Dress uniform (often referred to as Full Dress Uniform, to distinguish it from Mess Dress, and from semi-formal uniforms, such as the British Army's Service Dress), is the most formal military uniform, typically worn at ceremonies, official receptions, and other special occasions; with order insignias and full size medals. The uniform design may be distinct to a service (Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.), or to a Regiment or Branch of Service. Although they are often brightly colored, and adorned with ornaments (gold braid, lanyards, lampasses, etc.), most originated as practical uniforms that, with the adoption of even more practical uniforms, have been relegated to ceremonial functions.
Although many services use the term dress generically for uniforms, allowing it to refer to more modern combat uniforms, with suitable modifiers e.g., the British Army's obsolete Battle Dress (BD), and the US Army's obsolete Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), the term Dress Uniform, without a prefixed modifier, is always assumed to refer to the full, ceremonial dress.
Most of the various uniforms worn by the British Army today, were, historically, combat uniforms. At the start of the 19th century, British Army Regiments of Foot, trained to fight in the manner dictated by a weapon (the musket) which demanded close proximity to the target, were not concerned with camouflage, and wore red coats (scarlet for officers and sergeants). The British infantry literally was a thin red line. Rifle regiments, fighting as skirmishers, and equipped with rifles, were more concerned with camouflage however, and wore dark green uniforms. Light Infantry regiments were also trained as skirmishers but wore red uniforms with green shakos. Whereas the infantry generally wore polished brass buttons and white carrying equipment, the Rifles wore black.
Heavy dragoons and Royal Engineers wore red (or later scarlet) coats. Most of the remainder of the British Army, however, including the Royal Regiment of Artillery, hussars, all but one Lancer regiment, and various support elements wore dark blue uniforms. These varied greatly in detail according to the arm of service or in many cases the individual regiment. From the Crimea War on, a narrow red stripe (piping) down the outside of each trouser leg was common to all red coated infantry units. Cavalry however wore stripes of regimental colour (white, yellow, blue/grey etc.)on their riding breeches. Scottish Highland regiments did not wear trousers, favouring the kilt, and Scottish Lowland regiments adopted tartan trews. All Scottish regiments wore doublets of distinctive cut instead of the tunics of English, Irish and Welsh units.
Beginning with the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878, the British Army began adopting light khaki uniforms for Tropical service. This innovation arose from experience fighting irregular forces in India, say during the Indian Mutiny and Africa during the Anglo-Zulu War, the invention of smokeless gunpowder and the increasing effectiveness and usage of rifles. In 1902 a darker shade of Service Dress (SD) was adopted for field and ordinary use in Britain itself. The scarlet, blue and rifle green uniforms were retained for wear as full dress on parade and "walking-out dress" when off duty and out of barracks. As worn between 1902 and 1914 by all non-commissioned ranks, walking-out dress was essentially the same as review order, except that a peaked cap or glengarry was worn instead of the full dress headdress and overalls (strapped trousers) were substituted for cavalry breeches. When khaki web carrying equipment was introduced, the earlier, white or black leather carrying equipment was reduced to just the belt (and sometimes a bayonet frog), for wear with the dress uniform. As with the earlier uniforms, the officers' uniforms differed in quality and detail from those worn by the Other Ranks. Officers purchased their own dress uniforms from regimentally approved Savile Row tailors while other ranks were issued all orders of dress from government stocks.
With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 all full dress and other coloured uniforms ceased to be worn by the British Army. After 1919 they were restored to the Household Cavalry and Foot Guards for ceremonial purposes but not to the bulk of the army. Officers were authorised to wear full dress for certain special occasions such as Court levees (formal presentations to the Monarch) and it was customary to wear these uniforms at social functions such as weddings. By 1928 bands were wearing full dress on occasions where they were not parading with the remainder of the regiment (who had only khaki service dress). The pre-1914 dress uniforms were still held in store and occasionally reappeared for historic displays. However there was no serious attempt to make them general issue again, primarily for reasons of expense. When (khaki) Battle Dress (BD) uniforms, which had a short blouse instead of a tunic, were adopted immediately prior to the Second World War, the older khaki Service Dress became a smart uniform for wear on the streets, and on moderately formal occasions.
After World War II the coloured, full dress uniforms were again reintroduced for ceremonial occasions by the Brigade of Guards and to a limited extent by regimental bands. Officers (and later senior non-commissioned officers) resumed wearing mess uniforms in traditional colours from about 1956 on. These are still worn, although regimental amalgamations have led to numerous changes from the pre-war models.
