A brief history of postal uniforms for the USPS.
It's probably something you haven't given much thought to, but your postal uniform has a pretty interesting story behind it, and a lot of interesting changes happened to get it to where it is today. We did our research on the long history of postal uniforms and summarized it into these 6 interesting facts.
1. The first official postal uniforms were created in 1868.
There were instances of organized mail delivery in larger cities as early as 1863, and there are stories of individual "freelance" mail carriers carrying mail on foot as much as 240 miles as far back as the 1830s. But it wasn't until 1868 when congress passed legislation allowing regulated uniforms for letter carriers. The first postal uniforms were all a uniform "cadet gray" color.
2. Shirts were first allowed in 1901.
Hard to believe, but it wasn't until about 30 years later that letter carriers were allowed to wear just a shirt, without an overcoat, even in the hot summer sun. From the introduction of postal uniforms in 1868 there were a number of small changes, including the introduction of a pith style helmet, updates to winter uniforms, and numbered badges, but it wasn't until 1901 that letter carriers had their biggest victory yet - a coatless uniform.
3. In 1955, the first postal allowance was introduced.
Up until 1955, postal employees had to provide their own funds to purchase postal uniforms. It wasn't until 1955 that the first allowance, of $100, was issued. The allowance was decreed by Postmaster General Arthur A. Summerfield.
4. Skirts were introduced in the 1957 employee handbook.
Up until 1957, men and women had the same postal uniforms. It wasn't until an update in that year's employee handbook that mentioned the below were female specific uniforms introduced.
Items of uniform for female employees are the same as for male employees... except for the addition of a skirt.
A few years after that, jackets, shirts, and trousers were all reworked to better fit female employees.
5. The 1960s and 1970s saw many changes to postal uniforms.
It was a big two decades as far as the evolution of postal uniforms is concerned. The introduction of fur hats, nylon mesh caps, a new jacket with hand-warmer pockets, and the loosening of summer headwear restrictions were all major changes that occurred. Letter carriers were previously required to wear whatever headwear chosen by the post office supervisor or uniform committee. In 1970 the Postal Reorganization Act was signed which converted the then Post Office Department into the United States Postal Service, and the words "U.S. Mail" became more widely adopted on emblems, patches, and buttons.
6. A lot goes into the negotiation of new postal uniforms
Everything from sizing of postal uniforms, to what material is used, to how many pockets, to what color postal uniforms are all topics that are hotly debated when it comes to the design and manufacturing of uniforms. Postal uniforms have to be versatile enough to cover the wide spectrum of weather & routes that postal employees work in, and durable enough to withstand many hours, days, weeks, and months of usage. Will a material hide stains and sweat? Will a material absorb too much heat in the sun, or is it not insulating enough to wear in the winter? Project Runway, the reality fashion show, was even called upon to help re-design the postal uniform options. We heard from a local letter carrier at our store in Queens, NY that the current weatherproof jacket was inspired from that show.