Fashion vs Function. It is about performance wear, techno materials and wearable technology. In this, the SAF is fashion forward.
But it was not always so. The first generation Temasek Green SAF combat uniform debuted in 1967 for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Made of thick cotton, the shirt had to be tucked in. And although it was fashionably slim cut for the Sixties, it was not particularly practical to serve double duty as a parade uniform and for field training.
For foot drills, the uniform had to be starched till the shirt could stand and ironed till it was creaseless. But after 15 minutes of marching in the sun, that perfection was gone. Even for field training, some kiasu soldiers lightly starched and ironed this same No 4 dress. But with the Skeletal Battle Order thrown on, it made no difference anyway.
In 1979, this uniform was made with a darker Temasek Green fabric with shirt and trousers cut baggier to every young man's relief. As No 3 dress, the shirt was tucked in; and as No 4 field dress, it was worn over the bottoms.
Meanwhile, for the Navy, a sandy beige replaced Temasek Green in March 1971 - first with long sleeves rolled up, then with sleeves cut short six years later.
In 1983, Temasek Green was replaced by a fabric influenced by the American-developed camouflage cloth. There are stories of some die-hard Enciks who tried to keep the old standards, but I could have told them that starched camo is a major fashion mis-statement.
This lightly rubberised fabric was found not to be very colour-fast and a new version was introduced in 1985. With the continuing Rambo series keeping the camo look in the forefront, the uniform became so fashionable that the SAF had to remind fashionistas that to wear it casually was an offence under the Decorations and Uniforms Act.
This style of outfield wear lasted 25 years in the Army. In 1975, the air boys of the RSAF modeled their crisp blue and white ensemble. Likewise, in 1982, our sailors went back to the classic navy blue and white.
In 2008, the SAF announced that it would introduce a new combat uniform. The tougher but lighter fabric is of enhanced wicking ability which allows for quick absorption. It is coated with a chemical that keeps mosquitoes away. A very smart fabric. Its pixelated design is in shades of green for the Army, and different grey and blue hues announced in May 2012 for the Air Force and Navy respectively.
The change of fabric was not the only switch. The uniform was also carefully redesigned for operational effectiveness. It comes with fewer buttons on the chest and none on the shoulders, but with convenient Velcro features. It has inward buttoning sleeves to prevent entanglement with foreign objects. Lining has been added to reduce abrasion to the groin - very important for route marches! The shirt can even be folded up to make an improvised triangular sling. But this is my favourite detail of all - the SAF has designed a turn-up mandarin collar to prevent abrasion from the rifle sling.