The BD uniform was eventually replaced in 1961 by green, cotton combat uniforms. After World War II the design of the Other Ranks' BD blouses had been modified for wearing collared shirts with ties (like the officers' pattern), and was used for a time, around the barracks, but eventually disposed of completely.
With the limited exceptions (Guards, bands, the Essex Yeomanry, The Rifles and a few others) noted, the unique regimental full dress uniforms finally disappeared after 1939. In most regiments they were replaced by a generic dark blue uniform known as No 1 Dress. This dated back to plain "patrol" uniforms worn by officers prior to 1914 as an informal "undress" uniform. An early version had been worn by some units in the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth but had not been made general issue at the time. In the form adopted after World War II, most regiments were distinguished only by coloured piping on the shoulder straps, coloured hat bands, buttons and badges. However Scottish regiments retained their kilts or trews as well as the distinctive doublets (in "piper green" or dark blue) of the former scarlet uniform. Rifles had all dark green uniforms and cavalry retained a number of special features such as the crimson trousers of the 11th Hussars or the quartered caps of lancer regiments. A white, lightweight tunic (No 3 Dress) was also authorised for use in the Tropics, or during the summer months in warmer temperate climates (such as Bermuda). The blue "home service" helmets were not worn as part of the No 1 dress uniform, except by members of some bands or corps of drums which retained their old full dress uniforms, at regimental expense. English Rifle regiments were amalgamated into the Royal Green Jackets, which continued to wear a dark green dress uniform, and black buttons and belts. Recent changes have brought the Royal Green Jackets and The Light Infantry together into a single regiment The Rifles, which continues to wear dark green.
Berets were introduced initially into the Royal Tank Corps in the First World War and their use became more widespread in the British Army during and after the Second World War to replace side caps for wear with combat uniforms when protective headgear was not being worn. Originally, khaki was the standard colour for all units, but specialist units adopted coloured berets to distinguish themselves. For example Airborne forces adopted a maroon or red beret. This has since been adopted by many other parachute units around the world. The Commandos adopted a green beret. The Special Air Service (SAS) initially adopted a white beret quickly changing this to a beige or sand coloured one. From 1944 they wore the Maroon Airborne forces beret but the beige beret was re-adopted following the re-formation of the Regular SAS in Malaya.
Khaki was replaced as a generic colour for berets after the war by dark blue, and this is the colour worn by those units not authorised to use a distinctively coloured beret.
Berets fall mostly outside the scope of this article as a peaked cap, with a coloured hat band, is intended to be worn with the No 1 Dress uniform, berets are the most common form of headdress seen with other orders of dress and are worn in No1 and 2 dress by some Regiments and Corps (For a full list see British Army Uniforms). A khaki, peaked cap may also be worn by officers in some units with the No 2 khaki service dress.
The blue or green No 1 Dress was never universally adopted after its initial introduction in 1947. The reason was mainly one of economy, although it was sometimes criticised as being too similar to police and other civilian uniforms - lacking the immediately recognisable military status of both scarlet and khaki. Khaki No 2 dress being the most usual order of dress for parades and formal occasions.
As noted above, the practice of issuing other ranks in line regiments with full sets of both service dress and dress uniforms effectively ended in 1914 and was never completely returned to. Today, with the exceptions noted above, full dress or No 1 Dress uniforms are only held in limited quantities as common stock, and issued only to detachments on occasional special ceremonial occasions. Practices do however vary between units and traditional items of uniform are more likely to appear where tradition is particularly strong. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst holds dark blue No 1 dress uniforms for the use of its cadets and the Royal Military Police retain this order of dress for general issue.
Royal Air Force
Historically, the Royal Air Force regulations permitted the wearing of a full dress uniform in both home and warm-weather variants. Although the home wear version of full dress is no longer worn (except in a modified form by RAF bandsmen ), the tropical full ceremonial dress continues to be authorised.
The temperate full dress uniform was introduced in April 1920. It consisted of a single-breasted jacket in blue-grey with a stand-up collar. Rank was indicated in gold braid on the lower sleeve and white gloves were worn.
