The design of the original M1941 Field Jacket was developed a team led by Major General J. K. Parsons, a career Army man, who began his service during the Spanish American War, and retired just after the Field Jacket was designed, at the mandatory age of 64. He was tapped to lead the design project after the army brass had examined a number of civilian windbreakers, but found that none of these were quite up to snuff. “In deciding upon the garment recommended,” he wrote, “the needs of the Infantry soldier were given primary consideration. It was therefore decided that a suitable jacket to meet his needs must not only be warm and comfortable but must be light in weight and have the minimum in bulkiness.”
General Parsons tested the jacket using 400 of his men as guinea pigs, who provided feedback crucial to the jacket’s development. The Quartermaster General took the design to New York and showed it to the staff of Esquire magazine, whose tailors and professional designers advised on the cloth and fit. They said that the jacket was too tightly tailored in the arms and armpits, that the collar was too small to offer protection when upturned, and that the bi-swing back was useless. These same tailors and designers then prepared drawings and a single sample of an improved jacket.
They sent the drawings to the Major General and received this reply: “Esquire may be an authority on what a well-dressed gentleman should wear, but a study of its comments and the design of the garment it submitted as a substitute shows plainly that it does not understand the purpose of the garment, and is ignorant of the needs of the soldier in the field.”
When one of the designers suggested that the jacket may be too short, and in cold weather may lead to kidney trouble, Maj. General Parsons replied, “All I can say is most men have kidney trouble when in the presence of the enemy and it is fear, not the length of the jacket, that causes it.”
In September 1940, an initial run of 15,000 jackets was approved by the office of the Quarter Master General. Because of a shortage of copper that was occurring in the U.S., these jackets were some of the first military-issue garments to use plastic buttons. At the time, plastic was considered a cheap substitute material to be tolerated only for the duration of the war. Several improvements were incorporated into the jacket’s design upon production. Side pleats and underarm hinges were added, and the pocket flaps eliminated. By 1941, the design was finalized, and the jackets became standard issue.
The M1941 Field Jacket was made to replace the four-pocket wool serge service coat, which was impractical for field use, and needed to be dry cleaned. Furthermore, when the jacket was being developed the U.S. was experiencing a wool shortage. The Parsons’ cotton poplin, while also being lighter than the wool serge, was in abundant supply. That said, with over 10 million M1941s made, their fabrics display a great degree of variation. Some jackets were made from olive drab uniform twill, rather than the poplin. But the majority of the Parsons’ outers were made from Olive Drab No. 2 cotton poplin.
This is the most misunderstood aspect of the field jacket. Despite their khaki appearance in photos, the color used for the jackets was, in fact, Olive Drab No. 2. Although the shade varies wildly due to inconsistencies in the dying process, there is always a greenish tint present in every M1941. Sometimes the jackets are more gold, or tan, than others, but there’s always that little bit of green. Even though heavily worn jackets tend to fade considerably, when compared to actual khaki, the olive tint is easy to see.
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