How many different types of uniforms must a typical armed forces service person own?

I’m sure that they all have what we civilians would think of as “camo” uniforms but what about dress uniforms? When I google “dress uniforms”, I see many different varieties. Surely Joe Private isn’t required to own all of the different types as they must be pretty expensive. Does the need for additional uniforms increase with rank?


PS. I was thinking about American uniforms but if your background is from a different country, please feel free to chime in.

In Canada, at least, soldiers are issued the appropriate uniforms for their rank and trade. This includes combats for everyday (or if not combats, appropriate workday dress) and a dress uniform again appropriate to rank and trade. This will include suit, shirt, tie, shoes, etc., to be worn on Parade and ceremonial occasions. Soldiers are responsible for tailoring their dress uniform appropriately and correctly attaching individual insignia.

However, commissioned officers are required to purchase their own mess kit at their own cost. These are the flashy formal uniforms to be worn to mess dinners, etc., and can be very expensive. They are usually required to be purchased within 6 months of commission. This is very simplified, but it’s the gist.

There is no usual.

There are generally three types of uniforms.

Duty or organizational clothing. These are uniforms generally worn due to the origination you are with. Usually camo.

Working or dress uniforms are for the work day in a normal office.

And then more formal dress are for more formal evening or suit and tie type stuff.

And in the Navy at least, there are Summer and Winter forms of working and formal.

And yes as you get more senior, specially for Officers, it gets more costly.

But all of the Services are different, and they change all the time.

Back when I was in the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer in the '90s and '00s, I owned numerous different uniforms. They basically boiled down down to summer and winter versions of shipboard uniforms, normal office wear, dressy office wear, and dress uniforms. There was some overlap for shipboard and normal office wear uniforms.

Summer uniforms:
[li]Shipboard: cotton Working Khaki* (in-port); blue Working Coveralls (at sea)[/li][li]Normal office wear: Synthetic or wool-blend Service Khaki[/li][li]Dressy office wear: Summer White[/li][li]Dress uniform: Service Dress White; Dinner Dress White[/li][/ul]

Winter uniforms:
[li]Shipboard: same as summer[/li][li]Normal office wear: same as summer[/li][li]Dressy office wear: Service Dress Blue (SDB)[/li][li]Dress uniform: Dinner Dress Blue[/li][/ul]

I had 3-5 sets of cotton Working Khakis, and about the same number of synthetic or wool-blend Service Khakis. I wore the former as my normal working uniform when attached to a sub, and the latter as my normal working uniform when working at a shore-based office command. Because these uniforms were worn daily, they usually needed to be replaced every year.

I had 2-3 sets of Summer Whites, which were the designated uniform of the day on Fridays in the summer. I had one SDB coat for the winter, and 2-3 shirts and trousers. SDBs were the designated uniform of the day on Fridays in the winter.

I had one set of Dress Whites, with the different insignia for the Service and Dinner versions. The Dinner Dress Blue coat was the same coat as the SDB coat, with the substitution of a bow tie for the standard necktie.

As a junior officer, I never had to buy the Dinner Dress Blue Jacket, which was only required for lieutenant commanders and above.

Finally, note that because I was a commissioned officer, I was required to purchase all of my uniforms at my own expense. The only exception was shipboard coveralls (and a jacket), which were supplied by my command (and which I later had to return).
*I believe that the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) has since replaced the Working Khaki uniform. This uniform didn’t yet exist when I was in the service.

In the army there was an effort to cut down on the number of uniforms a few years ago. Now there are basically two. The ACU uniform is used for everyday use. The Universal Camouflage Pattern is being replaced by the Operational Camoflage Pattern. This is used in most garrison, field and office settings.

The dress uniform is the Army Service Uniform which was adapted from the old dress blues. You can also wear just the shirt, either long or short sleeve, and look like a bus driver. The ASU is used for formal occasions and also some office assignments depending on the job.

Previously the first level of dress uniform was the old Class A green uniform. Dress Blues were optional for more formal occasions.

There is also a Physical Training Uniform which is now black and gold replacing the grey and black uniforms. Both are still authorized.

In the recent past there were more formal uniforms that were rarely seen except on high ranking officers like the blue dress mess uniform and the white dress mess uniform.

In the further past there were uniforms like pink and greens and khaki dress uniforms.

