U.S. Military Dress Uniforms: What Each Branch Wears To Look Their Best
The uniforms of our U.S. armed forces bring many thoughts immediately to mind: precision, pride, unity, history, honor, accomplishment and so much more. Not only do they command a certain air of dignity and respect within our military, but their classic-yet-contemporary style instantly boosts the confidence of those wearing them and elicits a sense of awe from the civilian community.
We’ve learned that our audience loves facts and trivia about our nation and its military. So we’ve gathered some interesting tidbits about our military’s dress uniforms (what accessories make them special, the major events they are worn to, etc).
Military Dress Uniforms
Think you know all the tradition and tailoring that goes into our military’s dress uniforms? Check your knowledge of the “best of the best dressed” with these detailed descriptions of the U.S. Armed Forces’ dress uniforms. Make sure to share this blog with your friends and test their knowledge as well!
Air Force Dress Uniforms
For those who “Aim High … Fly-Fight-Win,” the dress uniforms of the U.S. Air Force call to mind the azure blue of the spacious skies this branch defends. With these dress uniforms, Airmen have “slipped the surly bonds” of civilian attire and upped their appearance to lofty styles.
Service Dress Uniform
This uniform, also known as Air Force dress blues, is composed of a three-button coat with silver-colored buttons featuring a design known as “Hap Arnold wings,” matching trousers and either a service cap or flight cap, all in Shade 1620, also known as Air Force Blue. This is worn with a light blue shirt and a herringbone patterned necktie. Silver mirror-finish “U.S.” pins are worn on the lapels. Officers’ coats feature epaulets on the shoulders, while enlisted Airmen have plain shoulders.
Women’s service dress uniforms are similar to the men’s service dress uniforms but can include additional articles including a skirt, stockings and women’s style flight cap. A maternity uniform is also authorized.
A variety of outer garments are also authorized for the Service Dress Uniform, including a blue pullover sweater, blue cardigan sweater, lightweight blue jacket or brown leather flight jacket
Mess Dress Uniform
This uniform is worn to formal or semi-formal occasions and is similar to civilian “black-tie” wear. The current uniform, in use since the mid-1980s, includes a dark blue mess jacket and mess dress trousers for men and a similar color evening-length skirt for women. Women have had the option to wear mess dress trousers since August 2020.
The jacket features ornate silver buttons and is worn with the service member’s awarded medals in miniature, wings in miniature or other specialty insignia over the left breast, command insignia over the right breast for colonels and satin Air Force blue bow-tie for men or a tab for women. A satin Air Force blue cummerbund completes the look.
Commissioned officers, USAFA and AFROTC cadets, and OTS officer trainees wear hard shoulder boards similar to those worn by commissioned officers of the U.S. Navy. Commissioned officer shoulder boards for colonels and below feature an officer’s rank insignia in raised metallic thread, bordered by two silver vertical metallic stripes similar to sleeve braid. General officers wear shoulder boards covered nearly the entire length and width in a silver metallic braid, with silver stars in a raised metallic thread in numbers appropriate to their rank.
Enlisted personnel typically wear the same large rank insignia that they would wear on their service dress coats.
Air Force Dress Uniform Trivia
- The current U.S. Air Force Service Dress Uniform was initially adopted in 1994 and made mandatory in 1999.
- No hat or name tag is worn with the Air Force Mess Dress Uniform.
- As in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, drill instructors in the U.S. Air Force are authorized to wear a “campaign hat,” a broad-brimmed felt or straw hat. The Air Force campaign hat is navy blue and features the Great Seal of the United States on a silver disc.
- The Band of the Air Force Reserve Pipe Band has worn highland dress, including a kilt with a special tartan pattern.
Army Dress Uniforms
From the Air Force’s blue formal attire, we switch to the earthly of the U.S. Army’s Dress Uniforms. While most people associate the color green with Army uniforms, the most formal of the Army uniforms come in blue and white hues. With these dapper yet dignified uniforms, soldiers can be the most stylish that they can be.
Learn more about all this branch’s uniforms from the official U.S. Army website.
