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A True ‘OG’: The US Army’s Olive Green Utility Uniform

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A True ‘OG’: The US Army’s Olive Green Utility Uniform

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The OG-107 utility uniform has stood the test of time during its long military career, as well as its second life as a classic piece of menswear. Named for the color (olive green 107) of the 8.5oz. carded cotton sateen that the uniform was made of, the utility uniform would end up being one of the longest-issued uniforms in the U.S. Military. The OG-107s first saw production in 1952 and were used by all branches of the US military to varying degrees before being phased out by 1981, making them the defining uniform of the Cold War and Vietnam War in the process.

Reproduced and reinvented by countless fashion brands over the years, we’re going to delve deeper and look at the development and purpose of these true ‘OGs’. We’re going to examine the design, implementation, and modification of the OG-107s in order to give you a better understanding as to why these need to be in your kit bag.

Historical Background  

Prior to the outbreak of WWII, the Army’s work clothing consisted of denim fatigues (so-called because of the fatiguing work carried out in them). The blue denims were replaced by olive-drab herringbone twill (HBT for short) uniforms early in the war. These cotton fatigues became the ‘go-to’ garments for work and combat – especially in hotter climates like the Pacific. There were two distinct models of HBTs issued during the war. The early war style consisted of standard trousers with front slash pockets, back welt pockets, and a watch pocket. The jacket, cut short, featured an open lapel and side adjusters at the waist with two pleated and flap-covered breast pockets. The later style consisted of trousers with two large cargo pockets on the legs and jacket with a jacket with matching large cargo breast pockets. Importantly, HBTs were meant to be worn over multiple layers – principally the wool service uniform – which meant they were cut oversized and took on a baggy loose appearance when worn alone. WWII HBTs would be the grandfather of OG-107 utilities.

GIs of the 27th Infantry Division wear a mix of Army HBT uniforms. The Soldier on the far right wears a USMC P41 jacket and trousers.

After the war, the 1949 Uniform Board of the US Army Quartermaster created two separate categories of uniforms: Garrison and duty uniforms and field and work clothing. This new category of uniform evolved out of the WWII experience, with HBTs in use for both working and worn as “battle dress.” In the early 1950s and during the Korean War, HBTs would fill the need for field and work clothing. At this time, there were numerous HBT variants in the Army supply system and which were being issued and worn side by side in a not very uniform matter. During WWII and on the frontlines of Korea, the mix match mattered little (HBTs did not always last long in the field or when worn by the likes of mechanics or other service troops). In the burgeoning Cold War, Garrisons, the mix match caused a bit more consternation, with HBTs being tailored for a trimmer fit, neatly starched, and in some cases, sets could be “match faded” for a more uniform appearance.  

During the Korean War, textile research by the Quartermaster Corp developed more durable cotton that would replace the HBT. During WWII, the US Army allowed a variety of uniforms and shades of fabric to coexist in the supply chain. With a smaller Army and peacetime reorientation to Garrison duty, there was an aim to make the uniform more uniform with a new shade of green, Olive Green 107. This replaced the WWII Olive Drab colors – which generally had more brown in them. Besides the need for a more uniform color, there was also a growing image problem with Olive Drab-colored uniforms. After WWII, copious amounts of surplus uniforms were released to the public. Besides this, every returning GI brought his uniform home. The result was that WWII Olive Drab uniforms became cheap clothing worn by laborers, house painters, garbage men, and other workers. Additionally, the cheap price and rugged nature lead to surplus uniforms being popular with the homeless and poor more generally. In the postwar years, police blotters around the country routinely described criminals as wearing army uniform pieces. A new uniform and color for it were needed to help with the Army uniform’s image problem.

Development of the OG-107 Utility Uniform

The new OG-107 utility uniform began production in 1952. Like its predecessor, the uniform was intended to be loose-fitting and consisted of trousers and a jacket (worn as a shirt). The first specification for the trousers and jacket were issued in August and November of 1953, respectively. (while officially designated “utilities,” many in the Army continued to refer to OG-107s as fatigues while the Marine Corps continued their own tradition of calling them utilities.). The OG-107 utility uniform would undergo a series of minor changes over its service life. The first jacket (known as 'type I' in collecting circles) features straight sleeves with no cuff and upper patch pockets on the chest with rectangular buttoned flaps. The trousers had large patch pockets at the hip, two rear pockets with rectangular buttoned flaps, and adjustment tabs at the waist. Both the jacket and trousers were sized as “small,” “medium,” “large,” etc. Both also used brown plastic “dished” buttons.

