Service Dress 1903-Unification
Khaki Drill


Battle Dress


Combat Uniform


►CF Uniform Unification-1986






Unit Shirts



Service Dress

Service Dress was a type of uniform issued to Canadian soldiers from 1903 up to Unification. The uniform fulfilled many roles, originally being used as both Field Dress as well as Work Dress, Parade Dress and Walking Out Dress. By 1940, its use as Field Dress had been abolished.


The first true field uniform adopted by Canada for standard issue across the board was the khaki field uniform known as Service Dress, adopted in 1903. This was of a separate pattern from the British Service Dress adopted after the Boer War, and marked a departure in Canadian uniforms in that it was distinct from the scarlet/blue/rifle green uniforms traditionally worn to that point, the latter of which became "ceremonial" dress for parades and other functions apart from field training.
Other Ranks

Canadian Pattern

The British had introduced Universal Service Dress in 1902 to replace a myriad of seperate uniforms then in use. Canada followed suit in 1903, with their own pattern jacket. Other Ranks jackets were authorized by General Order 73 in 1903. According to Tyler, "The other ranks' jacket...was little more than a drab version of the scarlet, blue and rifle green frocks then in use by the Canadian militia."1

Canadian Militiamen tended to severely tailor these jackets, despite orders not to. As an item of field dress, they were supposed to be cut loose so as to accommodate the wearing of a sweater underneath; many commanders and men preferred to tailor the tunic to look sharper on parade. Canadian pattern Service Dress worn by Other Ranks did not stand up to the rigours of campaigning, however, and was widely replaced by British uniforms in France; some samples of Canadian pattern SD were retained in Canada, and after the war, surviving to be issued briefly in 1939.

It was this jacket in which Canadian soldiers were dressed when they went to war in 1914. According to the book Khaki by Clive Law, a variant on this jacket also featured "rifle patches" as found on the standard British Service Dress (see below).

Scottish/Highland Pattern: Officially, these jackets were not supposed to be cutaway to accommodate the sporran, yet throughout the First World War they were continually altered in this manner.

The new drab Service Dress was issued to the Permanent Force, in order to provide an all-purpose uniform for field service, walking out, and ceremonial. Militia units were not to receive the uniform in peace time, but would be a free issue for active service. The Militia was to continue wearing Undress Uniform (the scarlet, blue and rifle-green uniform) for drill and marching order.

1903 Canadian Pattern Service Dress British Pattern Service Dress British Pattern Service Dress
"Kitchener Pattern"
  • Collar: Stand up collar secured by hooks and eyes.
  • Shoulder Straps: Some jackets had coloured shoulder straps, either detachable or sewn-in (these will be dealt with on a separate page), most had sewn in straps.
  • Front Closure: 7 button front
  • Pockets: Two breast pockets, box pleated, with scalloped flaps secured by buttons. Two hip pockets with flaps.
  • Cuffs: Gauntlet style cuffs
  • Collar: Stand and fall collar. This was often tailored by Canadians, however, by the addition of hooks and eyes that closed the front of the collar, giving the appearance of a Canadian stand up collar.
  • Shoulder Straps: Integral; coloured material sewn as an overlay was sometimes seen overseas by First Contingent veterans.
  • Front Closure: 5 button front
  • Pockets: Two breast pockets, box pleated, with straight cut flaps secured by buttons. Two hip pockets with flaps and buttons.
  • Cuffs: Plain cuffs.
  • Collar: Stand and fall collar. This was often tailored by Canadians, however, by the addition of hooks and eyes that closed the front of the collar, giving the appearance of a Canadian stand up collar.
  • Shoulder Straps: Integral; coloured material sewn as an overlay was sometimes seen overseas by First Contingent veterans.
  • Front Closure: 5 button front
  • Pockets: Two patch pockets on the breast, with straight cut flaps secured by buttons. Two hip pockets with flaps and buttons.
  • Cuffs: Plain cuffs.

Jacket and photo at right from the collection of Ed Storey.

British Pattern

While Canada did not officially adopt the British pattern 1902 Universal Service Dress, it was issued to Canadian overseas, beginning with the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles in South Africa in 1902 (these contingents were clothed from British War Department supplies). The British pattern was cut full, pleated slightly at the waist, with a false box pleat down the back. Originally, the jacket was worn without collar badges by the British, and Metal Shoulder Titles on the shoulder strap ends to identify unit.

The inadequacies of Canadian uniforms, equipment and weapons made themselves felt not long after arrival in England in late 1914. Everything from wagons to rifles to boots to entrenching tools were inferior to British made items and were eventually replaced. In the field in France in 1915, the CEF found that Canadian pattern jackets (especially those heavily tailored as mentioned above) were too tightly fitting to be as useful for field service as the Canadian jacket. Eventually, the CEF began to issue jackets of British pattern. In addition to the differing features described above, the British jacket had "rifle patches" on the shoulders (an extra layer of wool which resisted the wearing out of the shoulders due to field chafing from the field equipment). These jackets were also often seen cut away to accommodate a sporran.

