The Depot

Military Fatigues: What Are They?

If you serve in the U.S. military, you still might hear a couple of people referring to the primary military work uniform as military fatigues. In the next 20 years, that term will likely be obsolete as the people who once used it retire.

Military fatigues are a work uniform. They are used for labor intensive details, as a daily uniform, and also for combat. Today, they have other names, like battle dress or combat uniforms but military fatigues are once they were once known as.

Military fatigues have varied from branch to branch; some have had woodland patterns, others desert, and they have even been plain olive drab colored. A key feature of military fatigues is their durability, despite their oxymoron name, and lots of pockets.

Early American military soldiers wore elaborate and impractical uniforms during the first 100 years or so of the U.S. military’s existence. The uniforms were similar to what is now known as today’s service uniform, normally worn in an administrative or office environment. They are similar to a coat and tie worn by business men and women. Military fatigues weren’t even considered since the military was expected to look sharp, even as it fought. Military fatigues would likely have been considered slovenly.

As the U.S. military fought in wars, it began to understand that it needed a loose-fitting uniform that could allow soldiers to physically perform the many tasks required during combat. And for those of you who have served, it should come as no surprise that the uniform’s evolution took more than 100 years. The first large-scale use of military fatigues was during World War II.

How did military fatigues get their name? There is a lot of speculation and Army historians haven’t been able to pin the source, but it is believed that in the early days of the Army, laborious details were called fatigues. Eventually, as the uniform changed, soldiers performing these labor intensive details in the field wore the battle dress uniform and since they wore them during tiring, hard work, the uniforms eventually were tagged as military fatigues by the soldiers.

In 1981, the woodland camo battle dress uniform became the official duty uniform of the U.S. Army, but it arrived after military fatigues took its journey through the jungles of Vietnam. Through the early 2000s, BDUs would serve as the military’s primary military fatigues and then came a slew of variations until we arrived at what is known as the Army’s OCP uniform.