Army green is a color that has been closely associated with military uniforms and equipment, particularly those used by the US Army. However, army green actually goes by several other names as well. These alternative names for army green give us insight into its history and development over time. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at army green, examine its other common names, and learn why this distinctive color has been so widely used by militaries.
A Brief History of Army Green
Army green has its origins in the standard uniform adopted by the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. The first army green uniforms were likely simply undyed wool coats, resulting in their earthy, olive drab color. This greenish color provided camouflage and distinguished soldiers from brightly dressed British red coats.
After the Revolutionary War, various shades of army green were used for US Army uniforms over the next century. In 1851, the Army introduced an official uniform color called “dark green.” Over the following decades, dyeing and manufacturing advancements allowed for more consistent shades of green to emerge as the standard. In 1920, the color was renamed “olive drab” with the adoption of newer, lighter shades.
World War II saw olive drab universally embraced as the standard uniform color for US Army soldiers, equipment like tents and vehicles, and even the iconic M1 helmet. This cemented army green as emblematic of the US military. The color remains a mainstay for Army combat uniforms today, alongside camouflage patterns.
One of the most common alternative names for army green is “olive drab.” Olive drab refers to the drab greenish-brown hue that was used for standard issue US Army uniforms and equipment for much of the 20th century. The name “olive drab” was officially adopted in 1920 when newer, lighter shades replaced the darker greens used previously.
Olive drab gets its name from its resemblance to the color of olives. It provided better camouflage than the darker greens used before, blending in with terrain and foliage more effectively. During World War II, olive drab could be seen extensively on uniforms, helmets, tents, backpacks, vehicles, and more.
Though the US Army has introduced new uniforms and camouflage patterns since olive drab was phased out, the color remains deeply associated with the US Army and military in general. Surplus olive drab equipment and vintage uniforms help keep the iconic color relevant even today.
Closely related to olive drab is “OD green,” which stands for “olive drab green.” This is a near interchangeable term for the standard army green shade used widely from World War I through the mid-20th century. OD green is a shorthand way to refer to the same drab green-brown color that characterized army uniforms and gear for decades.
OD green may specify a slightly greener, less brownish shade of olive drab. But in general usage, OD green and olive drab refer to the same classic army green color. Like olive drab, OD green is still used today for vintage and surplus military items or for branding wanting to evoke classic Army nostalgia.
In addition to olive drab, another common name used for certain shades of army green is “sage green.” Sage green refers to a dull grayish green color, lighter and less brown than the olive drab variations.
Specifically, sage green often describes the newer, lighter green shades that the Army began introducing in the 1930s and 1940s to replace the darker olive drab variations. Shade 104, adopted as the standard uniform color in 1941, was one example of these new sage greens.
However, sage green can refer to other light, grayish army greens as well. It’s not as definitive a term as olive drab, but rather encompasses a range of lighter, greener shades of the classic army green color. Modern military uniforms and equipment also sometimes use shades described as sage green.
Similar to olive drab, “army drab” is another name used to describe the distinct earth-tone greens used for US Army uniforms, especially prior to World War II. Army drab refers primarily to the very dark green-brown wool uniforms worn by soldiers in the late 1800s through World War I.
These uniforms had a very dark, dingy, brown-tinged green color. The drabness came from their undyed, natural wool fabric as well as dirt and wear from use in the field. Hence the term army drab, which describes both the dark color as well as the dull, unfinished look of these early uniforms.
Army drab was largely replaced by lighter, greener shades of olive drab by the 1940s and 50s. But the term can still be used to describe the very dark classic green uniform color, in contrast to newer variations.
Rifle green is a deep forest green color that is sometimes used to describe dark shades of army green. It likely gets this name from its resemblance to the dark green color used on early rifles and other army equipment.
While olive drab and sage green refer to the browner, lighter greens used more recently, rifle green specifically denotes richer, darker shades of army green. For example, the traditional color used by US Army Special Forces is often referred to as rifle green.
Rifle green also sometimes describes surplus fabrics and materials dyed in these dark greens for making vintage-style military apparel and gear. Along with army drab, rifle green is the deepest shade of true green associated with classic army green colors.
Comparison of Army Green Color Variations
|Olive Drab||Classic mid-20th century Army uniform green with a brownish, drab hue. The standard color for WW2 uniforms and equipment.|
|OD Green||Nearly identical to olive drab – a shorthand term for the same color.|
|Sage Green||Lighter, grayish green Army uniform shades introduced in the 1930s-40s.|
|Army Drab||Very dark green with a brown tint, used for late 1800s-WW1 uniforms.|
|Rifle Green||Deep forest green associated with early equipment and Special Forces uniforms.|
This table summarizes the major color variations that can all be referred to as “army green.” Each name denotes different shades used during various eras of US Army history.
Use in Modern Militaries
Though it has origins in the US Army, army green is a color widely used by militaries worldwide even today. Uniforms, equipment, and vehicles in shades of army green can be seen in the armed forces of many countries.
Part of this stems from the global influence of US military culture, with olive drab in particular becoming widely associated with military equipment. Army green is also simply a versatile, practical color for military use. Its earthy tones and dull finish provide camouflage while hiding stains, dirt, and wear.
Modern body armor, ballistic helmets, field jackets, and other gear frequently come in variations of army green. It remains a convenient shorthand color for anything designed for military use. Army green also draws on tradition and nostalgia, hearkening back to iconic WWII-era uniforms and equipment.
Use Outside the Military
Army green colors are not limited just to military contexts. Given its strong association with the military, army green is also used to convey rugged, utilitarian, or tactical styles in other settings.
For example, olive drab appears in workwear, outdoor gear, and men’s fashion to evoke a military surplus aesthetic. Army green is also popular for accessories like watches, bags, and knives that want a tough, masculine look. Automotive paints, industrial equipment, household tools, camping supplies, and more come in shades of army green as well.
Using army green is an easy way to make products seem sturdy and performance-oriented. It also appeals to nostalgia for vintage military style. Army green has now become ingrained in popular culture, often seen as a color symbolic of toughness, hard work, and service.
Army green is a color with a long, fascinating history behind its many shades and nicknames. What started as undyed wool evolved into the olive drab, OD green, and sage green hues iconic of 20th century US Army uniforms and equipment. Alongside rifle green and army drab, these colors constitute the diverse shades referred to generally as army green.
This distinctive color remains closely associated with military use, though it has also been adopted widely in other contexts. Army green is a versatile color that conjures images of strength, utility, and heritage. Whether referring to vintage olive drab or a brighter sage green, army green continues to be an iconic color symbolic of the military and its values. Its rich history and many names reflect its enduring resonance and influence.