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"Austrian white coats" Topic

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Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP24 Mar 2010 10:44 a.m. PST

I had always assumed Austrian white coats really were white, possibly with the help of pipeclay.

This drawing

PDF link

shows them as a sort of unbleached linen colour, ditto the breeches. Is this an accurate view or don't we know?

More from this artist here by the way


The Tin Dictator24 Mar 2010 11:20 a.m. PST

In your link, the picture on the right is as you describe. But the picture of the actual uniform on the left has the uniform whiter than the belts.

I suspect artistic license in the drawing.
However, I also doubt that the uniforms stayed white for very long.

ArchiducCharles24 Mar 2010 11:51 a.m. PST

The Austrian army was very strict on appearances and uniform regulations; soldiers were required to use pipe-clay to 'clean' their uniforms every morning. We might be surprised by just how white the uniforms actually appeared.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP24 Mar 2010 11:51 a.m. PST

As I recall, one advantage of Austrian white was that you could pipe-clay it the day before a battle so your uniforms looked good

As noted above, hard to imagine them staying very white on campaign for very long

A Twiningham24 Mar 2010 11:53 a.m. PST

They might have appeared white first thing in the morning, but within seconds of their first firing I'd wager they looked a mess.

rusty musket24 Mar 2010 12:07 p.m. PST

I was just reading about how much easier it was to keep up the appearance of the Austrian white uniform than a French blue or a British red. There are far better reasons to wish to go back in time, but if I ever get to, I would like to see those uniforms.

von Winterfeldt24 Mar 2010 12:08 p.m. PST

They used natural white wool, which is has a more yellowish hue, to take a straight white out of the bottle gives an unnatural look – in my opinion.

The Austrians were of course not so strict to uniform regulations, wearing Kaskets back to front, turning down the uppler part of the gaiters to make marching easier.

They would occationally pipeclay the uniform but not all the time there you destroy the fabric by too much pipe claying.

It would be different to white leather belts, which could be pipe clayed more often.

I paint therefore two whites, for the coat more a "bleached bone" look and for the belts a dire white.

rdjktjrfdj24 Mar 2010 12:12 p.m. PST

Where did they get the pipe clay? Did they each carry enough for a campaign in their backpacks? And how much would they expend daily?

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Mar 2010 1:14 p.m. PST

What is Pipe clay?
Russ Dunaway

aecurtis Fezian24 Mar 2010 1:25 p.m. PST


Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Mar 2010 1:55 p.m. PST

WOW !!! You guys know alot of stuff? OH well. I gotta go do something.
Russ Dunaway

Qurchi Bashi24 Mar 2010 2:47 p.m. PST

Here is a recent picture I took at the Military History Museum in Vienna. The lighting in there is terrible for photographs, and these uniforms have been sitting in a glass case, not out on campaign. But it is pretty clear the belts are "whiter" than the uniform. All the cloth I saw had a slightly cream or yellowish tint. Not a lot, they were pretty white, but clearly distinct from the leather (the picture is more yellow due to the light).

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP24 Mar 2010 3:27 p.m. PST

Can't see that picture without a Facebook account, Qurchi.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP24 Mar 2010 3:28 p.m. PST

@ the Tin Dictator: that's a repro uniform.

Qurchi Bashi24 Mar 2010 3:38 p.m. PST

Sorry. I don't have them posted anywhere else, yet. Maybe once I get home.

ArchiducCharles24 Mar 2010 4:24 p.m. PST

1769 regulations:'the uniform must be cleaned daily with a brush, and each piece cleaned with pipeclay and chalk (to render it white), and dusted down' (as per Hollins's Austrians Grenadiers and Infantry).

How much this was actually enforced I do not know.

Wizard Whateley24 Mar 2010 5:25 p.m. PST

I'm of the opinion that going into battle most armies would be 'en grande tenue'. Shako covers off, plumes on, uniforms brushed and pipe-clayed belts.

rmaker24 Mar 2010 6:26 p.m. PST

As several posters have stated, undyed wool was used. And sheep aren't white! go to a good yarn store and ask to see the natural wool yarns. various cream, ivory and gray shades, but white only comes from bleaching, and really only from modern chemical bleaches (cotton is another story – it can be brought dclose to pure white by sun-bleaching).

