CUSTOMS UNIFORMS THROUGH TIME
End of 19th Century
In both the Principality of Serbia and in the Kingdom of Serbia public servants wore uniforms, which frequently changed, following foreign models. The final look of the officers’ uniforms was determined in 1896 by the Ordinance on Official Dress of Police Officers that for quite a long period of time defined a standardized look for the attire of several types of officers: tax officers (1898), customs officers (1899), financial officers (1899), railway staff (1900) and forest rangers (1900).
According to the Rules on Official Dress for Customs Service Staff of July 12, 1899, amended on July 27, 1899, the customs service employees were to wear a suit of dark blue felt. According to this regulation, there was everyday attire, consisting of a cap, blouse, trousers, waistcoat, coat and shoes or boots, and a full-dress formal uniform for customs officers, consisting of a cap, evening coat, trousers, waistcoat, gloves and shoes.
Trousers, either riding trousers or classical style ones, were made of dark blue felt as well as the blouse, while trousers made of grey wool could be worn in summer. Formal coat was redingote, evening wear style, made of fine dark blue felt, double breasted, featuring gold-plated buttons with coat of arms.
Gloves for the formal attire were made of white leather, and for everyday uniform they were either of grey leather or fabric. The cap was to be classical Russian style service cap, mentioned as having the same shape as tax officers’ cap, made of dark blue felt with the band of dark green velvet, 40 mm wide. The peak was made of patent leather, as well as the strings for tying it under the chin. It was this green colour on the cap that easily distinguished customs officers from other officers.
In their visits to customs houses on the border, senior officials could wear also a type of envelope cap, šajkača, made of blue felt.
The customs officers’ weapon was a short sword, špada, to be worn every day, and a revolver was carried only when patrolling the border line, underneath the blouse on the right hand side.
The customs officers had to procure the uniform themselves, but it had to be made according to the strictly defined requirements specified in Chapter 2 of the Rules. It is interesting that the customs officers with visible deformities were forbidden to wear the prescribed official attire, except for a cap only when they were on duty.
Beginning of 20th Century
At the beginning of the century, olive-grey military uniform slowly replaced the former dark blue blouses and grey-blue trousers and became the general everyday attire for all state services, as evidenced by some sources dating from 1913. The distinguishing marks were, as before, insignia, cords, shoulder straps, etc.
In 1920s new regulations were issued on the attire for most state services, which will result in a rather standardized appearance of public servants and officers in that period.
The stronger state structure was reflected also in the more systematic dress requirements for the officers. A significant change was introduced especially with regard to customs officers, who, due to their contacts with foreigners, were required to wear a highly modern official dress for that time, grey-blue in colour, made of English gabardine. It consisted of a service cap, single-breasted coat with three buttons, open lapels and balloon pockets, light grey shirt and dark grey tie, waistcoat, trousers with turn-ups, belt and cartridge belt over the left shoulder, over which a revolver hangs in a “leather bag”. All in all, this uniform is reminiscent of English officers’ uniform. The gloves worn at work were grey, made of wool or leather, while the overcoat for winter should be the same colour as the suit. From the Carinski Glasnik (Customs Gazette) article from 1933 it seems that the obligation of wearing official dress was abolished for some time, and that during such period the only marks distinguishing customs officers from other civil servants were the customs armband ant the customs cap.
In the mentioned text, signed by Jovan Košutić, the author criticized the new developments and said: “Above all, it is in bad taste to see a customs officer in civilian attire wearing a prescribed cap, which is, by the way, quite unsightly, and only the armband fails to give the customs officer practically any kind of official appearance. As for the cap and the armband, they can somehow be tolerated when an officer wears a buttoned-up suit, but if he is dressed in sports clothing or if he is, during summer, in his shirtsleeves, then both the cap and the armband make such a man an object of ridicule and mockery.” Further on the author proposes that wearing a uniform, which was abolished, should be reinstated and made compulsory, and that customs house administrators should have the authority to force the officers to wear them, even by applying the strictest of means .
It seems that it did not take long to understand that abolishment of uniforms affected the image of the service, particularly so since the customs officers are constantly in touch with the “travelling foreign people” and that in civilian attire, wearing only the official armband and cap, they failed to make a proper impression.
It was three years from the publication of this text that the customs uniforms were restored; they were once again dark blue in colour, like the ones at the end of 19th century.
After World War Two
Immediately after World War Two, on the establishment of the new Yugoslav state, a number of customs rules from the laws of previous Yugoslavia applied. The first Customs Law in the new state, providing basis for customs authorities operation, was enacted on September 29, 1948. The next Customs Law was passed in 1976, and until 1992 it was amended several times.
In that period the customs officer’s uniform, familiar to all and in use for a long time, was of olive colour, the shirt was beige, and the service cap had a five-pointed star.
During 1980s the olive-grey uniform was required, with light olive shirts and dark red ties, and the then SRFY coat of arms was worn at the jacket. After the dissolution of the common state and creation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and then the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, the badge changed, and the SFRY coat of arms was replaced by the Serbia and Montenegro coat of arms.
The new uniform of Serbian customs officers was introduced on January 1, 2008. The Republic of Serbia customs officers got modern uniforms, in line with European standards, and with the insignia of their state. The badges, service caps and berets feature the Republic of Serbia coat of arms. The uniform is dark grey, and the buttons and insignia (badges, epaulets) are silver.
The introduction of the new uniform is part of the strategic plan for modernization of the customs service in Serbia. The new look of the customs officers should be a reflection of the changes, leave a strong first impression on everyone crossing the borders of our country, and represent in the right manner our nation and our efforts of getting closer to Europe.