Pantalon rouge

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French infantry uniform of 1914
A progression of French infantry uniforms from 1837 (left) to 1870 (right)

The pantalon rouge (French for 'red trousers') were an integral part of the uniform of most regiments of the French army from 1829 to 1914. Some parts of the Kingdom of France's army already wore red trousers or breeches but the French Revolution saw the introduction of white trousers for infantrymen. Following the 1814 Bourbon Restoration white breeches or blue trousers were worn but red trousers for infantry were adopted in 1829 to encourage the French rose madder dye-growing industry. Madder red is a shade darker than the scarlet of British uniforms.

By the early 20th century other European nations had adopted drab

First World War. The lack of supply of the German-supplied artificial alizarin dye, which had replaced the traditional rose madder, led to the French adopting, in December 1914, a less conspicuous horizon blue
uniform, based on Messimy's proposal.


During the early years of the 18th century red breeches were worn by 23 of the dragoon regiments of France's royal army,[1] but after 1757 a yellowish shade of brown was substituted.[2] Later Kingdom of France uniforms varied significantly between regiments but red breeches were limited to generals, members of the royal household, and the Maréchaussée (until 1763). Infantry regiments universally wore white breeches after the 1750s, replacing the mixture of regimental colours previously favoured by individual colonel-proprietors. After the revolution breeches were replaced with trousers in the army and during the French Revolutionary Wars infantrymen wore these garments in white cloth if available. Infantry wore a number of colours of trouser during the Napoleonic Wars but red was worn only by cavalrymen of the Imperial Guards of Honour, the lancers, three regiments of hussars and the 3rd Regiment of Scouts of the Imperial Guard.[3]


chasseurs à cheval and most regiments of hussars.[3]

The pantalon rouge were adopted by the French Army on 26 July 1829, to encourage the rose madder dye-growing industry in France.[3][4] By the 20th century the synthetic dye alizarin, imported from Germany, was used to colour the cloth of the pantalons rouge. The French infantry wore the same pattern of trouser from 1867 to 1914.[5] During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 the trousers became so synonymous with the French army that civilians referred to soldiers as "red legs" or red trousers.[4]

On the eve of mobilisation for World War I (August 1914) red trousers or breeches formed a conspicuous part of the uniforms worn by all branches and corps except the

Chasseurs a' pied, Artillery, Engineers, Colonial troops and certain North African native regiments. The most spectacular version of the pantalons rouge was the voluminous "oriental dress" worn by the zouaves. In red cloth this was so conspicuous that with the outbreak of war it had to be replaced by a white summer version until re-tailored blue and eventually khaki trousers could be issued.[6]

Early colour photograph of French 3rd Zouaves 1912


A comparison of French (upper), British (lower left) and Belgian (lower right) army uniforms in 1914

With changes in battlefield technology and tactics comparable European armies had switched from colourful uniforms to more

First World War. The British Army adopted a Khaki field service uniform, in place of the traditional infantryman's redcoat, just after the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Imperial Russia moved from "Tsar's green" to khaki-grey between 1908 and 1910, and in 1909 the German army replaced its traditional Prussian blue uniform with feldgrau, a grayish green color.[7][8] The United States, Austro-Hungary, Italy and the Ottoman Empire all made similar moves between 1902 and 1910. However, these major powers, and many smaller armies, largely retained their historic brightly-coloured uniforms for ceremonial, parade, and off-duty "walking out" dress until the outbreak of war in 1914.[9]

Suggestions that the French army adopt predominantly brown or grey uniforms were rejected in the decades preceding the war.[10] After observing the actions of the 1912–13 Balkan Wars the French minister of war Adolphe Messimy, well-regarded as a humane and professional army officer, proposed replacing the pantalon rouge, red kepis and blue tunics with less conspicuous colours.[8][11] Messimy's proposal was for a uniform of so-called tricolore fabric, woven from a mix of 60% blue wool, 30% red wool and 10% white wool.[5]

The proposal was fiercely opposed in the press which objected to the army wearing "muddy, inglorious" colours; the

Écho de Paris stated that "to banish all that is colourful, all that gives the soldier his vivid aspect, is to go contrary both to French taste and military function".[12][13] Former war minister Eugène Étienne also opposed the proposal, declaring "jamais! le pantalon rouge, c'est la France" ("never! the red trousers are France"), which became a catchphrase of the conservative movement in France.[8][11] The outcry over the proposal almost cost Messimy his ministerial position.[11]

The infantryman's uniform, including the pantalon rouge, was especially visible in the yellow-cropped fields that were fought over in August and September 1914, contributing to the high French casualty rate.

Armée d’Afrique initially adopted uniforms made from khaki cloth manufactured in Britain, but later changed to a lighter brown colour with a yellowish tinge known as "mustard" (moutarde).[14]

Limited readoption

During World War I red trousers never completely vanished from depots plus lines of communication units and training establishments,

Saint Cyr Military Academy reappeared in blue and red from 1931 onwards.[18][19]

Sr Cyr cadets 2007

World War II marked the final termination of the pantalons rouge, with the notable exception of Saint Cyr; plus a limited number of military bands and small detachments from units that had historically worn this iconic garment in various forms between 1829 and 1914.[20]

Bandsmen of the modern 1st Tirailleur Regiment of Épinal. Officer in pantalons rouge


  • A poster for a 1904 operetta entitled Le Pantalon Rouge and depicting a French army officer
    A poster for a 1904 operetta entitled Le Pantalon Rouge and depicting a French army officer
  • French light infantry uniform, 1830
    French light infantry uniform, 1830
French army uniforms from 1820 (upper left) to 1918 (lower right)


  1. .
  2. .
  3. ^ a b c L'intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux (in French). Benj. Duprat, Libraire de l'Institut. 1919. pp. 37–38.
  4. ^ a b Ludovici, Albert (1926). An Artist's Life in London and Paris, 1870-1925. T.F. Unwin Limited. p. 33.
  5. ^ a b c Matthews David, Alison (2003). "Decorated Men: Fashioning the French Soldier, 1852-1914". Fashion Theory. 7 (1): 32.
  6. .
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  8. ^ .
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  11. ^ from the original on 27 October 2022. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  12. .
  13. ^ Army History: The Professional Bulletin of Army History. U.S. Army Center of Military History. 1992. p. 16.
  14. .
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  16. ^ Michel Baudouin, pages 8-14 Armes Militaria No. 57, Mensuel Mai 1990
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  18. .
  19. ^ Jean-Pierre Baly, page 9 "La Gazette des Uniformes", no 154, Mai-Juin 1995
  20. .