Civil Uniforms for State Employees

One of the first serious campaigns that tried to introduce an obligatory everyday uniform for members of one profession can be traced back to Germany in 1785 when the Prussian king Frederick II followed the suggestions of his general postmaster von Werder and decreed that all postal servants had to wear uniforms. He ordered state uniforms and uniforms for daily use. They consisted basically of blue coats with orange-colored collars and cuffs. Accessories, such as epaulets, aiguillettes, hat decorations, and swords distinguished between the ranks of the postmaster, postal secretary, postal attendants, and postilions. Von Werder's arguments anticipate the coming years when civil uniforms for state employees became more prevalent. He suggested that postal uniforms would help the servants save money, prevent them from wasting money for extravagant outfits, and ensure they dressed in respectable clothes. At the same time the uniforms would make the postal servants more easily recognizable to the general public.

Around 1800, many European countries introduced occupational uniforms for state employees as an important part of extensive administrative reforms that most countries issued as a response to the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. The new reforms broke down the privileges of the aristocracy and the church, and prepared the ground for the development of a modern bourgeois society. The governmental officers' uniforms were intended to serve as symbols for the new ideal of a nation state run by an efficient and just administration. Inspired by those of the military, the uniforms' shape, colors, and decorations signified the function and rank of the officer. The uniforms were intended to work on two levels. From within, they enhanced the new bureaucratic structure and lent new confidence and pride to the state employees. From without, the uniforms were intended to evoke acceptance of the new state and its regulations as well as elicit new respect for its employees as the executors and representatives of the new state. The uniforms' shape underlined this message. Forcing an upright position the uniforms' particularly tight cut enhanced the proud and masculine impression of the man in uniform. Gradually most employees of governmental departments were clad in uniforms, no matter if they worked in public or not. This included, among others, the police services, fire departments, postal services, state-run mining and metalworking industries, forestry and transportation departments, as well as the departments of finance, interior, justice, and foreign affairs.

The general form of the occupational uniforms for state employees varied little during the nineteenth century and followed the form of military uniforms, beginning with tailcoats early in the century and adding the more practical, buttoned-down military tunic after the mid-nineteenth century. Most departments demanded state uniforms embroidered with gold and silver thread to be worn by officers at special occasions and simpler ones for everyday use. Smaller states, such as the dukedom of Brunswick, wanted to enhance their political importance by affording a luxurious array of uniforms in different colors and embroidery designs for each department. The large states of Prussia and Bavaria emphasized unity and efficiency by restricting their uniforms to one color. Prussia chose a dark blue ("Prussian blue"), and Bavaria ordered uniforms in a medium blue. Certain trimmings and signs identified different departments and ranks. The Prussian postal services wore their blue uniforms with orange-colored collars, cuffs, and pocket flaps. Bavarian uniforms had small symbols embroidered in silver thread on the tail: small horns stood for the postal service and winged wheels for the department of transportation. Each country had its own buttons showing either the coat of arms of the state or the initials of the ruler. The richness and width of embroidery on the chest, collar, cuff, and pocket flaps were meticulously prescribed and varied according to the rank of the officer within the administrative hierarchy (Hackspiel-Mikosch, pp. 221-287).

If the civil uniform symbolized the new administra-tional structures of modern states early in the nineteenth century, by the end of the century the civil uniform was regarded as a sign of stultifying and overexpanding bureaucracies supporting conservative governments, which, as in the case of Germany, became increasingly militaristic. At the end of World War I, when the German empire and its local monarchies were abolished, most civil uniforms for state employees disappeared. The Weimar Republic regarded the civil uniforms as a symbol of an

Nazi Uniform Court
Royal English footmen in traditional uniform. Due to their proximity to their masters during travel, footmen traditionally wore uniforms of quality and decoration well above their court standing. © Tim Graham/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

outdated authoritarian state. Although, a few decades later, the German Nazi regime indulged in impressive uniforms, it did not revive civil uniforms for state employees. Instead, mass organizations such as the labor service were established. These organizations were structured like military institutions, and employees dressed in uniforms closely reflecting military hierarchies.

After the two world wars, only law-enforcement sections of the government (police, immigration, or prison wards) as well as certain public services (postal services, railways, fire fighters, or foresters) continued to wear uniforms. In Germany, the devastating experience of two world wars that had been supported by widespread militarism triggered a pacifistic countermovement during the 1960s and 1970s that regarded state authority and its uniformed representatives with strong skepticism. Responding to a signature campaign initiated by a young policeman who wanted less military-like and identical modern uniforms for all of Germany, in 1973 the German fashion designer Heinz Oestergaard created a new green-beige police uniform, which, with certain changes, is still worn today. The modern design and friendly colors of Oestergaard's more casual-looking uniforms were intended to communicate a modern and democratic image of Germany.

Some traditional civil uniforms continue to be worn today. Servants clad in sparkling livery still attend at European courts during important public occasions. Some European diplomats go on dressing in traditional richly embroidered state uniforms at formal occasions, such as New Year's receptions given by a head of state. Members of the Institut de France, the most elevated academic institution in France, still wear uniforms that were originally introduced in 1801 and are richly embroidered with olive branches in shades of green silk on black cloth. The academician's uniform is completed with a plumed two-cornered hat and a sword. Each generation tends to adapt the uniform's basic tailcoat to contemporary fashion. In 1981 Yves Saint-Laurent designed a modern version for Marguerite Yourcenar, who became a member that year.

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