The Unexpectedly Simple Reason For The British Royal Guard's Red Uniform

The British Empire was one of the largest and most powerful the world has ever seen. Historically being a great naval power, the government of Britain was keen to seek wealth and land across the globe, frequently meeting fierce resistance in the process. Territory was won and lost, but by the dawn of the 20th century, per Britannica, around one-fourth of all people in the world lived in the British Empire. Royal Museums Greenwich notes that some places that were officially protected by the empire — rather than being part of it outright — are also factored into this estimation, but regardless, it was an empire on a staggering scale. As you might expect, it required a lot of military might to defend its holdings.

As History Extra reports, the British army was noted for two quintessential elements: its formidable navy, and its Redcoats. The latter soldiers, of course, came to be named for their brightly-colored uniforms, Here's why they wore such an eye-catching shade.

The history of the redcoats

In 1661, per History Extra, King Charles II created a small force that would serve as his personal royal bodyguard. It numbered just 4,000, but marked an innovation that would endure through the years and countless new rulers. These royal forces would continue to be known as such, even as parliament came to assume more control of them during William of Orange and Mary's time near the close of the 17th century.

Per Military History Now, the British forces became known for their scarlet attire in the centuries to come. Though it may seem impractical, combatants didn't have the weaponry or technology to fight in any other fashion but close quarters, even using the firearms of the day. This rendered the concept of camouflage unnecessary (and impossible to implement anyway). Military History Now goes on to point out that royal forces couldn't fail to see their allies in the chaos of combat, either, given their rather garish uniforms.

Merriam-Webster states that the name "Redcoat" was commonly used to describe British soldiers during the Revolutionary War in particular. There was another reason why they wore the trademark shade, and an equally practical one.

Practicality and frugality led to those distinctive red coats

According to Live Science, the idea that the red coats' color was chosen because it concealed bloodstains is a common misconception. Richard Fitzwilliams, royal expert, told the outlet that this was not actually the case. On top of reducing the risk of friendly fire, according to Fitzwilliams, "British soldiers traditionally wore red ... because it was the cheapest and most readily available dye."

A logical decision in several more ways than one, then. British troops continue to be brightly-colored, stylish and solemnly dignified, as anyone who has visited Buckingham Palace and witnessed the iconic Changing of the Guard can attest.

Those sizable furry hats they continue to wear had purpose too. They are reportedly made from the fur of Canadian black bears, and Fitzwilliams adds that "the idea was that you made your foot soldiers look taller and therefore more fearsome ... they used to fulfill a practical need for a foot soldier in battle."