Specifically, for the Canadian Forces, these would be:

  • Service Dress (daily wear for office environments - shirt, pants, sweater, tunic)
  • Combat gear (for field use and many workshop-type environments)
  • Flight gear (for those involved in flying or closely connected with it)
  • Naval combat dress (for those involved with maritime operations or just in related units)
  • Mess kit (fancy dress outfit; optional for reserve force and non-commissioned members)
  • Ceremonial dress (some units; traditional fancy gear for parades and things)

In the Army it’s generally three: PT uniforms, ACU work/field uniform, and ASU dress uniform. There are also a number of specialized uniforms like mechanic’s coveralls, mess whites for food handlers, and vehicle crewman uniforms. How many you own will depend on what your job is.

Rather than reiterate all of the above, I’ll just say that you have an issued uniform allotment given to you in boot camp (Navy), which includes everything down to underwear, socks, belts and shoes. From then on, you are given a uniform maintenance allowance in your paycheck (I think mine was the princely sum of $6.00/month) to take care of said uniforms. If they wear out, you are (or were) required to purchase new ones out of your own pocket.

As a Seabee (Naval Construction Force), I was also issued six sets of “greens”, which were OD working uniforms, including hats, belt, socks and work boots. Also a hard hat. I think the uniform has changed to camouflage in the years since I retired. When I was in the service, these could be turned in for new uniform items as they wore out. Uniform insignia, name tags, etc., were at the member’s expense.

When I made E-7, there was a complete change of uniform, which I had to purchase on my own nickel.

OK. I felt like a first grader looking at the Service Dress White uniform versus the Dinner Dress White uniform and trying to spot the differences. To my untrained eye, the differences are minute. Are there any “overlaps” between the uniforms? IE, could the same pants be worn with either coat? Are the coats actually the same? Is it all the same except for the ribbons/medals?

Regarding: coverall uniforms. Presumably, the guys that where such uniforms are the ones that might tend to get dirty and greasy. Are stains a problem? Can I wear a stained coverall as long as it’s been cleaned?

A somewhat related question: What do you call the long overcoat Air Force flyers wear when burying a fellow pilot, the one mentioned in the book “The Right Stuff” as being the most expensive piece of clothing in the US Armed forces?

Sorry if I wasn’t clear in my previous post, but yes, the Service Dress White and Dinner Dress White uniform are basically the same thing. You just put on different insignia (normal ribbons for Service Dress, miniature medals for Dinner Dress). For that matter, there’s also the ceremonial Full Dress White which again is basically the same clothing with different insignia (large medals + ribbons).

The white trousers and white shoes for this uniform are the same white trousers and shoes used for the Summer White uniform (which is far more frequently worn than any of the dress white uniforms). The combination cover (i.e. hat) is the same hat for all of these uniforms, and is also used in the winter with all of the Service/Dinner Dress Blue uniforms.

There is also only one type of blue (actually black) trousers and black shoes used with all of the winter uniforms.

Everyone (officer and enlisted) typically wears blue coveralls at sea on a submarine. We did have heavier duty green coveralls available for particularly dirty work. (I once wore a set of these for an inspection of the main ballast tanks while in drydock). The coveralls were all issued by the command, so they could be replaced if they got ripped or stained.

One reason the Navy got rid of the old dungarees (scroll down the list of “Obsolete uniforms”) that used to be worn by enlisted sailors was because the solid blue shirts showed grease stains so readily. The desire to make stains and wear not so noticeable is the reason the Navy went with the new Navy Working Uniform (NWU).

USCG 1980s

Service Dress Blue: Dark Blue coat, long dark blue pants, Light Blue long sleeve shirt, necktie. Usually in office work or inspections. You are to travel to another station in this unless you are part of a work detail. There was a white shirt and white gloves for more formal things such things as change of command if requested (one CDR did and it sent everyone scurrying looking for those white gloves issued 15 years ago) Wearing outdoors with combination hat (big white top) or the less common garrison hat (one you can fold in your belt, similar to a Boy Scout hat, elegantly known as “cunt cap”) Wear with polished black dress shoes (shiny plastic shoes generally okay although I think they were discouraged after a Navy ship was hit by a missile in the Persian Gulf and many wearing these suffered nasty burns).

A variation is tropical blue short. Same dark blue pants, shoes and hat but short sleeve light blue shirt with open collar and no necktie. Only valid where command authorized it (i.e. in warm weather months) where Service Dress Blue always authorized.

