The US Army Swings, 1939 - 1942
by Shelby L. Stanton
(Click on images to see a full screen picture.)
|Army soldiers wore “dress-fashion” service uniforms while “walking
out” off-post for dating and social events, such as swing dancing. The
winter versions were made of olive-drab wool serge in a dark shade, and
summer versions were made of cotton khaki. There were few major differences
in design between the service uniforms purchased by officers and those
issued to enlisted men, except for ornamentation (belts, buttons, trimming
and insignia). However, as might be expected, officers could afford uniforms
of better quality material and tailored manufacture.
Soldiers and sailors of the US Armed Forces wearing the
service uniforms that graced the swing dance floor during World War II.
Dane Clark, a wealthy actor, wears a privately purchased
enlisted service uniform (he is a sergeant) as he stands next to socialite
Ellis Cox, daughter of General Joseph Stilwell. Note how the dark olive-drab
wool coat was worn with light (cream-colored) mohair necktie and khaki
|The Army was very concerned that its men were properly fitted with
a “smart” uniform. The Army wanted the coat of its service uniform to fit
easily over the chest and shoulders, and to conform to the figure at the
waist. However, as swing dancing swept the Nation, the wear and tear on
snug uniforms became apparent. The soldiers ripped their uniform jackets
so often in jitterbugging that it became a major repair expense. Many claimed
that the US Army developed an entire new uniform style in the late 1930s
to accommodate swing dancing.
The new service uniform coat was approved on November 26, 1939. The
back of the coat was redesigned to include 2 side pleats that extended
from the shoulder seam to the waist. These pleat openings (also known as
side-shoulder vents) gave the extra roominess needed to swing. The pleats
were generous in size, being 3 inches deep or more where the shoulder seam
joined the top arm seam.
Army Regulations No. 600-35, issued by the War Department
on November 13, 1941, included this view of the officer’s service coat,
which featured the same basic design as the enlisted service coat (the
latter lacked lower sleeve bands, pocket flaps were straight across per
second photo, and so forth). The middle figure shows the distinctive
The enlisted service uniform with belt (right), showing coat differences
with the officer’s version (see drawing above). Here the trousers are worn
wide in the trendy full civilian fashion. This soldier is shown with cap,
as if saluting while leaving post on pass or furlough, but he would “uncover”
by removing his cap upon entering a building. This routine military courtesy
meant that swing dancing indoors was performed without headdress. Soldiers
could either wear their military-issue low shoes or their own commercial
shoes, as long as they were of russet leather construction and they had
permission of their commanding officer.
Time to Party! Soldiers playing with pretty actress Hedy
Lamarr exhibit the swing pleat feature at the back of their service coats.
|The new coat feature, which was officially
termed a “bi-swing” back, allowed much more ease of freedom to individual
movement. Although the Army justified the new allowances to drill
and field exercise requirements, the soldiers quickly coined them as “swing
pleats”. In their opinion, the regulation pleats were inserted to
prevent service uniforms from ripping down the back seams during swing
events in parties and clubs.
The coat was initially worn with a wide leather waist belt, and had
hooks from 1940 until March 1941. At that time, the unpopularity of the
belts as a hindrance to swing movements, coupled with the need to conserve
leather as a scarce war material, caused the Army to remove the hooks and
belts altogether. Many soldiers took their coat belts off as quickly as
the mood switched to Swing.
Time to Swing! Soldiers dressed in service coats
with “swing pleats” break down with pretty actress Hedy Lamarr. Some
wear waist belts but others have already removed them.
Throughout World War II, German propagandists chastised the US Army
for issuing uniforms that resembled “loose golfing clothes” to its troops.
The Germans never knew why American service coats had dual pleat openings.
But the real reason may have been that the Army got tired of having to
repair so many jackets after swing events, and was simply forced to change
its service uniform design.
Wartime production costs caused the Army to eliminate “wasteful”
side-shoulder vents from the back of service uniform coats made after June
8, 1942. This action was among several drastic measures taken by the US
Government to prevent critical shortages of wool material. However, millions
of coats had already been produced, and these continued to be issued and
worn by newly inducted soldiers well past that date. Swing dancing in uniform
was always performed best while wearing the service uniform coat with its
unique “bi-swing” back!
Some details on trousers and insignias:
|Service uniform trousers were cut on the line of civilian trousers,
without cuffs and without pleats. They had a button fly front, 2 side slit
pockets and a watch pocket just below the belt line on the right side.
A view of the uniform trousers showing how they could be worn in the
wide, loose style favored by civilian fashion. This view also shows the
back and side pockets, as well as the general fit of the trousers.
Collar Insignia placement for the coat collar and lapels of the enlisted
uniform, as shown in War Department Field Manual (FM 21-100), Soldier’s
Handbook, of July 23, 1941. Distinctive insignia were small heraldic-like
shields that distinguished between units.
Insignia and Qualification Badges for enlisted soldiers, as shown in War
Department Field Manual (FM 21-100), Soldier’s Handbook, of July 23, 1941.
Each service stripe represented 3 years of honorable duty. The overseas
(war service) chevrons and wound chevrons were extremely rare at this time,
and the latter was soon replaced by award of the Purple Heart medal.
rank insignia was worn on the sleeves, as shown in War Department Field
Manual (FM 21-100), Soldier’s Handbook, of July 23, 1941.. The soldiers
in the photographs who are wearing a “T” incorporated into their chevrons
are various grades of Technician.
Officer rank insignia was worn on the shoulders. Officer ornamentation
was quite distinct from enlisted devices, but it is beyond the scope of
this article to give a detailed summary of this complex uniform area.
U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, by Shelby Stanton, Stackpole
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