Full Dress was the prescribed order of dress for day to day wear for most regular duties by soldiers on ‘Home Service’ (i.e. in the United Kingdom and the Canadian colonies) at the start of the War of 1812. Consisting of the soldier’s formal garments, this combination was intended to enhance the appearance to maximum effect whenever soldier appeared on duty before the public, or when an immaculate turnout for ceremonial occasions was required.
For the Other Ranks (enlisted soldiers), full dress was indicated primarily wearing of the formal legwear, at this period consisting of white knee breeches and black wool gaiters rising to just below the knee. The breeches were made of white wool, and tailored to be extremely form-fitting in accordance with contemporary civilian fashions. The tall gaiters were equally tight-fitting, and buttoned with many small pewter buttons which were time-consuming to fasten. Though hot to wear and extremely confining to the soldiers’ movements, they were not discontinued until 1823.
In Full Dress bearskin caps replaced shakos for most regiments’ drummers, as well as their grenadier companies. Unlike previous models, the 1805 Pattern bearskin worn during the War of 1812 period was essentially identical for both grenadiers and drummers, although those of the latter often sported the traditional brass drum badge on the back in place of the grenadiers’ distinctive flaming grenade emblem.
As for most formal duties ‘under arms’, the regimental jacket was worn; that here displaying the ‘reversed colours’ and regimental livery lace denoting a musician in the British Army. In Full Dress the top button of the jacket was left unbuttoned to display the ruffle (or false frill) of the shirt at the neck.
When the United States declared war in June 1812, Canada changed from a Home Service garrison to the theatre of an active conflict.
Though visually impressive, Full Dress was ill-suited to active service, and most regiments were ordered to adopt more practical garments for wartime use, apart from those few which had inadvertently been sent breeches and gaiters for their 1813 clothing allotment. Thereafter, Full Dress may have seldom been seen until the end of the war, except perhaps in the most secure garrisons such as Quebec and Halifax.