Getting It Right: U.S. Military – Service Uniforms

kathy rowe bdusOur last episode discussed combat uniforms. Today we move on to my least favorite uniform: service uniform. Okay, I joined the Air Force so I could wear camouflage. I’ve always thought it was cool looking. And in my 20 years, I wore it a lot — and loved it. But when it came time to “dress up,” I was less than excited. Military service uniforms have a reputation of being ill-fitting, hot, uncomfortable, and downright costly.

Most services have three variations: a service uniform, a service dress uniform, and a mess dress uniform. What’s the difference, you ask? It all depends on how formal you need to look. A service uniform is considered “office” type clothing. You wear this uniform when working in non-dirty jobs like personnel and admin, finance, and public relations. The basic uniform consists of a hat, shirt (short or long-sleeved), nametag, tie or tab (sometimes optional), slacks (trousers), belt, and dress shoes. Depending on the branch of service, you may be required to wear your ribbons on a service uniform. Most services other than the USAF call their service uniform “Class B’s.”

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In the photograph above, this is standard USAF service uniform for officer (left) and enlisted (right).

All services have skirts women can wear. I was not a fan of mine and usually wore slacks whenever possible.

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You can see a variety of service uniform variations in the photograph above.

USAF permits no tie or tab with short sleeves, but you MUST wear a tie or tab if you have long sleeves.

Trying to remember all the services’ dress and personal appearance regulations can be mind boggling. I had enough trouble just remembering what I was wearing!

Here’s the USAF reg on dress and appearance: Yes, it’s painful reading, they all are. Here’s a more user-friendly USAF site:

Now on to service dress uniform. The only difference in most cases is the addition of the service coat which has a nametag and ribbons worn on it along with the other mandatory items: collar pins and occupational badge(s). The hat is normally the “wheel” cap version for men and the “bucket” cap for women. Flight caps can also be worn at the commander’s discretion depending on the function. These are known in other services as “Class A’s.”

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Mess dress uniforms are reserved for the highest functions. They are the “tuxedos” of the military world. These are worn to “Dining-Ins,” which are military-only social functions. You might also see mess dress worn at a military wedding, funeral, or more rarely, a retirement ceremony. The women’s mess dress has an ankle-length skirt that is mandatory. Medals are worn, not ribbons, and with the exception of the Medal of Honor, they are all miniature in size. Mess dress is a mandatory uniform for officers to have. Enlisted can swap out their blue shirt for a white one and that is suitable for formal occasions. Mess dress uniforms are the most expensive to purchase and maintain.

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Not to be unfair to the other services, here are some great links you can use to learn the correct terminology for each branch’s uniforms.

Army: and

Navy: They have a huge amount of uniforms in their inventory. Make sure you select the right one according to enlisted or officer, the season (yes, they have seasonal uniforms) and the location of your story.

Marine Corps: Bless this service! They rarely make changes to their uniforms. And they are all about classy! Go to page 75 in the PDF to get to the good stuff.

Coast Guard: This is a user-friendly site with cute little cartoon-looking figures.

Next time we’ll discuss the real war-fighting tools of the U.S. military: small arms. A soldier in combat without a good rifle is no better than man trying to fish with a broken pole. Small arms have evolved over the centuries of warfare and continue to evolve almost on a daily basis.

Author: K. Rowe

K. Rowe is an experienced and prolific multi-genre author. She draws from over twenty years of active Air Force service. Kathy lives in eastern Kentucky with her husband and a zoo of farm animals. Among her many duties she finds time to offer services as a publishing consultant for new authors. Learn more about Kathy from Facebook, and her Amazon author page.

One thought on “Getting It Right: U.S. Military – Service Uniforms”

  1. Since I was an 03 (grunt/ infrantry in my case 0351 dragon gunner) there was really only 1 time a year where I would need something other than a pickle suit. That time was November 10 or the Marine Corp birthday. Or at least for the Marine Corp Ball that happened around that date. This special event calls for the highest grade uniform you have.

    Shortly after I graduated bootcamp dress blues were issued to everyone graduating. Because I didn’t receive them, the highest grade I owned were my service Alphas (olive trousers, long sleeve khaki shirt, tie, olive jacket, and olive cover. This uniform also required medals and ribbons).

    I was married in dress blues. Which I borrowed for the occasion. At the time of my wedding I was a corporal and rated my NCO sword. It would have been appropriate to wear the sword for the wedding.

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