Dress Uniforms of the U.S. Army include:
Blue Mess Uniform
This uniform, worn as formal evening dress in the mess or at other formal occasions, is considered similar to civilian’s “black-tie” or “white-tie” gear. It includes an Army blue mess jacket, high-waisted trousers, white semi-formal dress shirt with a turndown collar, black bow tie and black cummerbund. Blue trousers have a high waist but no pleats, cuffs or hip pockets. General officers wear pants of the same color as the jacket, with two one-half–inch, gold-colored braids, spaced one-half inch apart. All other officers and enlisted personnel wear lighter blue trousers with a single 1-½ inch, gold-colored braid. For white-tie events, this uniform is worn with a white formal dress shirt with a wing collar, white waistcoat and white bow tie.
White Mess Uniform
Often worn in the summer, this uniform is similar to the regular Mess Uniform. However, it features a white mess jacket and black high-waisted trousers. The trousers are the same for all ranks.
Army Dress Uniform Trivia
- Early army uniforms were influenced by both British and French traditions.
- In 1884 the Army introduced a brown cotton canvas fatigue uniform. For the first time the soldier now had a full dress, service dress and fatigue uniform.
- Today’s Army Blues uniforms are a tribute to the “Virginia Blues” worn by George Washington and the men on his first command.
Coast Guard Dress Uniforms
The dress uniforms of the U.S. Coast Guard are among the simplest of any branch of our armed forces, with fewer total uniforms and uniform variants than any of our other armed services. However, this branch is “Always Ready” to make a great impression with its dress uniforms.
Among the Coast Guard Dress Uniforms are the:
Service Dress Blue
This uniform is similar to a business suit in civilian attire. The uniform consists of a blue four-pocket single breasted jacket, matching trousers and a tie of the same shade as the jacket.
Service Dress White
These “choker” style uniforms for officers are identical to those worn by U.S. Navy officers. These are typically used for formal parades and change-of-command ceremonies. For similar events, enlisted members wear the Tropical Blue, Service Dress Blue or Full Dress Blue uniform.
Full Dress Blue Uniform
The Full Dress Blue uniform is essentially the same as the branch’s Service Dress Blue Alpha, which consists of a blue four-pocket single breasted jacket, matching trousers and a tie of the same shade as the jacket. It also includes a white shirt and combination cap. This Dress Uniform includes full-size medals instead of ribbons, white gloves and (for officers) a sword.
Full Dress White Uniform
This uniform consists of the Service Dress White with the same accouterments as the Full Dress Blue uniform. Service Dress White is identical to those worn by U.S. Navy officers (aside from service-specific buttons, insignia and sword design). These are typically used for formal parades and change-of-command ceremonies in warmer temperatures.
Dinner Dress Uniforms
There are two sets of dinner dress uniforms worn for formal or black-tie evening ceremonies. The first set, Dinner Dress Blue and Dinner Dress White are essentially the same as Full Dress Blue and Full Dress White but with miniature medals and badges; for Dinner Dress Blue a black bow tie is worn rather than the blue necktie. The second set of dinner dress uniforms, Dinner Dress Blue Jacket and Dinner Dress White Jacket, are the same as the corresponding U.S. Navy uniforms but feature Coast Guard buttons and insignia.
All dress uniforms in this branch are worn with black, plain-toe oxford shoes or optionally, black pumps or flats for women. Patent leather versions are authorized. White shoes are worn with the dress white uniforms.
Coast Guard Dress Uniforms Trivia
- In 1974, the first versions of the current Coast Guard Service Dress Blue and Tropical uniforms were introduced. This represented a major departure from many common conventions in naval and maritime uniforms. 1
- Previously, the Coast Guard’s uniforms basically mirrored the style of U.S. Navy.
- Along with the Band of the Air Force Reserve Pipe Band, the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band is one of only two kilted units in the United States military.
Marine Corps Dress Uniforms
If you only know the U.S. Marines from the commercials on TV, then at least you know they are the few, the proud, the VERY WELL DRESSED. There’s no mistaking the Devil Dogs in their striking blue dress uniforms, along with their shining gold Eagle, Globe and Anchor. As they are “Semper Fidelis” and a lot of times “Semper Gumby,” the Marines always look sharp and polished in their dress gear.
