While some might say this point is arguable, most agree, the U.S. Marine Corps has the best-looking uniforms in the U.S. military. That’s not to say that the U.S. Space Force’s ultra-modern Class A doesn’t look good, or that the U.S. Army’s retro pinks don’t look cool. It is merely stating that the Corps has an amazingly sharp uniform that is recognizable all over the world.
Being personally responsible for the U.S. Marine Corps’ brand is an individual Marine’s responsibility. Every time a Marine puts on the uniform; they carry that responsibility. In fact, it says so in Chapter 1 of the Marine Corps uniform regulation, MCO 1020.34H, dated 1 May 2018. The first few paragraphs cover some basic expectations.
“The Marine Corps uniform, with appropriate insignia, is designed primarily to show at a glance the branch of service and grade of the individual authorized to wear it. The uniform represents visual evidence of the authority and responsibility vested in the individual by the United States Government.
“Wearing the uniform should be a matter of personal pride to all Marines. Marines will maintain their uniforms and equipment in a neat and serviceable condition and will, by their appearance, set an example of neatness and strict conformity with these regulations.
“Marines are not known just for their battlefield prowess, but for their unparalleled standards of professionalism and uncompromising personal conduct and appearance. It is a Marine’s duty and personal obligation to maintain a professional and neat appearance. Any activity which detracts from the dignified appearance of Marines is unacceptable. The use of chewing gum, chewing tobacco, cigarettes or the consumption of food while walking in uniform or while in formation are examples of activities that detract from the appearance expected of a United States Marine.”
The Marines Corps Ball is an event where personal appearance and personal conduct collide. While the two elements are always coupled and expected from Marines, there are higher expectations of Marines at the Marine Corps Ball given the event’s legacy.
Here are some tips for appropriate wear and care of the Marine Corps uniform according to Marine Corps uniform regulations.
Marine Corps Uniform Regulations Concerning Public Shame
Marine Corps uniform regulations prohibit Marines from appearing or participating in any event in public that would compromise the dignity of the uniform. So, if you were planning a raucous pre-party before the ball at a questionable establishment, don’t do it because not only can you get in trouble because it is against regs, you will also discredit the Corps.
Marine Corps Uniform Regulations Regarding the Class A Uniform
According to Marine Corps uniform regulations, “The blue dress ‘A’ uniform may be worn for parades, ceremonies and formal or semiformal social functions, for NCOs and below throughout the year and for officers and SNCOs as appropriate to the season or those occasions requiring uniformity with NCOs and below.” The blue dress "A" uniform includes the blue dress coat with large medals. Female Marines may wear slacks in lieu of the skirt when dressing in the Class A. The Class A is the uniform of choice for most Marines attending the ball.
Marine Corps Uniform Regulations for Former Marines
Marine Corps uniform regulations state that retired Marine Corps officers may bear the title and wear the uniform of their retired grade. Similarly, the Marine Corps uniform regulations state “Former Marines not on active duty who served honorably in time of war in the Marine Corps may bear the title, and as authorized by regulations prescribed by the President, wear the uniform of the highest grade held during that war.”
That said, the Marine Corps uniform regulation clearly states: “The exercise of the rights of freedom of speech and assembly does not include the right to borrow the inherent dignity, prestige, and traditions represented by uniforms of the naval service to lend weight and significance to privately held convictions on public issues.
“Members of the Navy and Marine Corps (including retired members and members of Reserve components) are prohibited from wearing uniforms of the naval service while attending or participating in, or continuing to attend or participate in, a demonstration, assembly, or activity with knowledge that a purpose of such demonstration, assembly, or activity is the furtherance of personal or partisan views on political, social, economic, or religious issues .…”
If you’re thinking you can rock the uniform at some politically leaning event and then wear it to the ball, you’re mistaken.
Marine Corps Uniform Regulations Tips for Care
Marine Corps uniform regulations offer some straightforward tips for caring for the dress uniform when not in use. “Because of less frequent wear, use particular care when storing dress uniforms. Gold braid on evening dress uniforms may deteriorate if in close proximity to any substance containing sulphur, such as rubber and manila or craft paper. High humidity or sharp temperature changes will also cause tarnishing if the uniform is not adequately protected. An airtight plastic clothing bag with a packet of desiccant (drying agent) enclosed will give greatest protection. Place the uniform carefully on a substantial hanger and store in a dry, cool, well-ventilated closet. An experienced tailor should normally clean gold braid, although liquid nontoxic preparations available may be used if applied according to manufacturer's instructions. Embroidered insignia may be kept bright by occasional scrubbing with a nail brush and a solution of ammonia and water. Do this periodically, or as soon as any signs of tarnish or corrosion appears. In case of severe corrosion, the insignia cannot be restored to its original condition and must be replaced. The synthetic tarnish-resistant gold braided accessory items do not require heavy cleaning. A soft cloth may be carefully used to remove dust. Since temperature changes do not affect these items, store as required to protect the uniform fabric itself.”
Marine Corps Uniform Regulations for Medals
Marine Corps uniform regulations for medals clearly outlines how to wear military medals on the Class A, especially if you’re going to the Marine Corps Ball. “Hamilton Wash large and miniature medals, also known as “anodized,” may be worn at the individual’s option. Marines who exercise this option will have their own medals anodized at their own expense. Anodized medals will not be worn together with non-anodized medals by the same individual (except when a specific medal is not available in anodized finish); however, Marines with anodized medals may wear them in formation with Marines who have standard non-anodized medals.
“Medals with suspension ribbons bonded to a plastic backing instead of a metal bar are approved for wear at the option of the individual. These medals lie flatter than the standard medals ….Marines will wear all large medals to which they are entitled on dress "A" coats.”
The Marine Corps uniform regulation is packed with all the fitting do’s and don’ts of the Marine Corps uniform. If you’re attending the Marine Corps Ball and have any doubts, consult the reg and check with your leadership. You will be squared away for sure.