Work Clothes 1933-1938

INTRODUCTION

The Civilian Conservation Corps was, first and foremost, a manual labor program. In his March 21, 1933 address to Congress requesting authorization to create an Emergency Conservation Work program, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated:

"I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects." [italics added]

And so it was. The Corps not an industrial jobs training program; the boys were not learning to build radios or assemble automobiles or operate precision machine tools. From the beginning to the end of his six-month hitch, the typical CCC enrollee was engaged in tough field labor.

CCC work crew, Beltsville Agricultural Research Station, Prince George's County, Maryland, November 1935. Source: Carl Mydens photograph, Farm Security Administration collection.

For the average CCC boy, historian Joe Hermolin writes, "The day began with reveille and flag-raising at 6:00 am. After a round of calisthenics, a hearty breakfast, and barracks and grounds cleanup, enrollees left for their work assignments at 7:45."

Five days a week, the boys worked steadily from about 8:00 am to about 4:00 pm; lunch was usually served in the field. Most of the work was done with hand tools and their own muscles. If you've ever been on a trail crew or a reforesting project, you have some idea of just how long eight hours of steady manual labor can feel. If the enrollees were not tough to begin with, they toughened up quickly.

It followed that CCC enrollees needed work clothes as tough as they were. The Army Quartermaster Corps had just what was needed in the the standard-issue denim fatigue uniform.

Sergeant George Camblair sweeping in Army blue denim fatigues, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, 1942. Source: Jack Delano photograph for Office of War Information.

BACKGROUNDER: WHAT ARE "FATIGUES"?

"Fatigue duty" is the army term for physical work around the garrison. Throughout the entire period between the Civil War and World War II, the enlisted privates of the "Regular Army" -- the tiny, standing peacetime professional army of the United States -- did most of the physical labor required to cook their food; care for their horses, vehicles, and equipment; and maintain their barracks, posts, and facilities. Rather than have the troops soil their service uniforms with dirt and grease, the Army issued soldiers "fatigue clothes" to wear while performing these duties.

FATIGUE UNIFORMS IN THE CCC

CCC enrollee dressed head to toe Army-issue denim fatigues constructs a cattle guard. Camp BR-45-O, Vale, Oregon , 1940. Source: Michael I. Smith collection via William “Otis” Hickman.

The word "uniform" may conjure up images of spit and polish, but fatigues are the antithesis of this mental picture. They were basic work clothes for hard labor, closer to farmers' or mechanics' coveralls than anything you would see on the battlefield or parade ground. Generally they were cut very oversized, as they were intended to be worn as a coverall layer on top of service uniform shirts and trousers.

The CCC denim work uniform was a three-part ensemble: jumper, trousers, and hat. The garments all had World War I or pre-WWI antecedents, but conformed to a final specification adopted in 1919.* Denims in this pattern remained standard US Army issue from 1919 to 1940.

* NOTE: Reproductions of these garments are universally referred to online as "M1937 Fatigues." In 1937 the US Army adopted a new uniform system; when it came to fatigues, however, the new system retained the 1919 specifications with no changes. "M1937 pattern" fatigues are thus correct for any date from 1919 to 1940.

JACKET: "M1937" JUMPER, WORKING, DENIM, BLUE, QM SPECIFICATION 6-125

CCC Specification 6-125 denim jumper in mint condition. Note National Recovery Act tag sewn below the size tag; manufacturers who conformed to the fair wage and price standards of the 1933 NRA were encouraged to add these tags to their garments. Source: Ragtop Vintage Clothing.

The CCC work jacket's design traces its lineage to an ancestral jumper adopted by the Army in 1908 as part of its first suite of denim work clothes.

From the beginning, the pullover "jumper" design was controversial. Soldiers complained that the jumper top was awkward to get on and off and was easily torn.

For a few months in 1917 and 1918, the Quartermaster Corps addressed this complaint, producing instead a three-pocket denim coat as the fatigue top. Under the pressure of wartime production, however, the QMC abandoned the improved coat and reverted to a spartan brown jumper designed for easy mass production.