Working uniform for those who do manual labor. Dark blue pants made from a different material with dark blue shirt, long or short sleeve depending on season. Known unaffectionately as Ralph Kramden Bus Driver uniforms. Actually I think we were issued the short sleeve and years later the long sleeve came out. Worn outdoors with a dark baseball cap with USCG insignia or most units issued their own with the unit’s name on them. You are not supposed to travel from home to work in this uniform unless the command authorized it (USCG Yard Curtiss Bay Md didn’t) and not to do other things like go shopping.

Of course there are a few oddball exceptions. One TT (telephone tech) I knew got stationed in Italy and because of Red Brigade terrorism got to wear civvies, long hair and a beard.

I thought the question was more about the uniform requirements in general:

Yes, the giant bureaucracies of military regulations spell out the minimum number of uniform items a service member must possess (in at least “serviceable” condition).

In the US Navy, there will be an occasional (annual?) “seabag inspection” ordered by the command, to double check to ensure that the enlisted service member is complying with that uniform regulation. (The stuff is ordered to be placed on display, and the Chief/NCO’s perform a visual check.)

I did not see any serious consequences arising from a missing (or unacceptably degraded) uniform item, other than the Chief ordering the service member to purchase a replacement item within a given time period. Captain’s Mast for “failure to obey a lawful order” I think would be the most likely extreme consequence.

I do not know if the Officers have to do a “seabag inspection” of each other. They are treated more like grown ups than the enlisted are. :slight_smile:

For the US Marine Corps in the 80s and 90s we had three common uniforms: working, service, and dress uniforms.

Our working uniforms were camouflage utilities and boots. We called them utilities, or cammies. The Army called them BDUs, Battle Dress Uniforms.

Our service uniforms were olive drab trousers and khaki shirts and black shoes. We had two versions. Service A was long sleeve shirt, tie, and OD jacket (like a suit & tie’s jacket). Service C was short sleeve shirt, no jacket.

Dress Blues were not issued to us, we had to buy them. But the Marine Corps changed that later. There was also Mess Dress, very fancy like a tuxedo and it had a bowtie, but I never had nor even saw that. Here’s a sample:

There were some variations to these but that was basically it. There was a PT uniform - OD gym shorts and undershirt. That was 20-30 years ago when I was in.

Nope…I never had a seabag inspection. I was expected to have enough uniforms in a serviceable condition to look presentable at all times.

USAF in the 1980s was/is(?) not too different from all the above. All the below is told from the male POV, but the female POV was/is almost identical with a couple extra options (mostly pants or skirts and maternity stuff).

You’d be issued any occupation-specific clothing in adequate, though not princely quantity. This would be hospital whites, aircrew flight suits, some specialist coveralls, etc. As that stuff got stained or worn you’d turn it in for fresh. I never encountered a problem with that but I suppose if you wanted new every week somebody would prevent that.
Beyond that there was the office-worker uniform (= civilian suit) and the works-outdoors uniform called “fatigues” (= civilian blue collar outfit). Which was then olive drab and is now some flavor of camo.

The officer worker uniform: Enlisted would be issued enough and officers were expected to buy their own. There were two lines available for purchase: the cheaply made bulk stuff that was issued to the enlisted, and a nicer grade of better material & craftsmanship that senior enlisted or officers were expected to buy.

That was dress shoes, slacks, belt, short and long sleeve dress shirts, suit jacket, tie, hat (flat fabric cap & round billed hat), plus insignia, ribbons, etc. Plus a couple gradations of windbreaker or trench coat for the weather.

If you didn’t work in an office, one of each was plenty since you rarely wore this uniform. If you did work in an office, you needed two full suits plus a week’s worth of shirts.
The fatigue uniform was simpler: boots, pants, belt, undershirt, shirt, and baseball cap. Plus a winter coat. It was only available in the issue quality. All the devices and insignia were sown or embroidered on. Again enlisted were issued and officers bought their own. Most officers in my era were either pilots or office workers and never had a reason to buy these uniforms. Maintenance and civil engineering officers wore these every day instead of the office worker uniform. Almost all enlisted had use for these since they were occasionally press-ganged into manual labor even if they had an office job.

I understand that in recent years there’s been a trend for most office workers to wear the now-camo fatigues most days instead of the traditional office worker uniform. It shows solidarity with the troops in the war or something.
Finally that leaves the fancy dress uniforms; the military equivalent to the tuxedo.

Junior enlisted didn’t have a separate one since they almost never needed one. Instead there was a prescribed way to gussy up the basic blue suit: change to a white civilian dress shirt & a black bow-tie.

