In its 65 years, the Israel Defense Forces has transformed from a ragtag group of nationalist fighters, pioneers, and Holocaust survivors, into a singular, united army. The IDF’s uniforms have been with the soldiers at every moment, through every hardship, every victory, and of course every fashion trend. Come along to see the work that has gone into IDF soldiers’ most identifying – but often overlooked – feature: the uniform.
IDF’s First Years
The first IDF uniforms, 1940s
During the IDF’s first years, it sought to utilize the resources it already had on hand, whether acquired from former British army warehouses or from donations. The first IDF soldiers wore khakis, some of which were taken from the British army warehouses that were overturned to Israel and some of which were acquired as donations from American Jews.
When an anonymous American philanthropist who owned a hat factory heard about the IDF’s hardships the first summer, he immediately sent over thousands of hats for the soldiers, called Hittlemacher, or Hatmaker, hats. These square caps, with a flap in the back to shade the neck, were seen in the first military parade of April 1948. The hats became an army mainstay.
In 1949, the IDF introduced special light-colored cotton uniforms for summer. These uniforms included trousers and a khaki blazer made of wool. A sense of uniformity started to form as a new decade was about to begin.
In the early 1950s, the IDF changed the color of the Ground Force uniforms from khaki to olive green. The first ones to receive the new uniforms were the paratroopers, followed by the Air Force, Tanks and Artillery corps. Around the same time, the IDF introduced its first berets, making them available in five colors.
In 1952, the IDF began issuing separate work and formal uniforms. Soldiers wore the work uniforms while at their bases and wore the formal uniforms for special military events and while outside their bases. In 1955, women received new uniforms, featuring a more flattering blazer. The reason for the change? The former blazer “detracted from the soldiers’ feminine appearance.”
Soldiers modeling the updated 1950s winter uniform (left) and summer uniform (right)
1960s to 1990s
By the 1960s, the IDF’s sewing machines were working at full speed. The trend of the decade was to tailor pants very tight.The IDF’s tight pants, worn initially by truck drivers and warehouse workers, were called Taibas Pants. At the same time, shirts were upgraded to have more pockets.
Taibas pants, 1960s
The female army uniform also underwent changes. Women started wearing the low-heeled brown dress shoes similar to those worn by Golda Meir, dubbed “Golda shoes.” In the 1960s, the “rooster hat” was also introduced as the required hat for female soldiers. These tall hats, sitting on the front of the head, were inspired by the airline stewardess caps popular at the time. Rooster hats stayed in use until the early 2000s, when the beret returned to being the standard hat for both men and women in the army.
Soldier in 1960s, complete with rooster hat and Golda shoes
In 1964, the French army donated surplus camouflage uniforms. Soldiers wearing these uniforms can be seen in photos from the 1967 Six Day War. In 1968, the army caused a ruckus by making these the formal uniforms of several brigades, including the famed Golani Brigade.
In the 1970s, polyester uniforms were introduced for the first time in the army, initially only for career military personnel. All cotton uniforms were phased out in favor of synthetic fabrics by 1972. With the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the U.S. gave the IDF new olive-colored uniforms made from thicker fabric, in addition to weapons and other equipment shipments.
The IDF discontinued its special winter uniforms in December 1978, partly due to soldiers’ discomfort and the costs of ironing. Instead, soldiers were given sweaters and long windbreakers – green ones for the Ground Forces, blue for the Air Force and Navy, and dark blue for career military personnel.
In the 1980s, full-body snow suits were issued for the first time to soldiers on the northern border, and paratroopers received patchwork sweaters.
1990s and the New Millennium
As the new millennium approached, the IDF decided it was time to update its uniform style again. Beginning in the 1990s, all new soldiers were issued formal uniforms made of polyester, because they were relatively cost-effective and durable.
Soldiers in the 1990s wearing the new polyester, olive-green uniforms
The IDF acquired surplus camouflage work uniforms from the United States, most of them in the desert camouflage color, in 2003. Since they cannot be used for operational purposes, these uniforms are currently in use as work uniforms at some training bases, detention centers, munition courses and army factories.
In 2006, the army sought to replace the well-known beret with a cap that would protect better against the sun. However, this idea was rejected and instead a newer, better-fitting beret was introduced.
In 2008, the IDF made changes to its footwear that continue today. Male soldiers now wear lightweight leather boots, replacing the older model which weighed about 2.5 pounds. In place of Golda shoes, female soldiers now wear short ankle boots or sandals.
The soldiers of today