This 1918 wartime economy design is the direct ancestor of the ubiquitous CCC denim top. In 1919 the World War I design became a peacetime Army-wide standard, Specification 6-125. The only change from the wartime predecessor was a switch from brown to indigo blue dye.

The 6-125 Jumper was a loose-fitting pullover with a three button half-placket front that ended in a pointed bottom. It had a falling collar and split cuffs closed by a single button. The coat had two large, rectangular shaped patch pockets on the chest. These pockets had no buttons or flaps, and were “side opening”: the entrance to the pocket was located on the side that faced inwards towards the placket and buttons. The buttons were made of zinc and were cast with the letters US Army.

On the left is a pristine original jumper made for issue to the CCC. The tag reveals that this example was made I & C Spivak of Philadelphia under Quartermaster Corps contract number W669-ECF-462 issued on January 10, 1935. The letters ECF mean this contract was paid for out of the Emergency Conservation Fund -- i.e., the CCC budget.

EXPEDIENT JACKET: CIVILIAN DENIM CHORE COAT

A fully-opening, three-pocket denim coat on a CCC enrollee (middle of five in photo) in Yellowstone National Park, 1930s. Though visually very similar to the short-lived military M1917 denim coat, I suspect this is a civilian denim chore coat in a similar pattern. Source: Wyoming State Archives via article "Hard Times and Conservation: the CCC in Wyoming" in wyohistory.org.

Period images suggest that the overwhelming majority of CCC enrollees received the standard 6-125 denim pullover. However, fully-opening coat-style denim tops do appear in a minority of CCC images.

While the military remained stubbornly devoted to the pullover style denim jumper from 1919 to 1940, civilian workers demanded a more practical coat-style chore jacket, and manufacturers were happy to oblige them. By the 1930s the fully-opening denim chore coat was a standard item of American work wear, available from scores of manufacturers in a variety of patterns.

It seems that whenever supplies of the 6-125 jumper ran low, regional QMC procurement officers were empowered to go into the market and purchase civilian denim chore coats in any number needed to get the CCC boys into the field on schedule. Lucky indeed were the enrollees who received these superior alternatives to the much-disliked Army denim jumper.

Denim coat on an enrollee at Mammouth Cave National Park, ca. 1935. Note fully opening placket, rounded rather than square cut at bottom of placket, four pockets, and especially the side-opening, irregularly-shaped pocket on enrollee's left breast. This fourth pocket is a "combination watch pocket," a common detail in civilian chore coats which never appears on military denim fatigues. Source: Open Parks Network.

Diagram of a chore coat from a 1930s Carhartt advertisement. Note irregularly-shaped, side-opening combination watch pocket on upper left breast (right side in image), very similar to the pocket on the enrollee at left. Source: "100 Years Tough: The History of the Chore Coat" at Carhartt corporate website.

PANTS: "M1937" TROUSERS, WORKING, DENIM, BLUE, QM SPECIFICATION 6-124A

Original Specification 6-124 blue denim fatigue trousers, with detail of back buckle. Source: Uniforms of the US Army Ground Forces 1939-1945, Volume 4, Denim and Hbt Clothing by Charles Lemons, pages 64-65.

The CCC work trouser traces its ancestry to a denim fatigue pant developed in 1908 for the Army's Coastal Artillery Corps. After several rounds of changes to minor details, this pattern became the basis for Specification 6-124 in the 1919 denim fatigue suite. In 1933 the trouser pattern was updated to 6-124A; again, changes seem to have been very minor.

Notable features of the 6-124A Trouser include a full but straight leg without bell bottoms and capacious "patch" pockets. ("Patch" pockets are fabricated by sewing a separate patch of fabric to the exterior of the garment, and are visually distinct from the more common "hanging" pocket, in which an internal pouch is sewn inside the pant leg and attached to a slit in the outside fabric.) The 6-124s had two rear and two very large front patch pockets with pointed bottoms. The large front pockets have a diagonal top entrance. A small watch pocket, also patched rather than hanging, is behind the right front pocket.

