World War II Summer Khaki Uniform

The khaki shirt and trousers became the standard, comfortable U.S. Army uniform for warm weather use in World War II. This was a change since prior to 1938 shirts were not worn as an exterior garment. Once adopted, the popular khaki uniform was worn by U.S. servicemen and servicewomen during warm weather all over the world.

Staff Sergeant William Light, Service Company, 12th Infantry (motor maintenance sergeant). Standing at attention wearing garrison cap and the khaki summer service uniform. Arlington Cantonment, Arlington, VA, 29 May 1941.
Staff Sergeant William Light, Service Company, 12th Infantry (motor maintenance sergeant). Standing at attention wearing garrison cap and the khaki summer service uniform. Arlington Cantonment, Arlington, VA, 29 May 1941.

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World War II Cotton Khaki Two Piece Uniform

The development of the khaki shirt for exterior use began with a request from HQ, Panama Canal Department, where shirts had been authorized for officers and men since 1934 with the proviso that the shirt and trousers or breeches had to match in color. The Panama experience supported the idea of a standard issue summer uniform made of 8.2 oz. khaki cotton twill, a much stronger and better wearing fabric than oxford cloth or other civilian shirting. On 19 April 1938 the 8.2 oz. cotton khaki shirt was approved as standard issue.

Khaki Uniform

After additional experience and testing, on 27 November 1941 an improved design shirt with a convertible collar (could be worn open or buttoned with a tie) was approved. Difficulty with production to meet wartime levels of demand, led to a change to 6 oz. cotton twill for the khaki shirt instead of the 8.2 oz. By 1945 it was decided that a 5 oz. fabric would do as well, already tried with officer's shirts, and the 5 oz. fabric was substituted for the 6 oz. Versions of the shirts with a gas flap were produced, adding the word "special" to the nomenclature.

Trousers were produced in matching fabric to the shirts to complete the summer uniform.

Khaki Summer Uniform Used by All Services

The comfortable and versitile khaki summer uniform was used by the Army in all theaters of the war, used by the USMC, and the Navy for at least part of their uniform requirements. USMC and Navy colors and fabric weights varied a little from Army specifications, but were very similar. In warm weather settings, the khaki uniform was the most common seen during World War II.

The huge wartime requirements were met by contracts with companies like Kane Manufacturing Company, Louisville, Kentucky. Kane shipped 1300 trousers a day ranging from a small size of 28-inch waist and 29-inch leg to a large size of 46-inch waist and 33-inch leg. The trousers were made to rigid specifications, furnished by the Army Quartermaster Corps. In the June 1941 photo to the right, a straight-knife cutting machine at Kane cuts 63 pairs of khaki cotton trousers from stacks of cloth, all in one operation.

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