The story of naval uniforms is fascinating and much more complex that one would imagine.   I have written several pages on ratings uniforms and now it is the turn of officers.

Officers uniforms have evolved throughout the ages using buttons and bows and all kinds of elaborate and fine fabrics.  Clothes made a gentleman, and officers were gentlemen.  Moreover, the finer the garment the higher the social class and with that came the money officers; those born with golden spoons in their mouths. Rings, or more correctly stripes, were not part of that uniform until approximately 1748, ten years before the birth of Nelson. Then stripes were worn spasmodically, and over one hundred years were to pass when in 1856 stripes were brought into a definite system.

It is interesting to note the use of the half stripe both by application and the title of the officer wearing it. In the period 1748-1767 a captain over three years seniority wore two broad stripes each of 1" and above them a " stripe {a half stripe} - see picture to right. From 1891, a lieutenant of over eight years seniority wore two " stripes with a " stripe in the middle and we know such an officer to be lieutenant commander.  However, he was not called so for another twenty three years until 1914.

Rather than looking at the uniforms of every officer I am going to take as my example the full dress uniform of a vice admiral, the rank Lord Nelson carried at the time of Trafalgar in 1805, and date-stamp that with the stripes worn.

Date Range Stripes Worn Date Range Stripes Worn
An embroidered cuff with different pattern for each rank of admiral
Two rows of 2" Embroidery


1787-1795 One 1" stripe with one ⅝" stripe above 1795-1827 One 1" stripe with two " stripes above
1827-1843 One 2" stripe 1843-1856 One 2" stripe with two ⅝" stripes above
1856-1900 and 1904 to 1919 One 1" stripe with two ⅝" stripes above 1900-1904  
A band of embroidery with two ⅝" stripes above. This was a short lived fashion!


1919  to 1931 One 1" stripe with two " stripes above In 1919 admirals' ⅝" stripes were reduced to " stripes. Admirals were told that the King had been informed [George V] and that he had approved. However, it transpired that the Admiralty had overlooked this most important uniform change and had not told the King. After hearing about this, the King refused to be informed in any casual way, and refused to reduce his stripes or any other stripes worn by members of his family. To this very day, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH The Prince of Wales, HRH The Duke of York, HRH The Princess Royal all wear stripes thicker than naval officers. HOWEVER.....
In 1931, all stripes, except for commodores/admirals 1" stripes, we increased from " to 9/16", that is from 12.7mm to 14.3mm.
There is much to be seen and to be read about officers uniforms in my story about warrant officers in the Royal Navy. Start off here.  Links to other parts within. If you know of the foot guards, you will know that each regiment of foot has a unique buttoning pattern on the front of their tunics which are either spread evenly top to bottom, or in groups of either four, three or two buttons. The royal navy at one time had a similar system whereby a senior captain had buttons in groups of three, junior captains in pairs and commanders had theirs evenly spaced. Also, the need for recognition manifest in the coloured cloth worn between officers stripes of the non executive branches, was preceded by using different patterns on different branch buttons which were set in different patterns ranging from sets of four down to regular spacing. See RN_Officers_Coloured_band_between_or_under_stripes