The rear of the pants had a buckle attached to two straps of fabric below the beltline; as the fatigues were issued in general sizes like "Medium" and "Large," the buckle helped tighten the seat for individual fit. Around the time of the 1937 uniform system revisions, this archaic back buckle was deleted from the specification, but otherwise the pattern remained unchanged.

The trousers had a five-button fly with concealed buttons; the buttons themselves were made of zinc and were cast with the letters US Army as on the jumper.

HAT: "DAISY MAE" HAT, WORKING, DENIM, BLUE

Top, Original Specification 6-3-type blue denim fatigue hat. Bottom left: detail of a typical CCC contract tag and NRA code tag for a Daisy Mae. Bottom right: example of an Army contract tag for the same style hat. Source: Uniforms of the US Army Ground Forces 1939-1945, Volume 5, Part 1, Caps and Hats by Charles Lemons, pages 82-83.

The CCC denims were topped off with a floppy cap.

This cap style would become a staple of 20th century fashion or, perhaps, anti-fashion. It is familiar to moderns as a fisherman's hat or "Gilligan cap," so-called after the beloved 1960s TV sitcom character. During the 1930s it was best known as a "Daisy Mae," after a female character in Al Capp's Lil' Abner comic strip.

The ancestral military version of this ubiquitous cap was introduced in 1908. It had a four piece crown, white cotton lining, a faux leather sweatband and a reinforced brim with a folded and sewn edge. Simplifications during World War I saw the deletion of the cotton lining and the replacement of the leatherette with a denim sweatband.

At some later point, perhaps concurrent with the adoption of the 1919 specifications (presumed by the author to be Specification 6-3), the crown construction switched from four to six pieces.

Caps for the CCC seem to have been made to a Quartermaster Corps Tentative Specification dated February 27, 1934. A new final specification, 6-3A, was adopted in 1937 as part of the uniform revisions of that year. There appear to be no meaningful distinctions between the 1919, 1934 and the 1937 models.

CCC FATIGUES IMAGE GALLERY

Three ways to wear the "M1937" jumper: turned up at the bottom, tucked in, and untucked. Note the stylish watch chain on the man furthest to the left. Location: Tyler State Park, Smith County, Texas, ca. 1938. Source: National Archives and Records Administration -- Denver via Texas State Parks.

"M1937" trousers and Daisy Mae. CCC enrollee planting a tree, location and date unknown. Source: National Archives and Records Administration photo ARC Identifier 594253.

CCC boys in "M1937" trousers and Daisy Maes, Beltsville Agricultural Research Station, Prince Georges County, Maryland, November 1935. Source: Carl Mydens photograph, Farm Security Administration, 1 of 3.

"M1937" jumper (with front torn open from placket to hem), trousers and Daisy Maes. Source: Carl Mydens, FSA, Prince Georges County, Maryland, November 1935: 2 of 3.

"M1937" trousers and Daisy Maes. Source: Carl Mydens, FSA, Prince Georges County, Maryland, November 1935: 3 of 3.

Details of the "M1937" trousers. Left: "Typical CCC Enrollee" on the Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin projects, September 1935. Source: National Archives and Records Administration ARC Identifier 294132. Right: "M1937" trousers showing back buckle strap and white stitching. Note watch chain. Source: unknown. Both boys are wearing civilian leather belts--this was very common. Personal belts usually adorn about a third to half the boys in the average CCC group photo.

Two ways to tear the "M1937" jumper. Left, right-side patch pocket completely torn off. Photo of Merle Timblin, Nogales, Arizona ca. 1939. Source: Collection of Merle Timblin. Right: torn wide open from placket to bottom hem. Photo of CCC enrollee John H. Broadbent ca. 1936. Source: "Truck Drivers in the CCC: There Was a Lot Riding on their Work." post in the Civilian Conservation Corps Resource Page.

Sheridan County, North Dakota CCC Enrollees, 1934. Most are wearing "M1937" jumpers and trousers, but note the diverse hats. CCC enrollees commonly wore privately-owned hats while on work parties in the field; it appears only two of these men are wearing the issued Daisy Mae. Source: State Historical Society of North Dakota Image SHSND 10648-file8-05.