United States Air Force Uniform

July 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Physical Fitness

Mess Dress

Examples of officer (left) and enlisted (right) Mess Dress.

The Mess Dress Uniform is worn to formal or semi-formal occasions such as Dining ins, the annual Air Force Ball, graduations, award ceremonies and weddings. The uniform consists of a dark blue mess jacket and mess dress trousers. The Jacket features ornate silver buttons, and is worn with the service member’s awarded medals over the left breast, satin Air Force blue bow-tie and a satin Air Force blue cummerbund. Cufflinks are to be either shined or flat round silver, or have the Air Force emblem, solid black suspenders are also worn, but remain hidden while the jacket is on. Shoulder epaulets featuring an officers rank and silver wrist braids for officers are also worn. No hat or name-tag is worn with the Air Force Mess Dress Uniform.

When wearing the blue tie and cummerbund, the uniform is considered equivalent to black-tie formal wear. For white-tie occasions, a white bow-tie and waistcoat are worn. The first Air Force dress uniform, in 1947, was dubbed and patented “Uxbridge Blue” after “Uxbridge 1683 Blue”, developed at the former Bachman-Uxbridge Worsted Company.

Service dress

Current Service Dress uniforms: Officer on the left, enlisted on the right. Taken from AFI 36-2903

When the Army Air Forces first became separated from the U.S. Army, the first proposals for a service uniform featured minimal ornamentation, at the request of top commanders. However, many lower-ranked officers requested more specific badges and insignia. This debate continued through the 1980s, at which point the viewpoints in favor of greater badges and insignia had generally prevailed, and badges were issued for almost all occupational areas.

Prior to 1993, all Air Force personnel wore Air Force Blue (blue-grey) uniforms very similar in appearance to that of the U.S. Army. The current U.S. Air Force Service Dress Uniform, which was adopted in 1993 and standardized in 1995, consists of a three-button coat, similar to that of a men’s “sport jacket” (with silver “U.S.” pins on the lapels), matching trousers, and either a service cap or flight cap, all in Shade 1620, “Air Force Blue”. This is worn with a light blue shirt (Shade 1550) and a herringbone patterned necktie (Shade 1620). Enlisted members wear sleeve insignia on both the jacket and shirt, while officers wear metal rank insignia pinned onto the shoulder epaulets of the coat, and Air Force Blue slide-on loops on the epaulets of the shirt. Cadets wear the slide on “soft ranks” on both the coat and shirt.

Air Force personnel assigned to Base Honor Guard duties wear, for certain occasions, a modified version of the standard service dress uniform, but with silver trim on the sleeves and trousers, with the addition of a ceremonial belt (if necessary), wheel cap with silver trim and Hap Arnold Device, and a silver aiguillete placed on the left shoulder seam and all devices and accouterments.

Gen Merrill McPeak wearing the short-lived uniform redesign he proposed as Air Force Chief of Staff, 1993

The service dress uniform currently worn is a modification of the original version envisioned by Merrill McPeak, which featured no epaulets for any rank, and silver braid loops on the lower sleeves denoting officer rank (see also: United States Air Force officer rank insignia). This style of rank insignia for officers, while used by British Royal Air Force officers and air force officers of other commonwealth nations, is the style of the U.S. Navy service dress uniform. For this reason and others, the insignia was unpopular and many senior Air Force generals commented that the uniforms of the Air Force now looked identical to those of airline pilots. The McPeak uniform was abolished in 1999 and remains the shortest issued military insignia series in the history of the United States armed forces.

Gen. C. Robert Kehler models a test version of the proposed Air Force service dress

Epaulets were put back on the coat for metal rank insignia but the compromise uniform continued to be unpopular, primarily from its civilian-style cut. Several additional changes were made to make the jacket seem more military in appearance.

On May 18, 2006, the Department of the Air Force unveiled two prototypes of new service dress uniforms, one resembling the stand-collar uniform worn by U.S. Army Air Corps officers prior to 1935, called the “Billy Mitchell heritage coat,” and another, resembling the Army Air Forces’ Uniform of World War II and named the “Hap Arnold heritage coat”. If the stand-collar coat was selected, it would be the first stand-collar “everyday” uniform to be issued since the 1930s (the Navy’s male dress white and the U.S. Marine Corps’ dress blue uniform stand-collar coats are worn for formal occasions only). In 2007, Air Force officials announced they had settled on the “Hap Arnold” look, with a belted suit coat, but with narrower lapels than the original prototype. However, in 2009 Gen. Schwartz, CSAF, directed that “no further effort be made on the [Hap Arnold] Heritage Coat” so that the focus would remain on near-term uniform needs. While the evaluation results of the Heritage Coat would be made available to the Air Force’s future leaders should they decide to implement the uniform change, the uniform overhaul is currently on hold indefinitely.

