The clothing makes the man (or the woman), and that’s as true of the military as it is of any other culture. But the number of different uniforms that a service member owns and the specific rules that surround many of them can make them seem unapproachable to someone not well versed in the culture.
Fortunately, we’re here to help demystify the situation and help you understand what all the different uniforms mean.
Service uniforms are what you’re most likely to see a service member wearing on a day-to-day basis. As such, the service uniform is usually built with practicality above all else. Service uniforms are more about being pragmatic than they are about impressing people with their flamboyance.
Typically, a service uniform isn’t going to be that different from what a professional wears around the office on an average day. You can expect khakis and blazers with military insignia present but not front and center.
A service uniform will express that a member is in the military, but it won’t have any of the fatigues or gear you’d expect from a soldier out in the field.
Also known as a “working uniform”, a combat uniform is what a soldier is expected to wear out in the field. Rather than being focused on expressing an air of respectability, combat uniforms are designed to give a soldier the best rate of success in combat.
As a result, the uniform can vary based on the environment a soldier is being dropped into or what their proficiencies and talents are.
Combat uniforms incorporate some degree of insignia into their design, but they aren’t displayed as prominently as they might be in service uniforms. Rather than being intended as a way of honorarily respecting the achievements of a service member, combat uniforms are designed to help soldiers quickly identify officers and other soldiers with a glance.
Combat uniforms are often the most common part of a soldier’s professional wardrobe, and their simple design means that they’re worn out in public often as well.
Since many combat uniforms are simply a variation on a t-shirt, jacket, and camo pants, this sort of uniform is often seen being worn by soldiers who are going about their daily activities.
Dress uniforms are designed for use in special occasions. That means that you won’t see them worn on a day-to-day basis, but they’re some of the most impressive clothing a service member wears as part of their vocation.
Dress uniforms are all about pomp and circumstance, and they tend to exaggerate the stylistic flourishes of the particular branch of the military a service member is enlisted in.
The clothing here is formal – including a nice jacket, slacks, and dress shoes. Despite being more elaborate than other military wear, dress uniforms tend to be as stately and understated as the military in general is.
Black, green, and blue uniforms are common, but you’ll also find a decent amount of white options. In some branches of the military, there are variations of different formal dress, with the clothing becoming more elaborate as events become more formal.
The US Military is all about formality. By creating these legacies of service, military service members are allowed to exist in an unbroken continuity of heroism and service. That level of structure makes these uniforms comfortably familiar, but it’s the distinctions between different military uniforms that help them remain truly unique.
What a soldier wears into battle – and what they wear to formal events – tells a story worth telling all by itself, and it can put the lives of soldiers into better perspective.