Diplomatic uniform
Diplomatic uniforms are ornate uniform
A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

s worn by diplomat
A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization. The main functions of diplomats revolve around the representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state, as well as the promotion of information and...

s – ambassador
An ambassador is the highest ranking diplomat who represents a nation and is usually accredited to a foreign sovereign or government, or to an international organization....

ial and consular
Consul (representative)
The political title Consul is used for the official representatives of the government of one state in the territory of another, normally acting to assist and protect the citizens of the consul's own country, and to facilitate trade and friendship between the peoples of the two countries...

 officers – at public occasions. Introduced by European states around 1800 and patterned on court dress
Court dress
Court dress comprises the style of clothes prescribed for courts of law, and formerly for royal courts.- Where court dress is worn :Court dress is worn at hearings in open court in all Senior Courts of England and Wales and in county courts. However, court dress may be dispensed with at the option...

, they were abandoned by most countries in the 20th century, but diplomats from some countries retain them for rare formal occasions.


Up until the 18th century, diplomats (who usually belonged to the high nobility) wore their own court clothing to solemn occasions. Diplomatic uniforms were first introduced by France in 1781 and widely adopted by other European states around 1800 in the course of administrative reforms undertaken as a response to the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 and the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

. In several countries, diplomatic uniforms were among the first civilian uniforms to be issued. Apart from saving diplomats (who now increasingly were not independently wealthy) the expense of maintaining a full court wardrobe, diplomatic uniforms served to emphasize the importance of the office and to deemphasize the person of its holder.

Several non-European courts adopted European-style diplomatic uniforms during the 19th century. Notably, Japan during the Meiji Revolution introduced European uniforms instead of traditional clothing for all officials in 1872. The final period during which the majority of diplomatic services retained formal uniforms for the accredited members of their overseas missions was that prior to World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. A detailed study of contemporary uniforms, both military and civil, published in 1929 gives descriptions of the diplomatic uniforms still being worn by representatives of the majority of states then in existence. These included most European nations and a number of Latin American and Asian countries. It is however noted that several states which had only been created following World War I, had not adopted diplomatic uniforms and that others had discarded them. The uniforms described are nearly all of the traditional style of bicorne hat and tailcoat with braiding according to grade, from third secretaries to ambassadors. Consular staff were less likely to have authorised uniforms than their diplomatic colleagues.

While most countries abandoned diplomatic uniforms at some time during the 20th century, several have retained them: a photo of the 2001 New Year's reception at the Vatican
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

 shows the ambassadors of Monaco, the Netherlands, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Belgium all clad in diplomatic uniform.


Diplomatic uniforms generally followed 19th century court fashion and usually included a tailcoat
A tailcoat is a coat with the front of the skirt cut away, so as to leave only the rear section of the skirt, known as the tails. The historical reason coats were cut this way was to make it easier for the wearer to ride a horse, but over the years tailcoats of varying types have evolved into forms...

 with standing collar, breeches
Breeches are an item of clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee, though in some cases reaching to the ankles...

 or pantaloons, a sword and a two-cornered plumed hat ("bicorne
The bicorne or bicorn is an archaic form of hat widely adopted in the 1790s as an item of uniform by European and American military and naval officers...

"). There were normally at least two versions, a dress uniform
Dress uniform
Dress uniform , is the most formal military uniform, typically worn at ceremonies, official receptions, and other special occasions; with order insignias and full size medals...

 for ceremonial events and a simpler version for less formal occasions which nevertheless required the use of uniform dress. Unlike their military and naval counterparts, diplomats did not wear uniforms for everyday purposes but substituted the appropriate civilian clothing.

Diplomatic uniforms were usually richly embroidered with gold similar to the uniforms of high court officials. Diplomatic rank
Diplomatic rank
Diplomatic rank is the system of professional and social rank used in the world of diplomacy and international relations. Over time it has been formalized on an international basis.-Ranks:...

 was distinguished by the amount and quality of the embroidery. In contrast to military uniform
Military uniform
Military uniforms comprises standardised dress worn by members of the armed forces and paramilitaries of various nations. Military dress and military styles have gone through great changes over the centuries from colourful and elaborate to extremely utilitarian...

s, which underwent rapid changes throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the diplomatic uniforms tended to keep their traditional design. While the uniforms of the different foreign services generally shared the common features noted above, there were considerable national differences, though often of minor detail. Thus, as random examples, French ambassadors were distinguished by pearl handled court swords with gold and silk frogs (sword attachments), their Portugese colleagues by oak leaves and accorns represented in gold embroidery on their dress coats, while Belgian ministers wore chapeaus with white plumes plus blue and gold waist sashes.


