Dress Uniforms 1939-42


In contrast to the unchanging denim fatigues, the CCC dress uniform saw dramatic changes in the final years of the program.

In 1939 the Conservation Corps received a new spruce green winter dress uniform. The centerpiece was a sack-style wool coat unique to the CCC and not derived from any military pattern.

As we have seen, in 1937 the US Army also implemented a wholesale revision of its uniform system for enlisted men. Many of these changes spilled over into the dress uniform items issued to the CCC, notably in the form of a summer cotton uniform of lightweight slacks and trousers, the first cotton clothing ever issued to the Corps.


The 1939 dress uniform was a three-part ensemble comprised of a spruce green wool coat cut on civilian lines, paired with matching spruce green wool trousers and a new garrison cap. The shirt remained the same standard OD "M1937" Specification 8-108 discussed earlier in this handbook.

The origins of this first and only purpose-designed CCC uniform are obscure. One commonly cited story, which first appears in John A. Salmond's influential 1967 study The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, attributes the impetus for the new design to Franklin D. Roosevelt himself:

Upon arrival at camp, enrollees were usually given two sets of clothing, a blue denim work or fatigue suit and a renovated Army olive drab uniform for dress purposes. In 1938, however, Roosevelt ordered that a special, spruce-green dress uniform be issued to all enrollees. The President, while visiting a camp at Warm Springs, had been disagreeably surprised by the poor quality of the dress uniforms. Shoddy clothing, he believed, weakened morale, and he immediately asked the Department of the Navy to design him a special CCC uniform. These were in widespread use by 1939.


The 1939 tunic was a spruce green single-breasted three-button wool sack coat. The front had a large, flapless patch pocket on the left breast and two flapped pockets on the lower front panels. The rear of the coat was distinctive, having four pleats symmetrically placed across the lower back at the natural waistline, and a half belt with two buttons across the pleats. The coat was issued with the new CCC green and yellow crest already applied on the left shoulder.

Like the CCC itself, this coat fused civilian and military influences. From the front, the sack cut presents a clearly civilian profile. From the rear, the pleated and half-belted waist is more like a military tunic (though more similar to a military Mackinaw coat than to the actual contemporary US Army tunic).

Frustratingly, little further information on the origin of this coat is readily available. As a purely civilian item, it is not covered in the standard reference works on military uniforms of the era.

This is also among the most scarce items of surviving CCC uniform wear. It would appear that most of the coats were returned to inventory at the end of the enrollees' terms. As they had neither military nor civilian applications, they were almost certainly recycled en mass by the Quartermaster Corps during the wool shortage of World War II. I have seen only one original example of this coat offered for sale in recent years in the secondary market, and the coat has never been reproduced for either the military replica or the boutique workwear market.

Three images of a rare surviving standard-issue 1939 spruce dress coat. Source: Etsy auction listing.


To complement the dress coat the Quartermaster issued standard "M1937" wool trousers, albeit now dyed in a matching spruce green color.

Though new to the Army itself in 1938, the 8-83B trouser would have been familiar to any CCC enrollee, for its is a lightly modified descendant of the the 8-83A trouser which had been standard issue to the Conservation Corps since at least 1935. Changes incorporated in the 8-83B specification were subtle, confined largely to longer belt loops to accommodate a wide leather garrison belt and revised spacing of the loops around the waistline.

The CCC version of the 8-83B appears to be of the same lighter 18-oz serge wool which had become the Army standard, dyed spruce green to match the new coat.

As with the matching coat, original CCC 8-83B trousers are vanishingly rare in the secondary market. Though replicas of the 8-83B in the military "mustard" light olive drab shade are ubiquitous, this color is not accurate for the CCC; no replica has been offered to date in the correct CCC spruce color.

Three images of a rare surviving pair of CCC spruce green 8-83B dress trousers. These trousers are from the same uniform set as the coat shown above. Source: Etsy auction listing.

Six images of an original pair of spruce green 8-83B CCC trousers with a contract date of December 3, 1940. Interestingly, this pair appears to have been fitted by its owner with aftermarket metal suspender buttons, not standard on the as-issued trouser; note contrast between the metal buttons and the standard green plastic buttons on the fly. The apparent light color is a lighting artifact; the image of the turned back fly more accurately conveys the actual spruce shade. Source: collection of Mark Ragan, private communication to the author.