The early British jackets also had removable coloured shoulder straps in branch of service colour. The coloured shoulder straps were removed in 1904 and replaced with plaited worsted braid cords (a practice for which no evidence has appeared to indicate Canada followed suit). Cloth shoulder titles also replaced metal should titles. In 1907, the metal shoulder titles again replaced cloth, as the plaited cords were replaced by drab shoulder straps matching the uniform cloth, sewn directly into the shoulder seam. The box pleat was also discontinued at about this time. This jacket (1902 pattern with 1907 modifications) was the jacket in which the British Army went to France in 1914, and some regiments in Canada also apparently had adopted the jacket, notably the 48th Highlanders and 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada.2

Sergeant, at right, decorated with the Military Medal, wears a "Kitchener pattern" Service Dress Jacket. Note also the whistle lanyard and other uniform details

During the war, an economy pattern of the Service Dress Jacket was introduced by the British, which was also issued to Canadians. (Today referred to as "Kitchener Pattern" after the British General who raised what was then called "Kitchener's Army"). This version differed from the norm by the deletion of box pleats from the breast pockets, as well as the rifle pads, in a move to conserve uniform cloth.


Many Canadians tailored their British jackets so that the collar closed in the front, emulating the stand-up style of collar of the Canadian jacket. The Canadian made boots were also replaced very soon after arrival in England with black ankle-high "Ammunition" boots.

All patterns of Other Ranks jackets were tailored by Highland units to accommodate the sporran. The sporran was not worn in the field by Highland units, however, and official regulations throughout the war forbade the tailoring of tunics in this matter. However, Highland units persisted with these modifications.

The Canadian Army began the war wearing the Service Dress cap, which was characterized by a stiff crown and peak, with a leather chinstrap retained by metal buttons.

The steel trench helmet was not adopted until 1916. At first, they were considered trench stores, but eventually every soldier got his own. Later in the war, brightly coloured designs, such as divisional patches or cap badges done in the colours of the divisional patch, were painted on the helmets.

For more complete information see Khaki: Uniforms of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and also Tin Lids both by Service Publications.

Service Dress  - First Contingent 1914

Other Ranks of the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Europe in 1914 wore the Canadian Service Dress uniform withstand up collar, and was fitted with coloured shoulder straps attached, designating the branch of service of the wearer. Detachable coloured shoulder straps had been in use before the war, although the colour scheme of straps worn by the First Contingent men was different than the prewar scheme. The coloured straps were phased out over the first year of the war, being replaced with plain straps. For those that retained them, the coloured straps remained a prized sign that the wearer had belonged to the First Contingent.

  • Blue: Infantry

  • Green: Rifle Regiment

  • Red: Artillery

  • Signals: French Grey

  • Cavalry and Canadian Army Veterinary Corps: Yellow

  • Canadian Army Medical Corps: Maroon

  • Canadian Army Service Corps: White with blue pipings

  • Engineers: Blue with yellow pipings, also red oval tab below shoulder with "CE" in blue

After the First World War, this British Pattern continued in use, and was the standard field uniform in 1939, until replacement by Battle Dress. It was retained by musicians overseas, and in Canada as a dress uniform, though it was eventually replaced in Canada by the Canadian pattern open collar jacket.

Examples of the British pattern Service Dress Jacket worn "cut away." At left a soldier of the 92nd Battalion, CEF. The collar of this tunic has been left in British configuration. In centre, a tunic of the 16th Battalion, CEF with blue material added to the shoulder straps. Note how the front skirts are rounded off to accommodate the sporran. At right, standard SD Jacket and photo from the collection of Ed Storey.


Officers wore a distinctive pattern of Service Dress (as did Warrant Officers I Class), which was identical to that worn by British officers; they were privately purchased, and of better quality than Other Ranks uniform. In combat in France and Flanders, they were often replaced on an individual basis by Other Ranks' Service Dress, to make them less visible to enemy snipers and soldiers.

Service Dress 1939-1968

Canadian Pattern 1942 Open Collar Drab Serge Jacket
  • Collar: Open collar.
  • Shoulder Straps: None.
  • Front Closure: 4 button front
  • Pockets: Two breast patch pockets, box pleated, with pointed flaps secured by buttons. Two hip patch pockets with straight flaps and buttons.
  • Cuffs: Plain cuffs.

Other Ranks

Walking Out Uniform

In 1942 a Canadian pattern of Service Dress Jacket, often referred to in regulations as a "Walking Out" uniform and officially the "Jacket Serge, Drab (Open Collar)" was introduced. Its style matched that of the Canadian Pattern Khaki Drill uniform that was introduced at about the same time, and was based partially on the 1902 Pattern British Universal Service Dress jacket described above. The jacket was an open collar design, requiring other ranks for the first time to wear a drab collared shirt and tie (in black), no shoulder straps were attached, a cloth waist belt in matching material was provided, and all pockets were exterior patch pockets.

Troops in Europe were not issued with this uniform though there is much evidence of it being used in Canada. The jacket was cut-away by troops wearing the kilt.

At left: A jacket cut to accommodate the sporran. At right: With the buttons and insignia of the Regina Rifle Regiment, this jacket looks very much like a US Marine Corps uniform. Artifact at right courtesy of Victor Taboika.

Captain Leonard Johnson of the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery has worn his best Service Dress for his wedding at the Pepergasthuis Church in Groningen, the Netherlands on 30 June 1945. Service Dress was privately purchased; the early war regulations permitted gauntlet guffs, box pleats on the chest pockets, and bellows pockets, as shown here, and this style was also worn in the First World War. Insignia included metal shoulder titles and collar badges. Trousers and a cap in matching material were generally made to order.


  1. Tyler, Grant. Drab Serge and Khaki Drill: The Foreign Service, Universal Service, Battle and Combat Dress Jackets of the Canadian Army 1899-2003. (Parks Canada, 2003).

  2. Ibid, p.52

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