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Three Military Uniform Rules That Are Non-Negotiable

Uniformity is a word that is synonymous with military service. Objectives are more easily obtained and environments are more easily controlled when there is a set standard for compliance.

Uniforms make an individual a part of a larger organizational culture. The military services expect their members to comply to military uniform rules which govern wear and use of the military uniform, so it is no surprise that each branch of service has its own military uniform rules, or regulations, on how, when and where to wear the military uniform of each branch of service.

These basic uniform wear instructions are imparted on military recruits in their entry level induction training, whether it is basic training for enlisted or officer candidate school for officers and warrant officers. Everyone learns the fundamental military uniform rules, written and unwritten.

Here are three rules to help keep you guided just in case.

US Navy officer inspecting a female sailors dress uniform

1. Threads are dead
One of the first assaults young recruits perform is on their own uniforms. Upon being issued, recruits are instructed to rid their uniforms of long threads. The reason for this military uniform rule is because long threads dangling from uniforms make military members look unkept and unprofessional. This is also an exercise in attention to detail.

Trainees attack their uniforms with nail clippers and a lighter, trimming and burning threads systematically starting at the top or bottom of their garment then working their way down until all threads are removed from buttons, along hems, pockets, cuffs, and anywhere else a fray or strand might attempt to make a service member look like a Private Snuffy.

Military uniform rules in this case, help the service member look more professional.

2. Check your patches
In the past, patches, service and name tapes were sewn on directly to the unform. There was no opportunity to make a mistake involving those uniform elements unless they were incorrectly sewn on from the start.

However, today’s combat uniforms, with their removable patches and tapes, create opportunities for military members, mostly in the Air Force and Army, to mistakenly place patches in the wrong places on their uniforms. Of all the military uniform rules to follow, this one is the one to pay the most attention to if you wear a uniform because it is easy to slip up and put something on the wrong side or in the wrong place.

US Marine corps soldiers at attention being inspected by drill sergeant

Checking placement of military patches is the most important of the military uniform rules. The easiest way around it is to simply leave your patches on your uniform when you launder them. While some individuals state that this degrades the quality of the patch and its ability to grip the hook-and-loop fasteners, this is a great way to ensure you are following the military uniform rules of ensuring proper placement of patches.

3. Wear the right uniform
Generally speaking, there are basically three types of uniforms for military personnel to wear and they must be worn within military uniform rules. Knowing what to wear and when is easy, but at special events that clarity can get foggy.

Military uniform rules stipulate that the combat uniform is a working uniform. These uniforms are what used to be known as fatigues. They are normally worn daily in the work environment, including administrative settings, but much depends on the military uniform rules set by the organization of the military member. For example, at the Pentagon, the service dress uniform was normally worn, but after 9/11, military members there were told that the military uniform rules were changed and they were allowed the wear the combat uniform.

US Air Force NCO inspecting airman's uniform medals with a ruler

Military uniform rules state that most combat uniforms are comprised of a blouse top, pants, a belt, boots, a t-shirt and hat or cover. These uniforms are commonly camouflaged and have subdued name, rank and service tapes and insignia. These uniforms are also worn while in combat or in the field.

Service uniforms are also governed by military uniform rules. Like the combat uniform, they are an everyday uniform. Service uniforms, in comparison, are similar to business dress in the civilian sector. These uniforms tend to be worn by forward-facing personnel like recruiters, public affairs officers or individuals who have exposure externally.

The military uniform rules state that these uniforms are ordinarily made up of low quarter shoes, slacks, a collared shirt and even a tie if military uniform rules call for it. Ribbons which represent awards and decorations, can also be worn as can other insignia. Like other uniforms, a hat or cover is required when outdoors.

The most widely misinterpreted military uniform rules belong to the military dress uniforms. These uniforms are rarely worn because they are semi-formal and formal and equate to tuxedos in the civilian world. Service members get only a few opportunities to wear these each year.

“Mess” uniforms as they are known, have various military uniform rules like whether or not a cover is required. In some cases, military uniform rules state that no cover is required if the uniform is being worn at a certain time of day. In other cases, and locations, it is required.

USN sailors in dress uniform being inspected by an officer

There are various levels of formality and various colors of these uniforms. What is worn is dictated by the military uniform rules of the unit, the branch and the local policies.

Following these three basic rules will keep you out of trouble with eagle-eyed military leaders looking to make a uniform correction. When in doubt, always check with your chain of command, whether you are an officer or enlisted. Senior enlisted leaders in units are experts in uniform wear. Most of the time, they can be an invaluable resource to ensure you look your best, correctly.

When all else fails, read and learn the uniform regulations of your service. It is time well spent.

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