In 1817, Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n diplomats received as uniforms dark blue tail coats with cuffs and a standing collar of black velvet, decorated with oak leaf scrolls embroidered in gold. In 1888, the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 introduced the Altbrandenburgischer Waffenrock, a long military-style coat, as the general state uniform for high-ranking officials. Military uniform was worn instead of court uniform by military officers and by those political figures who were reserve officers, which included most diplomats: it was practically impossible under the Empire for one to be a civil servant or a state secretary of ministerial rank without being a reserve officer.

Diplomatic uniforms were abandoned under the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

, but the Nazi regime, which had a general fondness for uniforms, reintroduced them. The stage designer Benno von Arent
Benno von Arent
Benno von Arent was a German Nazi, member of the Nazi Party and SS, responsible for art, theatres, movies etc....

 designed the "startling" Nazi diplomatic uniform, consisting of a dark blue tailcoat whose modern lapels were embroidered with silver oak leaves, a silver sash
A sash is a cloth belt used to hold a robe together, and is usually tied about the waist. The Japanese equivalent of a sash, obi, serves to hold a kimono or yukata together. Decorative sashes may pass from the shoulder to the hip rather than around the waist...

, a silver aiguillette
An aiguillette is an ornamental braided cord most often worn on uniforms, but may also be observed on other costumes such as academic dress, where it will denote an honour. Originally, the word "aiguillette" referred to the lacing used to fasten plate armor together...

 and a small dagger.

Russia and the Soviet Union

In 1834, the Russian Empire introduced diplomatic uniforms. After the Russian revolution, a document entitled "Short Instruction on Adhering to the Accepted Bourgeois Society Etiquette Rules" by the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (NKID) instructed the revolutionary diplomats to wear jackets on formal occasions. From 1923 to 1924, Moscow newspapers debated whether the wearing of civilian Western dress and thereby "bour­geois society symbols, which are totally alien to the spirit of the Workers' and Peasants' State" was appropriate, and there were calls for a Soviet diplomatic uniform to be introduced.

But it was not until 1943 that a uniform was introduced for NKID staff, consisting of a three-piece uniform suit with gold-plated buttons and shoulder straps. The everyday uniform was grey and the dress uniform, which included a dagger, was black. Accoutrements included a coat, raincoat, hat and an ornate cap with the diplomatic insignia. The black dress uniform was similar to the Nazi SS uniform; the Soviet diplomat Victor Israelyan recounted that during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 he was once given the Hitler salute
Hitler salute
The Nazi salute, or Hitler salute , was a gesture of greeting in Nazi Germany usually accompanied by saying, Heil Hitler! ["Hail Hitler!"], Heil, mein Führer ["Hail, my leader!"], or Sieg Heil! ["Hail victory!"]...

 and a loud "Heil Hitler!" by a German prisoner of war who mistook him for an SS officer.

The Soviet diplomatic uniform was officially discontinued in 1954; only ambassadors continued to wear the dress uniform, without the dagger, on special occasions. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, that practice stopped as well until at least 2001. Senior officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry now retain a dark blue suit with gold collar braiding for wear on formal occasions.

United Kingdom

British diplomats wore the official court uniform consisting of a dark blue button-down high-collar jacket with gold oak-leaf embroidery on the chest, cuffs and long tails; white breeches, or dark blue trousers with gold stripes; and a cocked hat with white ostrich
The Ostrich is one or two species of large flightless birds native to Africa, the only living member of the genus Struthio. Some analyses indicate that the Somali Ostrich may be better considered a full species apart from the Common Ostrich, but most taxonomists consider it to be a...

 plumes. A simplified white uniform was worn in tropical postings.

Ambassadors wore first class court uniform, which was based on the Windsor uniform
Windsor uniform
The Windsor uniform is a type of dress worn by male members of the House of Windsor. The uniform was introduced by George III in 1779.The first Court Uniform was the Windsor Coat or Uniform, dating from c.1778. This is now an evening tail coat of dark blue cloth, lapelled, with scarlet collar and...

