Back in high school, our U.S. History and English teachers got together and assigned us to write a short story in a well-researched historical American setting. Mine was in Boston of the 1770s. One of my characters was an officer in the British navy, and I really wanted to describe his appearance. But I was never able to find a source to tell me what color the uniform should be. I spent hours and hours in various libraries, poring over books, trying to find some hint, with no luck. It was probably there, but my seventeen-year-old self didn’t know how to find it. In the end, I made something up, and got marked off for having a detail with no source.
For kicks, I searched Google just now for “18th century british naval uniforms“. The very first hit tells me that “the British Royal Navy has been the basis of most of the world’s naval uniforms from the time they adopted their dark blue officers’ uniforms in 1748.”
Now they tell me.
An interesting footnote: The Mac I wrote this story on, nine years ago, is long gone, but I still have a copy, copied from hard drive to hard drive over the years. So I tried opening it just now. I wrote it using Word 5.1, and Word 2004 opened it without complaint, but while it retained all the formatting information perfectly, it replaced the actual characters with little boxes. I was able to recover the text (ironically enough, the Windows version of Word was able to open it perfectly), but this sort of thing makes me nervous about electronic document preservation.
In the interest of completeness, I’ve made a PDF and put the thing online. If anyone wants to read it and find out if I got the color right, feel free. Personally, I’ve been too embarrassed to get that far into it.