Utility uniform

Airman Battle Uniform.

For combat and work duty, ground crews wear the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), which will be phased out in favor of the Airman Battle Uniform.

Staff Sergeant in Battle Dress Uniform

The Airman Battle Uniform was issued to Airmen deploying as part of AEFs 7/8 in Spring 2007. In October 2007, they were issued to Basic Trainees, and became available for purchase at AAFES outlets by the rest of the Air Force in June 2008.

The mandatory wear date for the Airman Battle Uniform is November 2011.

Pilots, air crews and missile crews will continue to wear olive green or desert tan one-piece flight suits made of Nomex for fire protection.

Women’s uniforms

Women’s service dress uniforms are similar in color and style to the men’s service dress uniforms, but can also include additional articles including a skirt, stockings, and women’s style garrison cap.

Currently, women wear the same utility uniforms as men; either the BDU or the flight suit, both of which come in unisex sizes.

Desert uniforms

When serving in a desert climate (such as the Persian Gulf region), Air Force personnel sometimes wear tan colored uniforms rather than the customary green. These uniforms consist of the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU), and the tan nomex flight suit for aircrew members. Members of the Air Force who are being deployed are being issued the ABU uniform (Airmen Battle Uniform). Due to the shortage of uniforms not all of the Air Force is issued ABUs.

Physical training uniform

Air Force members wearing the new PT Uniform

The Air Force designed new Physical Training Uniform that became mandatory for wear on October 1, 2006. The gear consists of shorts, t-shirt, jacket and pants. They are often times referred to as “swishy suits” due to the swishing sound produced by the pants while running.

The shorts are AF blue with silver reflective stripes on the leg, a key pocket attached to the inner liner and an ID pocket on the outside of the lower right leg. The t-shirt is a moisture wicking fabric with reflective Air Force logos on the upper left portion of the chest and across the back. The jacket is blue with silver reflective piping and a reflective inverted chevron on the back. The pants are blue with silver piping and reflective stripes.

The Air Force PTU is being redesigned for issue beginning in 2010. The new design will keep the same outer appearance but the jacket and pants are being altered with vents and an alternate material to allow for better breathing to answer to the complaints that they are too hot.

Controversy regarding safety equipment

Reflective belts are required to be worn during times from sunset to sunrise in many deployed locations by Air Force and Army personnel. They are required to be worn in every uniform, except for PT gear. Great priority is placed on wearing the reflective belt and disciplinary actions have been taken against military members not wearing the appropriate reflective belt.

Civil Air Patrol

The Civil Air Patrol, which is the volunteer Auxiliary of the United States Air Force, are permitted to wear certain Air Force uniforms with distinctive CAP insignia, if they meet Air Force grooming standards and modified height/weight standards. These uniforms include Mess Dress (for Senior Members), Service Dress, shirt-sleeve order (both long- and short-sleeved) and green NOMEX flight suits for aircrew. Currently, CAP also wears the BDU with blue insignia, but is expected to be granted the ABU at an unspecified future date.

See also

United States Air Force portal

List of camouflage patterns#North America N-Z

Uniforms of the United States Military


Military uniform

United States Army Air Forces


^ “Getting the Blues, by Tech. Sgt. Pat McKenna”. Air Force Link. http://www.af.mil/news/airman/1296/duds.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-24. 

^ “”walking tours-Uxbridge””. Blackstone Daily. http://www.blackstonedaily.com/Outdoors&Nature;/WTuxbridge.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-23. 

^ a b Whatever Happened to the Plain Blue Suit? By Bruce D. Callander, Air Force Magazine Online; Journal of the Air Force Association, July 2006, accessed 11/11/07.

^ Department of the Air Force (2002). DRESS AND APPEARANCE OF AIR FORCE PERSONNEL. Retrieved September 2, 2007.

^ Air Force News. New service dress prototypes pique interest. Retrieved May 18, 2006.

^ New service coat to better represent Airmen set for testing, by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski, Air Force Link (official USAF website), 7/19/07, accessed 11/11/07.

^ New uniforms: Comfortable, functional are goals, by Col. Steve Gray, Air Force Link, 5/15/2009, accessed 24 Aug 09.

^ Air Force Link, (2006). Airman Battle Uniform finalized, ready for production. Retrieved March 17, 2006.

^ Air Force Link, (2006).Battle Uniform available to deploying Airmen this spring. Retrieved December 10, 2006.

^ Memo from HQ AFPC Sep

^ “Airmen sound off on reflective-belt requirement”. Stars and Stripes (newspaper). http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=65860. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 

^ “Airmen speak out against reflective belts”. Air Force Times. http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2009/12/airforce_belts_120409w/. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 

^ “Airmen Bomb Silly Safety Belt Rules, on Facebook”. Wired News. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/10/airmen-take-to-facebook-to-protest-silly-safety-regs/. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 

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