, modified by the dress of the Marshal of France
Marshal of France
The Marshal of France is a military distinction in contemporary France, not a military rank. It is granted to generals for exceptional achievements...

. It had a dark blue single-breasted tail coat, lined with black silk, the stand collar and gauntlet cuffs having scarlet (later black and then blue) velvet facings, gilt buttons, waistcoat, breeches or trousers. Members of the Consular Service wore court uniforms with modifications according to their diplomatic rank. The King's or Queen's Foreign Service Messengers were entitled to 5th class court uniform, upgraded to 4th class in 1929.

By the end of the 20th century the use of this uniform had greatly diminished. Within Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service is the diplomatic service of the United Kingdom, dealing with foreign affairs, as opposed to the Home Civil Service, which deals with domestic affairs...

 only ambassadors retained a simplified version for wear on such occasions as the presentation of credentials and then only when accredited to certain countries. Until about 1965 Foreign Office Regulations and Consular Instructions had required even junior foreign service officers to acquire this formal dress following completion of their probation period.

United States

American diplomats were first issued uniforms for the mission concluding the 1814 Treaty of Ghent
Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent , signed on 24 December 1814, in Ghent , was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

; these consisted of a blue gold-embroidered coat, white breeches and stockings, a sword and a cocked hat with a black cockade. U.S. diplomats routinely designed and wore uniforms of their own choosing until 1817, when the State Department formally prescribed a uniform for ministers based on the one issued for the Ghent mission. This uniform was recommended for use by all ministers abroad by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

 in 1823.

The Jackson administration simplified the uniform in 1829, which now consisted of a black coat with a gold star on each side of the collar, black or white breeches, a three-cornered chapeau de bras (i.e., a foldable tricorne hat
The tricorne or tricorn is a style of hat that was popular during the 18th century, falling out of style by 1800. At the peak of its popularity, the tricorne was worn as civilian dress and as part of military and naval uniforms...

), a black cockade and eagle, and a steel-mounted sword with white scabbard. This uniform was not mandatory, and some officials wore more brilliant uniforms according to their own taste. In 1853, Secretary of State
Secretary of State
Secretary of State or State Secretary is a commonly used title for a senior or mid-level post in governments around the world. The role varies between countries, and in some cases there are multiple Secretaries of State in the Government....

 William L. Marcy
William L. Marcy
William Learned Marcy was an American statesman, who served as U.S. Senator and the 11th Governor of New York, and as the U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of State.-Early life:...

 issued a circular recommending that U.S. diplomats wear “the simple dress of an American citizen.”

In response to what was perceived as the excessive ostentatiousness of some of these individualized uniforms, Congress banned diplomatic uniforms altogether in 1867, by passing a resolution forbidding diplomatic officials to wear "any uniform or official costume not previously authorized by Congress". This caused some discomfort to American diplomats, who now had to appear "underdressed", in evening dress
Evening dress
Evening dress may refer to:* White tie, the most formal civilian dress code in Western fashion* Black tie, a semi-formal dress code for evening events and social functions in Western fashion...

, to official functions. In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 attracted considerable attention when he was the only foreign official at the funeral of King Edward VII who was not in uniform.

For a period of time, U.S. diplomats and consular officers wore modified U.S. Navy uniforms
Uniforms of the United States Navy
This article examines dress uniforms, daily service uniforms, working uniforms, special situations, and the history of uniforms of the United States Navy...

, much as the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is the federal uniformed service of the United States Public Health Service and is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States....

 and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps continue to do so today. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 issued an executive order
Executive order
An executive order in the United States is an order issued by the President, the head of the executive branch of the federal government. In other countries, similar edicts may be known as decrees, or orders in council. Executive orders may also be issued at the state level by a state's governor or...

 directing that no person in the diplomatic or consular service should wear a uniform or official costume not previously authorized by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....


While there has continued to be discussion on the idea of reintroducing uniforms for the U.S. Foreign Service, such as a modified U.S. Navy mess dress
Mess dress
Mess dress is the military term for the formal evening dress worn in the mess or at other formal occasions. It is also known as mess uniform and mess kit...

for formal occasions and presentation of credentials, such a change would require a law passed by Congress, since it is specified in the Foreign Service Act of 1946, section 1001, that "no officer or employee" of the Foreign Service was to "wear any uniform except such as may be authorized by law."

External links

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