The rules of etiquette in the military can put any high society gathering to shame. Dense, complex, and filled with rituals that often date back generations, military etiquette can often seem confusing to bystanders – and even to military members who haven’t had years of experience in more formal gatherings. But this etiquette serves an important purpose within the military: creating a sense of unity and family. Fortunately, the basics of military dress-up etiquette aren’t that complicated. A military member will traditionally have three different uniforms, and each of them serves a different practical and ceremonial purpose.
Combat uniforms may get used in combat, but they’re more likely to be seen during day-to-day affairs. This is the most practical of the primary three military uniforms – it typically just consists of a coat, a t-shirt, pants, boots, and a hat. In most standard situations, this is what a service member will be wearing on the job. Military symbols that signify rank will still be present on military uniforms, but they’re more subdued than they’re presented on more formal uniforms. The goal here is more pragmatic than ceremonial, so you’re unlikely to see service members wearing their whole array of medals and ribbons on a combat uniform.
The service uniform is probably the military dress that you’re most familiar with. Functionally, it’s not dissimilar from a traditional business casual outfit, but there are some notable distinctions that make a service uniform stand out from the rest of the room. The khaki button-down that’s typically part of this uniform comes accompanied by medals and ribbons, and a hat is also a part of the service uniform. Apart from this, it consists of simply slacks and shoes. Service uniforms are designed for working in offices, and they’re also the most visible choice for when service members are interacting with the public. That makes them the most visibly recognizable of the standard military service uniforms.
When service members need to go to a formal event, they’re almost always going to be wearing their dress uniforms. Dress uniforms lean deeply into the pageantry and gallantry of the military – and while more uptight service members might not admit it, they’re a great opportunity to show off one’s achievements. That said, dress uniforms are easily the most complicated type of uniforms used in the armed forces. Many branches will have separate uniforms and regulations for different types of events. But for those who are just trying to get by, a dress uniform is hard to miss. They’ll pair dressier shoes and socks with a more formal and elaborate jacket than what you’ll find on a service uniform.
The Complexities of Military Uniforms
Picking out the basics of military uniforms is easy. Understanding all the complexities isn’t. As we mentioned above, there are a ton of different rules in place for dress uniforms, and these only grow more complex the higher you climb up the chain of command. All service members are required to memorize the specifics early on, but there’s a lot to take in. While the formality of an event can affect what’s allowed to be worn, the appropriate dress can also vary depending on your season and gender.
And while the rules of combat, service, and dress uniforms are pretty standard, each branch has its own rules and its own uniforms. Fortunately, understanding the basics of the army dress uniform should be enough to help you get by the next time you find yourself at a formal military gathering.