Well worn 'type I' OG-107 jacket. Note the square pocket flaps and button spacing.

The jacket underwent a number of modifications over the years. A subtle change was made in 1963 to include clipped corner pocket flaps, altered button spacing, and a higher neck opening (this came to be known as the 'type II').

Heavily starched OG-107 set of trousers and jacket. The trousers are later model without waist adjusters and the jacket is a 'type III'.

A year later, in 1964, further changes were made to the utility uniform. These included the introduction of pointed pocket flaps, concave dull plastic buttons, and buttoned shirt cuffs (this came to be known as the 'type III'). One of the only major changes to the trousers came at this time as well with removing the side adjustment tabs at the waist. This coincided with a change in sizing for both jackets and trousers to measured sizing (i.e., 32x30 and 15x33).

The two models of OG-107 utility trousers. Left, the later model with standardized green buttons. Right, earlier style trousers with brown "dished" buttons and waist adjuster tabs.

The last and perhaps most significant change occurred in 1973 when the US Army began to test utility uniforms made from a poly-cotton blend in OG-507. With a distinctly different look and feel to the material, the uniform was named the ‘durable press’ utility trousers and shirt. These wash-and-wear uniforms were easier to clean and maintain, although some officers and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) felt that the material and lack of starching resulted in a slouchier garrison duty appearance. They can be sussed out by the large yellow care labels sewn into them. The trousers were also modified from a button fly to a zipper. The OG-107s and OG-507s would continue to be standard issue until the introduction of the camouflage BDU (battle dress uniform) in 1981.

How They Were Worn

While the OG-107 utilities were intended to be worn as “field and work” uniforms, they quickly took on more of a garrison role. The OG-107 utilities became the de-facto everyday uniform for those in the field and working as well as soldiers conducting clerical and supply work. In Army magazine in 1983, retired Col. Griffin N. Dodge wrote a comical essay on OG-107s as they were being retired. “Field exercises, field training, maintenance activities or duties requiring physical labor were no longer the prime prerequisite for wearing the fatigues. Unit and installation staff and clerical personnel would wear the fatigues at their desks. Individuals in a classroom environment, both officer and enlisted, elected to wear the fatigue uniform.”

Battalion Commander and staff, 126th Medical Battalion, 49th Infantry Division, Camp San Luis Obispo, 1967. They wear their OG-107 uniforms starched and pressed with full color insignia, and gold cravats. via California Military Department Historical Collection

The long Cold and Vietnam wars resulted in the Utility uniform becoming part of military garrison life, linked to military discipline and esprit de corps. Utilities, meant to be loose fitting and easy to wear, took on a highly polished parade ground appearance. OG-107s were routinely tailored for a more form-fitting, trim fit. Tailors would also add shoulder loops and button cuffs on type I and II jackets. Full-color insignia was also added. This included branch and name tapes along with other badges above the pockets and unit insignia and rank insignia on the sleeves. At one point, while on night maneuvers, Col. Dodge recounted his men turning their OG-107 jackets inside out to hide all the finery.

A 'type III' OG-107 jacket with full subdued insignia.

Most importantly, OG-107s were also heavily starched and ironed. This created a tradition that generations of soldiers during the Cold War followed to “break starch.” This is simply meant to put on a set of freshly creased utilities. Some were expected to “break starch” every day, and some officers changed their uniforms multiple times a day to keep a fresh look. This led to both officers and enlisted men buying multiple sets of OG-107s to always have a fresh set. C. Wayne Parker, an airman in the 1960s, remembered the starched uniforms in his memoir, “Starched fatigues were like cardboard. You could literally take a pair of starched fatigue pants, separate the two legs a little, and stand the pants upright in the middle of the floor.” He continued, “ To break starch, I discovered I had to completely open up the pant legs or shirtsleeves prior to inserting my appendage. Otherwise, the cloth near the creases would have remained stuck together, and this would have left flaps running down my arms and legs like an aquatic creature’s green webbing.”

Freshly creased, starched, and emblazoned with Insignia, the OG-107s were usually worn with the jacket tucked into the pants and the pant legs “bloused” over the highly polished combat boots. “Blousing,” or gathering the bottom of the pant at the top of the boot, was a highly involved part of wearing the uniform as well. Some soldiers would use springs or specially made “blousing bands” (still available and a crucial part of US military uniforms today) to hold and gather the trouser leg in place at the top of the boot. To get the desired “perfect” blousing, some would place chains in the trouser legs to weight them down or use #10 cans (opened on both ends and place over the leg) to achieve the desired effect.  