Pipeclaying the coat would help a little, but I suspect its real funtion was covering stains, not rendering the coat white. You'd have to use pounds of the stuff. And what happens when it rains? Or when the wearer sweats?

idontbelieveit24 Mar 2010 7:48 p.m. PST

"1769 regulations:'the uniform must be cleaned daily with a brush, and each piece cleaned with pipeclay and chalk (to render it white), and dusted down' (as per Hollins's Austrians Grenadiers and Infantry).

How much this was actually enforced I do not know."

I don't think Bonaparte gave them a lot of time to take care of this each day….

von Winterfeldt24 Mar 2010 11:28 p.m. PST

As for going into battle in Grande tenue – one cannot make a general rule, the Saxons of 1806 wore a linen Kittel to protect their uniform coat and the grenaderis had a cover over their grenadier caps.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP25 Mar 2010 3:22 a.m. PST

It's quite an important point from a painting perspective.

Effective bleaching goes back longer than you'd think. Up to the 1750s, you bleached cotton and linen by soaking them in sour milk and hanging them up for up to 8 months.

By 1746 "oil of vitriol", i.e. sulphuric acid, had been isolated, manufactured and begun to be used in clothes bleaching. This gave better results faster. The French chemist Berthollet then discovered chlorine and this was in use in the UK as a bleaching agent from 1786, giving even better results even faster still (i.e. within a few days).

Cotton and linen are notably tough textiles compared to wool. You can boil-wash your linen shirt if you spill food down it, but try doing that to your woollen suit.

Googling further I came across this 1799 guide to dyeing and bleaching silk and wool (odd typesetting altered):


The Methods of taking out the Dye from Silk and Wool.

SILKS dyed in a simple colour, such as indigo-blue, lilac, crimson, and grey, are capable of losing their colour, and acquiring a yellow chamois colour, by steeping in a bath of oxygenated muriatic acid [i.e. hydrochloric acid]…these observations, respecting silk, hold good also with regard to wool [which] is easily brought to the original white, by
exposure to the volatile sulphureous acid…the oxygen of the atmosphere is the principle which acts on the colouring matters with which the goods are impregnated…the yellowish colour produced by the oxygen of the air is particularly observable in grey woollen with a raised nap, and loose hosiery of the same colour. This mode of fabrication and openness of texture probably affords a stronger hold to the oxygen, from the more extended surface it presents.

So that is a source from 1799 which says that the best way to bleach silk and wool back to their natural colours, which would be slightly yellowish in the case of wool, was by soaking them in diluted hydrochloric or sulphuric acid. This is essentially the method in place before chlorine started to be used.

So I wonder whether the result was that the white of an Austrian soldier's breeches was a different white to that of his coat. The former could have been a brilliant white (because made of chlorine-bleachable linen) while his coat would have been a creamier white, because it was made of wool and was less effectively bleached with acid.

His belts, per the pipeclay thread I just posted, would have been a blue-white.

Austrians: any colour as long as it's white.

von Winterfeldt25 Mar 2010 6:14 a.m. PST

Bleeching yes, but it was expensive, therefore in general for soldiers unbleached.

The Austrian breeches were made of wool as well and not of linen.

I agree pipe clay a blue white, or cold white instead to a warm white of the coat and breeches.

combatpainter Fezian25 Mar 2010 9:14 a.m. PST

OK SO concensus is that they weren't white white but off white with a grey or yellowish or cream tint. Good to know. I will be painting up a units I got on Ebay in the next few weeks.

Thanks, fellas!

ArchiducCharles25 Mar 2010 9:26 a.m. PST

I do the uniform a subtle off-white (Vallejo flatt aluminium) and the belts pure white.

Clash of Empires link

von Winterfeldt25 Mar 2010 12:46 p.m. PST

not grey but more yellowish, as bleached bone

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP25 Mar 2010 1:16 p.m. PST

von W: exactly. Thanks for the tip about the breeches, I thought they were linen for some reason.

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