Northern Threads: Outerwear, Miltia & Cadet uniforms


A pleasant Maine summer, crisp autumn, or relatively nonexistent spring are Maine staples, but they are all secondary to winter in the collective Maine mind. Anticipating next year’s winter is a time-honored Maine tradition. As global warming and other environmental factors continue to generate new and unpredictable weather patterns, compatibility will result in future clothing changes.The weather plays a key role and is a constant topic of conversation in Maine life. Even when compared to other New England states, Maine is unique for our temperature extremes. Formal meteorological records for New England date to the mid-1880s, but diaries, logbooks and other primary sources provide a general understanding of weather events as far back as the early 1700s.

As is the case with most everyday wear, the collection’s selection of practical outerwear is very limited. What does survive demonstrates the ways people tried to keep warm while leaning into fashion, and what may be considered form over function outerwear.

Militia and Cadet uniforms

The U.S. Army uniform was the basis for cadet, militia, and other similar uniforms. Until the 1840s, officers wore short, tight-fitting jackets with tails called coatees, and knee breeches. Thereafter, Army uniforms included a frock coat, or a shorter summer weight sack coat, paired with long trousers as seen during the Civil War. Postwar fashions saw adjustments to U.S. military and militia uniforms in length and cut, and the occasional homage to the coatee, but uniforms evolved slowly until the Spanish-American War (1898-1901) when tropical campaigns in Cuba and the Philippines necessitated a complete overhaul.

Compared to civilian clothing, United States military uniforms changed little during the 19th century. In general, the U.S. maintained small armed forces throughout the century, relying on state regiments in times of crisis. This led to uniform variations, although there was an attempt at conformity. In terms of style, Army uniforms experienced a noticeable shift in the early 1840s, followed by a gradual evolution until the turn of the 20th century.

Return to Part I

Return to Part I

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

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