Pair of tailored OG-107 trousers with added pockets. The pockets were added by the author based on an original example.

But not all modifications made to OG-107s were so constricting. Many practical modifications were popular as well. GIs would have tailors cut down the jackets to short sleeves in hotter locales – popular in Vietnam. Others would have pockets added. Richard Kahn recalled the popular modifications made to the OG-107s when he was stationed in Korea in 1956, “Local tailors customized our fatigues by cutting down our shirts to make them form-fitting. They would also put pockets in our sleeves, one for cigarettes and the other for pens and pencils. The jeep drivers would have pockets put on their pant legs near their calves for easy access while driving. I have my fatigues custom tailored with extra pockets.” Pictured is a pair of early OG-107 trousers modified by the author with side patch pockets copied from an original pair.

Besides modifications, there was also a growing industry of commercially available OG-107s. With garrison duty’s demand of breaking starch every day, many soldiers bought upwards of seven to nine pairs. Brands as popular as Fruit of the Loom made fatigues, but many were more anonymous companies – some based in Japan, where many US soldiers were stationed throughout the Cold War. The “Quality Fatigue” shirt by “Good Luck” is a good example of a likely Japanese company. This example also features added sleeve pockets and shoulder loops.

Civilian Wear

Like most U.S. military uniforms and equipment, the industrial scale and large contracts (i.e., the military-industrial complex) ensured that millions of OG-107 uniforms would enter the civilian market, first via surplus and then, as many military uniforms do, trickle up into the fashion industry. And while the uniform had a long lifespan, it didn’t circumvent the fact that many uniforms quickly became surplus to requirements. Like many military garments of the late twentieth century, OG utilities found their way into the Army & Navy stores of America (and even overseas).

Al Pacino in the 1973 movie Serpico wearing a cut-off OG-107 shirt.

Starting in the 1960s, OG-107 utilities began to enter the civilian world. The utilities were worn by college students and purchased from local Army Navy Stores for as little as $2 a set. Like other Army surplus styles, the utilities’ price, ruggedness, and uniform quality attracted those looking to opt out of American consumer cultures and fashion standards of the 1960s. Groups like Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) often wore OG-107s and other pieces of their uniform while protesting the US involvement in Vietnam as a way of telegraphing their status as veterans. Those engaged in outdoor activities also took to wearing utilities, specifically the nascent mountain climbing community around Yosemite. Durable, cheap, and with large pockets, they were an easy choice for climbers in an era before specialized brands like Patagonia.

John Lennon in Sgt. Reinhardt's OG-107 shirt on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971.  

Utilities would also have their own pop-culture moments. Former bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCarntey both wore OG-107s. The former most famously wore an OG-107 jacket given to him by a former US Army Sgt. Peter James Reinhardt. Lennon recounted how he got the jacket on the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, “It’s very funny, I was in the German Airport, I had an American Army mac on, and a guy came up and said, I just got out of the Army in Vietnam and if you’d like these clothes I’d love to give them to you, ‘I said alright’, and he sent me all these Army clothes in the post.” Reinhardt had not served in Vietnam but was stationed in South Korea. When he met Lennon he was working for Delta Airlines and traveling to see his mother. Likely the most sustained pop culture appearance of OG-107s was on the TV show M*A*S*H from 1972 to 1983.

Even British ‘skinheads’ adopted the OG-107 trousers as their own. Referring to them as ‘army greens’ or ‘dockers’ (presumably because some dock workers wore them), OG-107s were worn by first-wave skinheads in the late 1960s. A part of the Kilburn Mob’s uniform, they were often combined with commando boots and Dunlop trainers.

Conclusion

From the 1950s to the early 1980s, the OG-107 (and later OG-507) utilities became a defining uniform of the mid-twentieth century and one of the longest-serving uniforms in the US military. Arguably, their success lay in their simplicity and adaptability. The utilities were an overly simple design, and while they underwent subtle modification, they changed very little during their lifespan. They were suitable for a number of scenarios; work and manual labor, garrison duty, and, of course, combat. They also formed the basis of many soldiers’ uniforms in different environments, from stateside Basic Training to European outposts and the jungles of Southeast Asia. Overall, these true OGs have left a lasting impression on twentieth-century menswear. From their universal design and appeal to their celebrity and sub-cultural endorsement, the OG-107 utilities are, without a doubt, the original.

Our OG-107 picks

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The Real McCoy's SHIRT, MAN'S, COTTON SATEEN, OLIVE GREEN SHADE 107 - Standard & Strange

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By Charles MacFarlane