• Exhibitions

    Exhibitions

    We have regular exhibitions on interesting subjects...

Navy Blue: Uniforms of the Royal Navy

Date: 20th August 2020 to 17th January 2021.

This exhibition explores the origins and development of naval uniforms, with a focus on HMS Unicorn’s story as a Drill Ship for the RNR and RNVR.

This display will tie in with the ‘Mary Quant’ exhibition, on show at the V&A Dundee from 27th August 2020 to 17th January 2021.

Scroll down to read more about the stories from the exhibition.


  • What are uniforms and why do we wear them?

    Wearing uniform is something all organised bodies have in common. It serves to identify our place and our rank – which organisation we belong to, and where we belong in that organisation.

    Donning a uniform also shows that we are playing a role or performing a function; we put on a suit to go to the office, or a high viz vest to work on a construction site, but when we are off duty we probably wear something rather different.

    In short, uniforms show where we belong, in a body and in a hierarchy, and identify who we are and what our role is on any given occasion.

    What are uniforms and why do we wear them?

    Wearing uniform is something all organised bodies have in common. It serves to identify our place and our rank – which organisation we belong to, and where we belong in that organisation.

    Donning a uniform also shows that we are playing a role or performing a function; we put on a suit to go to the office, or a high viz vest to work on a construction site, but when we are off duty we probably wear something rather different.

    In short, uniforms show where we belong, in a body and in a hierarchy, and identify who we are and what our role is on any given occasion.

  • Origins of naval uniforms

    For a long time, Navies did not use uniforms, and distinguished themselves by ensigns and flags instead. Although in Britain elements of uniform started to be introduced during the 18th century, it was not until after the Napoleonic Wars, when the Royal Navy started to become more modern and professionalised, that the naval uniforms as we know them today started to come into being.

    Origins of naval uniforms

    For a long time, Navies did not use uniforms, and distinguished themselves by ensigns and flags instead. Although in Britain elements of uniform started to be introduced during the 18th century, it was not until after the Napoleonic Wars, when the Royal Navy started to become more modern and professionalised, that the naval uniforms as we know them today started to come into being.

  • Traditional ‘sailor suits’

    The square rig, or traditional ‘sailor suit’, is the image that the public generally associates with naval uniform. Introduced in 1857, it features badges worn on the left sleeve to denote rank. Badges on the right sleeve indicate trade or specialisation (e.g., gunner, signaller, etc.). In 2015 the Royal Navy introduced its first new uniform scheme for 70 years.

    Traditional ‘sailor suits’

    The square rig, or traditional ‘sailor suit’, is the image that the public generally associates with naval uniform. Introduced in 1857, it features badges worn on the left sleeve to denote rank. Badges on the right sleeve indicate trade or specialisation (e.g., gunner, signaller, etc.). In 2015 the Royal Navy introduced its first new uniform scheme for 70 years.

  • What uniforms do Royal Navy reservists wear?

    Royal Navy reservists wear uniforms based on standard Royal Navy dress. Historically, the braid on Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve uniform sleeves, as worn by officers on HMS Unicorn, was curved. Hence the nickname ‘The Wavy Navy’.

    What uniforms do Royal Navy reservists wear?

    Royal Navy reservists wear uniforms based on standard Royal Navy dress. Historically, the braid on Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve uniform sleeves, as worn by officers on HMS Unicorn, was curved. Hence the nickname ‘The Wavy Navy’.

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