OTOH, most senior enlisted and all officers had to buy the so-called mess dress. Which was essentially a tuxedo. Extra shiny shoes, pants with side stripe, ruffle-y shirt with studs & cufflinks instead of buttons, cummerbund, and short-cut overjacket. It also required totally different types of ribbons or medals, insignia and badges.

There were a couple more extremely specialized uniforms for honor guards, embassy officers, etc. But nobody had those unless they had that job.
So as an officer pilot I owned 6 issued flight suits & two matching jackets, one dress blue suit with one blue shirt plus windbreaker I bought, and 1 mess dress I bought. And two hats I bought: the flat fabric cap we always wore and the round billed hat we never wore.

My wife was a JAG officer and so worked in an office. She had 2 complete blue suits she’d bought with skirt & pants for each, 6 short- and 6 long-sleeve shirts, issue purse. Plus one mess dress she’d bought. And the two women’s equivalent hats to mine.

Bottom line: not really much different than any corporate warrior today. Just a little more prescribed and less ad lib.

Oh yeah, PT uniforms. What is this PT of which you other services speak? :slight_smile:

Seriously there was no uniform for that. Yes we usually had PT, but you wore whatever you wanted. The BX did sell some USAF logo stuff that was popular, but by no means required or standardized.

Everyone has pretty much covered the three “types” of uniforms–PT, Duty, and Service uniforms. If you’re interested in quantities of each, here is the entire list of uniform items issued to soldiers.

Every soldier is required to have at least this much of everything on hand throughout his/her career. Soldiers are given a uniform allowance every year to maintain their uniforms and replace them as necessary. Personally, I own dozens of ACUs (that I don’t even wear anymore now that OCP is authorized). I only have three OCPs, but I will be getting more as time goes on.
I also have four or five complete dress uniforms. One of them is summer-weight. Its a thinner material for hot weather. The need to wear a dress uniform always seems to pop up unexpectedly, so its a good idea to always have at least one dress uniform ready to wear hanging in the closet. I also have two sets of shined boots.

In the Army, it’s called an All Weather Coat. On the link above it’s listed as “Coat, Mns, All Weather, Dbl Breasted”.

I was in the USCG from 1978 to 1982. We had 1) working uniforms, 2)undress uniforms, and 3) dress uniforms, with tropical varients for the dress and undress uniforms.

  1. Working uniforms - There were three sorts of these when I was in.
    . A. Utilities - This is what we were issued in boot camp. Permanent press black slacks with patch pockets and a blueish green shirt. The short sleeved shirt was button up, the long sleeved was a pull over placket front. Ball cap or watch cap in cold weather
    . B. Dungarees - Optional but approved. Blue denim bell bottom pants. Light blue short sleeved chambray shirt. You got those at the PX as soon as you finished boot camp and only wore the utilities after that for the really dirty jobs.
    . C. Working Blue - Were introduced about a year after I finished boot camp. Dark blue permanent press pants and matching color button up short sleeved shirt. Very similar to the dark blue Dickies type work shirt and pants you could get at Sears. About a year and a half after the Working Blue came out, utilities and dungarees were forbidden.

  2. Undress Blue - Same pants as Working Blue. They were Undress Blue first. Light blue long sleeved shirt with necktie or light blue short sleeved open collar shirt (for tropical). Combination cap or overseas (aka ‘cunt’) cap. Some units allowed a ball cap.

  3. Dress Blue - All dress blues had the same pants, dark blue send to the dry cleaner type. Same shirts and tie as the undress blues. Dress blue long had a jacket that matched the pants. Officer’s short sleeve dress shirts had a buttonhole and loop for shoulder boards. Enlisted wore their rank on their collar points.

  4. Dress White - For tropical version, Dress Blue with large medals instead of ribbons and white gloves and combination hat. Dress White long was the blue trousers and jacket, white long sleeve shirt, tie, large medals, white gloves, and combination hat. Swords for officers if so designated by the command.

  5. Dinner Dress White - Dress White with a black bowtie and miniature medals. For when a civilian might wear a tuxedo.

Basically, if you had Working Blues and Dress Blues, with a white shirt and gloves to spare, you could put together Undress Blues and Dress Whites.

Wrong branch. Tom Wolfe was referring to the US Navy Officer’s Bridge Coat. It’s a Melton wool knee or shin length pea coat with brass buttons. Shoulder Boards too.

21+ years in the Navy, and I never had a seabag inspection. Which was a good thing, because after my first enlistment I wouldn’t have been able to pass one… :slight_smile: