Military Dress Uniforms by Branch: A Guide
All branches of the U.S. military forces have military dress uniforms. Uniforms, generally speaking, are a source of pride and they represent the discipline, professionalism, and uniformity of each service member and their respective branch.
For formal and ceremonial events, military dress uniforms are worn in accordance with regulations that provide a baseline standard for all to follow. USAMM put together this list of military dress uniforms as a reference.
Army Military Dress Uniforms
The Army Dress Blues are the appropriate uniform to wear for both enlisted soldiers and officers on national holidays, memorial services, nuptials, weddings, and specific military ceremonial events like a military ball or dining-in.
The Army’s military dress uniforms are based on the Army’s cavalry heritage and uniforms from the 1800s. They are highly regarded in the Army’s ranks.
The Army’s military dress uniforms consist of:
- White dress shirt with long sleeves
- Black necktie (or bow ties); black necktie for ladies
- Blue Army coat
- For women, blue skirt or pants
- Beret, although it is not necessary for evening events
- The Army blue coat will include unit awards, battle and skill badges, full-sized medals, and ribbons, identifying badge, branch and regimental insignia, service hash marks, and applicable overseas service bars
- Officers and enlisted soldiers (corporal and higher) wear Army blue trousers with a single, 1.5-inch, gold braid and generals wear two braids spaced 0.5 inches apart
Navy Military Dress Uniforms
Like the Army, the Navy’s military dress uniforms are worn to formal occasions like weddings, funerals, balls, and galas. Ribbons are changed to full-sized medals over the left breast pocket when wearing military dress uniforms. Ribbons that do not have a medal equivalent are worn over the right breast pocket.
Like the Army, officers are allowed to carry swords or cutlasses as are chief petty officers. However, the Navy has many combinations of military dress uniforms called dinner dress that can also be worn.
Evening military dress uniforms include:
- Dinner attire in blue and white, accessorized without ribbons with small medals and badges; black bow tie and a formal shirt worn with blue; women can wear appropriate skirts or bottoms
- Dinner dress blue/white jacket consisting of a short jacket with three buttons on either side that is worn open with a black bow tie and cummerbund (women wear neck tabs in place of bow ties); male officers display rank stripes on the sleeves of the blue jacket and shoulder boards on the white jacket while female officers wear sleeve stripes
- Formal dress is identical to dinner dress blue jacket military dress uniforms except that officers wear a white waistcoat with gold buttons in place of the cummerbund, a white bow tie; these Navy military dress uniforms are almost always worn by officers and chief petty officers
- Petty officer first class or below enlisted sailors may choose to wear a dinner dress jacket.
Air Force Military Dress Uniforms
The U.S. Air Force follows similar rules to that of the Navy and Army when it comes to black tie attire. For formal or semi-formal events, the Air Force military dress uniforms are worn.
Men are required to wear a dark blue mess jacket and mess dress trousers. Women in the Air Force have the choice of donning evening-length, coordinating-colored skirts or mess dress trousers. Cummerbunds are in satin Air Force blue and mean wear a satin blue bow tie; women wear a tab.
The Air Force’s mess dress uniforms:
- have mini medals above the left breast pocket along with miniature wings or a specialty badges.
- does not include hats or name tags.
- for enlisted personnel include the same-sized rank insignia they wear on their service jackets.
- include shoulder boards for commissioned officers and colonels and below have their rank insignia in raised threading bordered by two silver stripes that are similar to a sleeve braid.
- for generals are similar and their shoulder boards are covered nearly entirely by the silver metallic braid and silver stars in raised metallic thread are worn commensurate to the general’s rank.
Marine Corps Military Dress Uniforms
There are common threads woven in the flag of the United States and the military dress uniforms of the Marine Corps. According to the Marine Corps, the military dress uniforms are sewn from the ideals America stands for and the resolve that Marines fight with; it is the only uniform in the U.S. military designated to include the red, white, and blue colors of the American flag.
The distinctive dress blue uniform Marines wear represents the values Marines live, and has origins dating back to the American Revolution. Dress blues are worn for many events, including ceremonies with foreign officials, visits with U.S. civil officials, and formal social functions attended in an official capacity. Wherever Marines wear this uniform, they do so proudly, standing united as the moral fiber that forms the fabric of our Nation.
The promotion corporal is a momentous one for all enlisted Marines, as it means they have been trusted to serve as noncommissioned officers, a designation that allows them to add the "Blood Stripe" to their uniform. Traditionally, officers, staff noncommissioned officers, and noncommissioned officers of the Marine Corps have worn this scarlet red stripe on their dress blue trousers to commemorate the courage and tenacious fighting of the men who fought in the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847. Today, the blood stripe symbolizes honor and the nation's gratitude for all fallen Marines.
There are many variations of Marine Corps military dress uniforms including the blue dress uniform (which includes uniform variants A. B, C, and D), the blue-white dress uniform, the red dress uniform, the evening dress uniform (which includes A or B options), and finally the senior noncommissioned officer evening dress uniforms.
U.S. Space Force Military Dress Uniforms
The U.S. Space Force (USSF) is the sixth and newest branch of the U.S. armed forces. USSF branched out from the U.S. Air Force a few years ago much like how the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force in 1947.
Initially, Guardians of USSF wore Air Force uniforms, but that has since changed. In 2021, USSF released its new military dress uniforms and it was met with mixed results. Some likened the uniforms to something out of a low-budget science-fiction TV show, while others thought the uniforms were progressive and reflected the unique mission of USSF. Whatever your feelings, the collars, ranks, insignia are all new and unique.
Testing and force feedback will continue on this uniform through 2025. The design has been adopted but field testing will surely bring in necessary improvements and changes.
Coast Guard Military Dress Uniforms
Although not part of the Department of Defense unless they are mobilized to serve under U.S. Navy control, we are including the Coast Guard in this post.
The Coast Guard’s military dress uniforms are similar to their service dress blue alpha uniform which consists of a blue, four-pocket, single-breasted jacket with matching pants, tie, white shirt and combination cap. The full-dress blue includes full-size medals, white gloves, and a sword for officers. Name tags are not worn.
The full-dress whites are the same as the service dress whites with the same appurtenances as the full dress blues.
Dinner dress uniforms (blue and white) are the same as full dress blue and white except that miniature medals and badges are worn rather than full-size and a black bow tie is worn instead of a blue necktie.
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