As noted above, the only garment not updated in the new spruce green suite was the service shirt: the same Army standard olive drab "M1937" Specification 8-108 shirt issued with the prior CCC dress uniform carried over to the new suite. Below is a fine example of a late-issue 8-108 service shirt with the post-1939 style of rank stripes as worn with the spruce green tunic and trousers.

Four images of a late issue 8-108 service shirt with post-1939 style CCC patches: CCC crest patch and three thin rank stripes for an enrollee Leader. The shirt is also ornamented with the late style collar diamonds, an unusual accessory for an enrollee: CCC on the right collar and 4th Corps Area (covering the southern states from North Carolina and Tennessee through George and Florida and west to Mississippi) on the left. Note fine details such as the prewar style non-convertible collar and the fabric backing on the placket. For more information on patches, rank insignia and collar ornaments see the Accessories section of the Handbook. Source: collection of Mark Ragan, private communication to the author.




To finish off the new uniform the Quartermaster Corps provided a spruce green garrison cap.

Garrison or overseas caps had been a part of the CCC uniform from the earliest days of the program. Initially these were actual World War I surplus M1918 caps. Once these stocks were depleted the QMC supplied the CCC with new-manufacture caps in a similar style. In the early 1930s the garrison cap was distinctive to the CCC; the US military continued to outfit its own enlisted men with the "Smokey Bear" campaign hat.

With the incorporation of mechanized equipment into the Army in the 1930s the campaign hat became impractical, as the wide brim proved awkward in the close confines of a truck cab or a tank. Accordingly, sometime around 1935 the Army reintroduced the overseas cat -- now termed a garrison cap --as an optional item. The mid-1930s version was made in 18oz. wool serge, and had a more symmetrical profile than its Great War ancestors. In 1939 the garrison cap became a standard issue item for all troops under Specification 8-114.

The spruce green CCC version of the 8-114 follows a tentative specification dated October 3, 1939. Likely the only change in the tentative spec was the spruce green dye. The cap was issued with the new green-on-yellow CCC logo patch already applied.

Paradoxically, original examples of this cap are as ubiquitous as the matching coat and pants are rare. It seems likely discharged enrollees were permitted to take their caps home as a "walking away" item -- i.e., a souvenir of their service-- resulting in a plentiful supply in the vintage collectibles marketplace.

Two images, 1939 spruce green garrison cap. Source: ebay auction.


Two images of a publicity shoot in Washington DC on February 1, 1939 to showcase the new spruce green winter dress uniform. Top: Robert E. Fechner, left, Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, inspects the new uniform. Frank Papuga is wearing uniform while on right is Lt. Col. Thomson Lawrence, in command of Central District, 3rd. corps area. Right: The new uniform worn by Papuga is quite a contrast from the old one of olive drab pictured on Robert Alesandri. Source: Harris & Ewing photograph collection, Library of Congress.

Enrollees in 1939 winter dress uniform lined up for inspection inside their barracks near Gainsville, Georgia. The three stripes on the coat of the man at right denote an enrollee section leader, equivalent to an Army sergeant. Source: Kenneth Rogers Photographs, Atlanta History Center.

CCC enrollees in formation in winter dress. Source: National Archives image presented on Texas Parks and Wildlife webpage.

A group of very young looking enrollees in winter dress. Note that the image is mirror reversed. Source: unknown.

Rare photograph of the 1939 spruce green winter dress pants and garrison cap worn without the tunic coat. Civilian Conservation Corps company 1458 along with commanding officer pose by clock tower, Camp H A Morgan, Sugarlands, Tennessee, 1940. This photograph nicely showcases the very high waist of the 8-83 pants. Source: Great Smokey Mountains National Park collection at Open Parks Network.


For most of the interwar period, US Army enlisted men suffered through summer in a heavy woolen service uniform. Ipso facto, the CCC boys did as well.

Only in the sweeping 1937 uniform revisions did the Army adopt a true summer and tropical weight uniform. This ensemble took a 1936-specification khaki cotton shirt and paired it with a new design for 7.5oz. khaki cotton twill trousers. This shirt-trouser combination was the first Army service uniform authorized to be worn without a tunic, and it would live on the become one of the iconic uniforms of World War II.

