed more or less to the sartorial whims and fancies of her Captain. The origin of the naval uniform is, therefore, of more than passing interest.

History records that in 1745 a group of British naval officers meeting at their favorite rendezvous at Will's Coffee House, Scotland Yard, decided to petition the Admiralty for an official uniform, as was being worn by other navies. This was done, and the Admiralty directed certain officers to appear in what they considered to be a good design. The final decision was to be left to King George II.

One day while riding in Hyde Park, the King caught sight of the Duchess of Bedford, wife of the First Lord; who made a lovely picture dressed in a brand new riding habit. The color of the dress was a dark navy blue, with rows of gold buttons down the front, a white collar, and gold lace on the cuffs. The King was so taken up with this colour scheme that he immediately ordered its adoption for his Navy's uniform. There is some speculation that the colors the Duchess was wearing had been selected by her husband. Be that as it may, this was perhaps why the Navy's winter ceremonial uniform became a dark navy blue with a double row of buttons in front, gold stripes depicting rank on the cuffs, a white shirt with stiff collar, and a black tie. Three buttons were also provided on each cuff and are still seen on a lounge suit or blazer, not so much to prevent its use for blowing one's nose on the sleeve as commonly believed, but so that the long coat sleeve could be buttoned back out of the way when there was manual work to be done. With the passage of time, these buttons have been dropped from the Indian naval officer's attire.

The cummerbund worn with the evening mess uniform originates from the waistband or kamarband worn by Indian warriors in the past, which held a sword and other weapons. Officers of the Royal Navy, who were heavy beer drinkers, adopted this waistband in order to offset their convex profile. The cummerbund went on to become an accepted part of naval uniform, and is still worn today.

The epaulettes worn by all naval officers owe their origin to the French Navy, which passed them on to the British and thence to many other navies of the world. The epaulette is nothing but a decorative amplification of the shoulder strap, whose original function was to prevent the bandolier from slipping off the shoulder. In the early days, Lieutenants wore only one epaulette on their left shoulder. When in command, however, this epaulette was shifted to the right shoulder.

Till the early twentieth century, only executive officers were entitled to wear the 'curl' on the uppermost ring of their stripes. Non-executive officers wore plain stripes without the executive curl. As the strength of technical personnel on ships increased due to technological advance, a stage came when the Engineer Commander had as many men serving under him as the Ship's Commander. Consequently, this distinction was removed, and all officers became entitled to wear the curl.

At the time of Independence, it was easy to identify the branch to which an officer belonged. While executive officers wore plain gold lace, other officers were distinguished by the coloured piping between their stripes. Engineer officers had purple, electrical officers dark green, supply officers white, shipwright officers silver grey, education officers light blue, medical officers scarlet and dental officers orange. Today, however, only the scarlet colour used to identify medical and dental officers remains in use.

Admiral's buttons differ from those of other officers in that they have a ring of oak leaves encircling the Ashoka emblem and foul anchor of the normal naval button. Additionally, Flag Officers in command, including ASD's are entitled to carry a baton with working dress.

Officers of the rank of Vice Admiral, retired Vice Admirals holding the appointment of Captain Commandant, Naval Advisers or Attaches, Flag Lieutenants, and Staff Officers to Flag Officers or to Commodores entitled to fly their broad pennant can always be recognised because they wear aiguillettes draped over their left shoulder. On the other hand, Honorary Naval Aides-de-Camp (ADCs), Honorary Naval Physicians and Surgeons, and ADCs to the President as well as to Governors of States wear aiguillettes draped over their right shoulder. Traditionally, the Chief of the Naval Staff and the two senior most naval officers are appointed as Honorary ADCs to the President. Aiguillettes are worn only with ceremonial dress (with or without sword), and not with the normal working dress. Normal aiguillettes are gold with a blue thread woven through; Flag Officers wear only gold aiguillettes.

There are various theories regarding the origin of the aiguillette. The best known is that the Aide-de-Camp or herichman of a superior knight carried the rope and pegs for tethering the knight's horse, and the rope thus became the badge of someone close to the leader. Another theory has it that they are based on the rope of the Provost Marshal, which was used for hanging the condemned.

Personnel on duty may be identified by the customary items they carry. The Officer of the Day carries a telescope under his left arm with the eye piece facing aft, while a Flag Officer carries it with the eye piece facing forward. The gangway staff carry a boatswain's call and chain around their necks which is used for various pipes while running the ship's routine. This call probably has the oldest association with the Navy, being the successor of a small silver whistle that Henry the Tudor's Masters and Mates used to summon their sailors. The call has not altered in form, shape and purpose for over 750 years.

Officers are on parade for public appraisal each time they come in contact with civilians, especially when in uniform. An officer must, therefore, pay particular attention to his turn out at all times. This reflects pride in himself and in the Service, and is an immense aid to self-confidence. No surer way exists of putting a person off balance than commenting on some aspect of his dress. Wearing of non-uniform items whilst in uniform is not permitted. Pens and pencils should be kept out of sight and not clipped to the shirt pocket. Carrying of knapsacks, satchels and shoulder bags is frowned upon. Sunglasses may be worn if advised by a doctor, but should otherwise be avoided.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:42:38 ZULU