The Marine Corp dress uniforms include:
Blue Dress Uniform
Comparable to civilian “black tie” formal wear, the Marines’ Dress Blues, or simply Blues, are one of our nation’s most-recognized uniforms. It has various designations, including:
1. Blue Dress A
This uniform features a midnight blue coat with standing collar. The enlisted version has seven gilt buttons and red trim and is worn with a white web belt; officers wear a five-button coat without the red trim which is worn with a black Sam Browne belt. All ranks wear a white peaked cap, blue trousers, white gloves and black dress shoes and socks. Officers wear a plain, collarless, white button up shirt. Full-sized medals are worn on the left chest, with ribbon-only awards worn on the right; Marksmanship Qualification Badges are not worn. Women wear pumps in place of shoes and may wear a skirt in place of slacks. A blue cloak with a scarlet lining is optional.
2. Blue Dress B
This uniform is the same as A, but medals are replaced with their corresponding ribbons, and all are consolidated on the left chest. Marksmanship badges may be worn.
3. Blue Dress C
This is the same as B, but a khaki, long-sleeve button-up shirt and tie replace the outer blue coat and white gloves. Ribbons and badges are normally worn on the shirt.
4. Blue Dress D
This uniform is the same as C, but with a khaki short sleeve button-up shirt and no tie.
Because the Marine Corp Dress Blue Uniform is considered formal wear, Blue Dress C and D are rarely worn. The main exceptions are Marine Recruiters and Marine Corps Security Guards, who wear the C and D in warm weather, and for Marine One pilots in place of a flight suit.
Blue-White Dress Uniform
The Blue-White Dress uniform is similar to the Blue Dress uniform, except the trousers, skirt or slacks are white instead of blue and do not sport scarlet stripes.
Red Dress Uniform
In the past, musicians such as buglers and signal callers would reverse the uniform colors to distinguish themselves from the infantry. Today, musicians in the fleet bands typically wear the Blue Dress uniforms, however, members of the U.S. Marine Corp Band and the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps continue this tradition by wearing this uniform, a red blouse with blue trim.
Evening Dress Uniform
The most formal, and by U.S. military standards most elaborate, this uniform is the same as civilian “white tie” and is worm only by officers and SNCOs; it is a required uniform item only for senior officers (majors and above). It comes in three varieties:
1. Evening Dress A
For male officers, this consists of an evening coat with sleeve ornamentation, strip collar, white waistcoat and white shirt with piqué bib. The stripe on the midnight-blue trousers is a thin red stripe inside a gold embroidered stripe. Female officers wear a mess jacket with scarlet collar, a white dress shirt, a red cummerbund and a long skirt. Miniature medals and badges are worn.
2. Evening Dress B
This is identical to Evening Dress A except men wear a scarlet waistcoat (general officers) or cummerbund (all other officers), and women may wear a short skirt. Miniature medals and badges are worn.
3. SNCO Evening Dress
For this uniform, male staff non-commissioned officers wear a semi-formfitting mess jacket with a black bow tie and sky-blue trousers. Female SNCOs wear identically the same Evening Dress as female officers, minus the sleeve ornamentation and placement of rank. Both wear the jackets with historic 1890s-era rank insignia sewn on the sleeves. Miniature medals and badges are worn.
Marine Corp Dress Uniform Trivia
- Among current uniforms in the U.S. military, the dress uniforms of the Marine Corps have been in service the longest.
- The term “Leatherneck,” a nickname for a Marine, comes from the high leather collar of the original dress uniform of the Continental Marines in 1776.
- The Blues are the only uniform in the U.S. armed forces designated to include the red, white and blue colors of the U.S. flag.
- The Marine Dress Blue uniform has, with few changes, been worn in essentially its current form since the late 19th century.
- The scarlet red stripe on the dress blue trousers commemorates the courage and fighting of the men who fought in the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.
Navy Dress Uniforms
Far from the image of the Cracker Jack kid on the label of the famous caramel corn treat, the dress uniforms of the U.S. Navy are highly refined and respected. In fact, we can’t think of Navy Dress Uniforms without recalling how good Tom Cruise and crew looked in them in“Top Gun.” And while they make most Sailors look great, they remind us of the honor, courage and commitment that inspire the “Not self but country” attitude!
