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Is olive green a military color?

Is olive green a military color?

Olive green has long been closely associated with military uniforms and equipment. The muted, earthy tone provides effective camouflage in many environments. But how did olive green become so strongly linked to the military? Here is a closer look at the history and symbolism behind olive drab.

The origins of military olive green

The use of olive green in military uniforms dates back to the late 19th century. In the 1880s, khaki uniforms were first adopted by British colonial troops in India. The light tan color provided good camouflage in dusty and sandy environments. Over the next few decades, different shades of khaki became popular in other European armies.

In the early 20th century, cooler hues like green and gray started to complement and sometimes replace khaki in military use. One of the first major military powers to adopt a greenish-brown shade was Germany in the lead up to World War I. German uniforms transitioned from Prussian blue to field gray-green uniforms called feldgrau. Other countries followed suit, realizing that olive shades blended in better with European landscapes.

By World War II, olive drab uniforms were standard issue for U.S. and British Commonwealth forces. The greenish-brown tone worked well as camouflage in the woods and hedgerows of Normandy and wilderness of the Pacific. Olive green was a common color for vehicles, aircraft, tents, and equipment as well. Other major powers like the Soviet Union also utilized olive shades for uniforms and gear.

Olive drab in the U.S. military

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have historically been the biggest proponents of olive drab uniforms and equipment. Here is a more detailed look at the use of OD green in the U.S. military over the 20th century:

  • 1902 – The first official olive drab uniform is introduced for U.S. Army tropical combat use.
  • 1951 – Distinct shades are designated for each branch’s uniforms and equipment: OD 3 for the Army, OD 5 for the Air Force, OD 7 for the Marine Corps.
  • 1981 – The Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) in woodland camouflage pattern supersedes OD green uniforms.
  • 2014 – The Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) fully replaces BDUs across the Army and Air Force.

Even as new camouflage patterns have replaced monochrome olive drab, the color remains an important part of military tradition. OD green is still used for rank insignia, unit patches, and other decorative details.

Symbolism and meaning

Beyond its camouflage utility, olive drab carries deeper symbolic meaning as well. The color evokes ideas like:

  • Strength and resilience – Like oak trees and olive branches, it conveys steadfastness and endurance.
  • Simplicity and humility – Its lack of bright, flashy hues reflects modesty and selflessness.
  • Discipline – OD green implies orderliness and professionalism.

These values make olive drab a fitting representation of military culture and collective identity. Soldiers are expected to embody such traits in their training, conduct, and service.

Olive green beyond the military

While strongly linked to the armed forces, olive drab has also been adopted in other contexts over the years. Some examples include:

  • Workwear – Sturdy olive coveralls and jackets are popular as utilitarian work clothes.
  • Preppy fashion – OD canvas bags, field jackets and other military surplus lend a casual, rugged look.
  • Outdoors gear – Backpacks, tents, and other equipment frequently come in mottled olive shades.
  • Home decor – Olive green has an earthy, neutral appeal as a color for walls, furniture, and accents.

Olive extends beyond camouflage patterns to solid shades in apparel, accessories, and household goods. Clothing brands like Carhartt, LL Bean, and Patagonia all offer multiple olive pieces and products.

Shades and varieties

There are many specific shades that fall under the olive color family. Here are some of the most common types of olive drab:

Name Description
Army green A muted yellow-green, similar to OD #3
NATO green Grayish olive drab tone, originally used by NATO forces
Russian green Blue-tinted gray green, inspired by Soviet uniforms
Sage green Pale green with subtle grayish undertones
Artichoke Yellow-tinged medium olive green
Mojito Bright yellowish light olive

There are no strict divisions between olive types – they flow into one another along a continuum of lighter, greener yellow olives to darker, grayer blue olives.


Olive drab has developed a strong symbolic connection to the military over the past century. But its camouflage origins and association with discipline, strength, and professionalism have also given the color wider appeal. Today olive green spans both utilitarian and stylish looks across workwear, sportswear, outdoor gear, and casual fashion.

So while olive retains its identity as the quintessential military hue, it has become much more varied and versatile. The olive branch remains a symbol of peace – which seems fitting for a color that bridges both civilian and military worlds.