Original 1902 Pattern Service Dress, as worn by soldiers in World War I, is incredibly sought after today, with prices regularly topping £1000 for a tunic and trousers fetching similar sums. Being over 100 years old, these uniforms are great centrepieces to a collection but hardly the thing you want to wear for living history! Happily there are a number of replica uniforms available and I recently took the plunge and ordered a set from Soldier of Fortune. I was aware before I ordered that SoF was not the best replica out there, however it was affordable and I had heard it was perfectly acceptable (with one major modification) with the various World War One living history groups so I was happy enough to try it out- I will not be regularly using it for World War One re-enactment so I didn’t want to invest too much money in a set that would not get a lot of use. The uniform is also available off the shelf, without a few months delay as it is made up to order- this may not be an issue to you but I do quite like the fact that it arrives in a couple of days so if time is of the essence it is helpful.
The tunic is priced at £120 and the trousers at £80, so for £200 I had both items of uniform I needed. The uniform comes packaged in a couple of plastic bags and on opening them I got my first glimpse and more importantly feel of the uniform. Initial impressions of the fabric used are positive. The colour is a good match for original items and the knap of the fabric is good- it lacks the ‘hairiness’ you sometimes get with SoF woollen items and seems to be tightly woven and of a good weight. Unfortunately the first drawback of the uniform is very apparent as soon as you open the packet- the buttons are reproductions and not good ones. They are very shiny, but the stamping is crude and it is clear from ten paces that they are not correct. I was fully expecting this and I had already found out original replacement buttons so it was the work of a couple of hours to cut off all the replica buttons and replace them with original GS buttons which lifted the appearance of the tunic dramatically.
Turning to the interior, the internal lining and pocket bags are all made of undyed cotton and the fabric seems to be a good match to the originals, although some of the interior stitching leaves a bit to be desired with some areas not finished particularly well and I am worried that they could potentially fray with long term use. It is certainly not a deal breaker as the issues are internal, however it is a little disappointing. One nice feature is that the dressing pocket on the inside skirt of the tunic has been recreated and once the securing stitches have been broken will hold a first field dressing nicely. The Soldier of Fortune label is very prominent within the tunic and I cut the stitching and removed it to improve the appearance of the tunic when it was not being worn as it is rather jarring.
Putting the tunic on, the fit was a little snug, I had ordered my usual size and it was a little tight. When I resewed the buttons on I moved them ever so slightly to give a little more chest room, however it might be worth picking up a size larger than normal if you intend to wear it over a cardigan or other warm clothing. The jacket hangs nicely and certainly looks the part. My only major area of concern was the neck fastening- the hooks and eyes are close together at the top of the collar and so there is a tendency for the tunic to pull open below, exposing the skin of the neck. It wouldn’t be difficult to move one of these hooks and eyes to get a better fit, but it’s a little annoying.
The trousers are a nice fit and have the correct taper to the legs to allow puttees to be easily worn. Buttons are fitted to allow Braces to be worn with them, and these are very shiny! As these buttons will not be seen unless the tunic is removed and even then will be less noticeable due to the braces themselves I am more than happy to leave them as they are, although you may wish to replace them with duller, more period examples.
The Soldier of Fortune 1902 tunic is very good for what it is, and with a few hours basic work the re-enactor can really improve its appearance. It is not a top of the line tunic, but neither is it priced like one and if you want an affordable entry level tunic for World War One living history there is much to recommend here.