Issue of the M1937 summer khaki uniform to the CCC seems to have begun in 1938 or 1939. Enrollees loved the summer-weight uniform and affectionately called it their "suntans," a portmantaeu of summer and tan.


US military clothing scholar Charles Leamon provides a concise description of the key features of the suntan shirt:

Constructed of medium weight khaki cotton, this shirt was nearly identical to the Pattern 1937 OD Wool shirt with two breast pockets and long sleeve. The front closure button holes are reinforced a 1 1/4" wide khaki cotton decorative facing along the front of the shirt and above the cuffs. The pocket flap are beveled in the traditional army style and are closed with a single button. The front is closed with seven brown plastic buttons and the cuffs are closed with a single button. It has a two-piece "band" collar, which consists of a 1" wide band which is sewn around the top opening onto which the collar proper is sewn.

Original US Army issue 6-241 "suntan" shirt. Source: Uniforms of the US Army Ground Forces 1939-1945, Volume 3, Shirts, by Charles Lemons, pages 74-76.


WWII clothing historian Christoper Reuscher provides a capsule history of the origins of the companion suntan cotton trouser:

Approved in 1937, cotton khaki trousers were a result of an Army initiative to replace general issue breeches with a trouser design. In the pre-war years, the khaki cotton uniform was the primary warm weather uniform for both garrison and field work. Prior to 1938, the khaki uniform consisted of breeches or the newly adopted trousers, a light-weight broad cloth shirt, service coat, and cap. In 1938 a new shirt was introduced to replace both the broad cloth shirt and service coat. This left a shirt, trouser, and cap combo that was designed for increased comfort in hot weather while offering adequate mosquito protection.

The new trousers were worn tucked inside leggings when used in the field. Because of the field work requirement placed upon them, the trousers needed to be robust; and as a result were constructed using outward facing, double stitched seams.

In essence, these trousers are simply the contemporary "M1937" 8-83B wool slacks reinterpreted in a midweight cotton khaki fabric. They have the same front slash and horizontal back hanging pockets and are closed by five plastic buttons in a hidden fly. Very wide belt loops are sized to accommodate the leather garrison belt if preferred, though the pants were most commonly worn with the web belt.

Three views of an original US Army issue pair of 6-254 cotton cotton khaki trousers. Source: Private collection of Christopher Reuscher, from page "U.S. Army Enlisted Men's Trousers, Special Cotton Khaki Trousers" in website United States Military Uniforms of World War II by Christopher Reuscher.



Khaki tie from the footlocker of Richard Loida, ca. 1938. Source: Minnesota Historical Society.

To complete the khaki service uniform the Quartermaster also authorized production of a khaki tie. Constructed of the same 8.2oz twill as the service shirt, the tie was 41.5 to 43 inches long, 2 3/4 inches wide at the broad end, and 1 5/8 inches wide at the narrow end.

Photographic evidence suggests that the black worsted wool tie overwhelmingly remained the CCC standard for wear with both the winter and summer uniforms through to the end of the program in 1942.

That said, the Minnesota Historical Society has in its collections the complete footlocker content of enrollee Assistant Leader Richard Loida of CCC Company 712, Camp Gunflint #1, from 1938. Among the contents is the 6-282 khaki tie reproduced at left. Enrollee Antonia Gomez of Texas (pictured in the gallery below) also seems to have been issued the khaki tie to wear with his suntans. Such issues were evidently the exception rather than the rule.


Suntan shirt with denim fatigue pants and cap. Enrollee sighting through a transit, photographer unknown, probably OWI. Beltsville, MD, May, 1940. Source: Kean University Galleries.

Enrollee Antonio Sanchez Gomez, perfectly turned out in crisp suntans with the regulation web belt. The tie appears to be cotton khaki rather than black. Source: Gomez family photograph reproduced in "'Tree army’ changed clothes with time, climate," by Paula Allen, San Antonio Express News.

Two suntan portraits. Left, enrollee Johnny Buskowiak at Plainview, MN, 1938. Right: Assistant Leader Frank L.B. Johnson, Company 1791 Camp F-12, Custer South Dakota, ca. 1938. Source: Left: Minnesota Historical Society, Right, CCC Museum of South Dakota.

Turned out is sharp suntans, an enrollee quartet sings for fellow camp members in Yanceyville, North Carolina, May 5, 1940. Source: Getty images.