Much like maple syrup, beavers, polar bears, and frequently saying “sorry”, the RCMP’s Red Serge is an iconic Canadian symbol. Mounties and their uniforms are so well recognized that they have been depicted in several Hollywood films like Rose Marie and the eye-rolling Dudley Do-Right.

While you may be familiar with the uniform, we bet you’re far less familiar with its storied history. Below, we uncover the evolution of the Red Serge into the iconic symbol you know today.

The evolution of the Mountie’s iconic Red Serge through the years.

1873-1876 – Back when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was called the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), the Red Serge was introduced as part of their standard uniform. The uniform originally consisted of a Norfolk jacket (a loose, belted, single-breasted tweed jacket with box pleats on the back and front), worn with a belt or half-belt.

1876-1886 – Despite the Norfolk jacket being comfortable and practical for shooting, it was replaced by two scarlet tunics only three years later. A more elaborate jacket was ordered for officers, but they did not wear it frequently. Despite these changes, they maintained the scarlet colour we know today, partially to distinguish Canadian police from the US Army’s blue uniforms (not to mention, the significance of red coats in the British military culture!)

1886-1890 – It was ten years later that NWMP dress regulations simplified police officers’ full-dress based on the British and Canadian dragoon military regiments. By this point, the Red Serge was well-established and recognized as an icon of the NWMP, despite being often mainly worn for dress and garrison wear. Regardless, certain constables still opted to wear it on field duty well into the early 1900s.

1904-1920 – A dark blue version of the Red Serge was adopted in 1904 as an alternative wear for regular duties. Members wore a mixture of scarlet, blue, and brown tunics, depending on the circumstance. It was in 1920 that the Red Serge was officially adopted as a dress item, with the brown tunic worn as a standard regular work uniform.

Women’s Red Serge

Throughout these many years of uniform changes, women were not yet a part of the organization. It was only in 1974 that Commissioner M. J. Nadon announced that the RCMP would begin accepting applications from women for regular policing duties.

The original RCMP uniform for women included pillbox hats, purses and even high heels! 

What do most women keep in their purse? Keys, a wallet, a pack of tissues, a compact maybe? Most people wouldn’t say an RCMP-issued revolver! This used to be the case for female RCMP officers, when the original kit issued for women included pillbox hats, purses, and high heels. Unsurprisingly, there were challenges removing the revolver from the special holster inside the purse, as well as other operational concerns (can you imagine chasing a suspect in high heels?!)

1990s and beyond: In the early 1990’s, all RCMP Members were issued the same kit and clothing with the exception of the ceremonial dress. Women’s uniforms included a skirt and red jacket. Finally, two years later, women started wearing the Red Serge, Stetson, high browns, and breeches like their male counterparts.

Throughout the RCMP’s 150 years of history, the Red Serge has remained a strong Canadian symbol, recognized world-wide, and will continue to be for many years to come.