There is no official motto for the U.S. Navy. “Non sibi sed patriae” (Not self but country) is often cited as the Navy’s motto, however.
The U.S. Navy has three categories of dress uniforms, from least to most formal: service, full and dinner dress.
Service Dress Uniform
These uniforms are worn at official functions not rising to the level of full or dinner dress. They are commonly worn when traveling in official capacity or when reporting to a command. They are equivalent to a civilian business suit.
1. Service Dress Blue
This uniform is composed of a black, wool suit coat, trousers (or optional skirt for women), white shirt and four-in-hand necktie (women substitute a neck tab). The men’s jacket is double breasted with six gold-colored buttons; the women’s jacket has a single row of four gold-colored buttons. Rank insignia is the gold sleeve stripes for commissioned officers, while rating badges and service stripes are worn on the left sleeve by Chief Petty Officers. Headgear is the white combination cap, although a navy-blue garrison cap is optional, unless stated otherwise by the prescribing authority.
2. Service Dress White
For this uniform, men wear a high stand-collared white tunic, with black shoulder boards for officers or the metal anchor collar devices for CPOs, white trousers and white shoes. Women wear a uniform similar to the service dress blue but with a white coat and skirt or trousers. For women, the officer’s rank insignia is on the sleeves; the placement of women CPO rank insignia is on the lapels of the jacket. The white combination cap is the prescribed headgear.
3. Full Dress
Full Dress uniforms are worn for ceremonies such as changes of command, retirements, commissionings and decommissionings, funerals, weddings or when otherwise appropriate. Full Dress is similar to Service Dress, but ribbons are replaced with full-size medals above the left breast pocket, with ribbons worn on the opposite side for decorations without corresponding medals. Swords or cutlasses are authorized for wear by officers and Chief Petty Officers and may be required for Lt. Commander and above.
These uniforms are the most formal and have the most variation. For officers, these include Dinner Dress Blue and Dinner Dress White, Dinner Dress Blue Jacket and Dinner Dress White Jacket, and Formal Dress.
1. Dinner Dress Blue and White
These are identical to their Service Dress versions but are worn with miniature medals and badges with no ribbons. Dinner Dress Blue is additionally worn with a dress shirt and black bow tie. Although trousers are authorized, women frequently wear the appropriate color skirt.
2. Dinner Dress Blue/White Jacket Uniforms
These feature a short jacket with three buttons on either side, worn open with a black bow tie and cummerbund (women substitute a neck tab for the bow tie). Male officers show rank stripes on the sleeves of the jacket for the blue version and on shoulder boards for the white version; female officers only wear sleeve stripes. This uniform is equivalent to civilian black tie.
3. The Formal Dress Variation
They are identical to the Dinner Dress Blue Jacket uniform but worn with a white waistcoat with gold buttons in place of the cummerbund, a white bow tie and matching mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks. The women’s version is mostly the same as the Dinner Dress Blue Jacket but substitutes the mother-of-pearl studs and cufflinks for gold. This uniform, which is equal to civilian white tie, is only prescribed for chiefs and officers.
Enlisted sailors who are chief petty officer and above wear a uniform similar to the officers but with rank insignia and service stripes on the left sleeve. While enlisted who are petty officer first class and below have optional Dinner Dress Jacket uniforms similar to the officers and chiefs, they may also wear their Dinner Dress uniform.
Navy Dress Uniform Trivia
- The first uniform instruction for the U.S. Navy was issued by the Secretary of War in 1791.
- The Service Dress White uniform is informally called “chokers” due to the standing collar.
- Headgear is not required for Dinner Dress uniforms unless an outer jacket is worn.
The dress uniforms of our U.S. armed forces are sophisticated, stylish and worthy of serious respect. Whatever special occasion they’re worn for, these uniforms represent the best of the best of any military member’s image.
If you wore a dress uniform, what part of it did you like the best — or hated the most? Did we miss something special on any of the dress uniform descriptions? Let us know any of your thoughts in a comment here or on our social media pages.
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