Initially the full dress uniform was worn with the service dress cap. However, in 1921 a new form of head-dress was introduced. It was designed to resemble the original flying helmet and it consisted of a leather skull cap trimmed with black rabbit fur. The helmet also featured an ostrich feather plume which was connected at an RAF badge. This helmet was never popular and junior officers were eventually permitted to wear the service dress hat on full dress occasions.
Group Captain HRH the Duke of York (later King George VI) wore RAF full dress at his wedding to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923. The Duke wore or carried the full dress headgear rather than the service dress cap.
Dress uniforms for regiments in the Canadian Army vary depending on the regiment. Regulations for the wear of uniforms are contained in the Canadian Forces publication Canadian Forces Dress Instructions. Amendments to dress regulations are issued through the office of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS), initially in the form of a CANFORGEN (Canadian Forces General) message, which is placed in the dress manual until an official publication amendment can be promulgated.
Dress regulations may also be amplified, interpreted, or amended by the commanders of formations and units (depending on the commander's authority) through the issuing of Standing Orders (SOs), Ship's Standing Orders (SSO), Routine Orders (ROs), and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). This may include amplification where the regulations are unclear or are not mandatory; amendments or reversal of some existing regulations for special occasions or events; or the promulgation of regulations regarding the wear of traditional regimental articles (such as kilts).
Royal Military College of Canada
Since the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, Ontario was founded in 1874, the full dress uniform of an officer cadet has remained essentially the same, however, the pillbox hat has replaced the shako. The pith helmet remains in use for ceremonial parade positions only.
Canadian Cadet Organizations
The youth cadet programs in Canada, the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets each maintain their own dress uniforms. The uniforms for are provided free of charge and funded by the Department of National Defence
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The modern dress uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is closely based on the everyday uniforms used by the predecessor North West Mounted Police in the late nineteenth century. It features the famous "Red Serge", a scarlet British-style military pattern tunic, complete with a high-neck collar and blue breeches with yellow stripe identifying a cavalry history, and usually a campaign hat (or "stetson") and brown riding boots.
U.S. Air Force
The Army Air Corps became the US Air Force in 1947.
The First US Air Force Dress Uniforms were known as "Uxbridge Blue" and were developed and manufactured at the former Bachman Uxbridge Worsted Company in Uxbridge, Massachusetts.
The United States Air Force Auxiliary (Civil Air Patrol), is authorized by Congress to wear the United States Air Force uniform since it was recognized as a department of it in 1942.
The United States Army has one blue uniform which has served as a dress uniform for officers and warrant officers since 1937. It was also authorized for wear by enlisted men and women at their own expense when off duty. It was decided in 2006 that all U.S. Army personnel were to transition to the blue uniform. New blue Army Service Uniforms were issued to initial entry training soldiers beginning in the 4th-quarter of fiscal year 2010. This replaces the "Army Greens" as a service dress, which will officially be phased out of use in the 4th-quarter of Fiscal Year 2014.
Dark blue was the traditional color of most Continental/U.S. Army uniforms from 1774 until 1902. Even after the introduction of khaki for field wear in that year dark blue tunics and light blue trousers continued in use for full dress and off duty wear until 1917.
The Army blue uniform comprises a dark-blue coat, light-blue or dark-blue (general officers) trousers, a white turndown-collar shirt, black four-in-hand necktie, a dark blue service cap, and often a ceremonial belt. When worn with a black bow tie, the Army blue uniform constitutes a formal uniform and corresponds to a civilian tuxedo. When worn with a black four-in-hand necktie, the Army blue uniform is an informal uniform.
The following are appropriate occasions for personnel to wear the Army blue uniform.
- On duty, as prescribed by the local commander.
- For social functions of a general or official nature, before or after retreat.
- On other appropriate occasions, as desired by the individual.
U.S. Marine Corps
The Marine Corps has a dress blue uniform, in addition to their green service uniform which is part of a long line of historical Marine Corps uniforms dating back to the American Revolution. The most formal of a Marine's uniforms outside of the elaborate evening dress uniforms of officers and senior enlisted, it is often referred to as "Dress Blues", due to its color (as distinguished from the green and khaki service uniforms), and can be worn in many forms. It is the only uniform of the United States military to use all of the colors of the nation's flag and incorporates button designs which are the oldest military insignia still in use in the United States Armed Forces.
- Dress Blue "A" has a long sleeve choker-collar midnight blue outer blouse, white barracks cover, with all medals and ribbons. Enlisted coats have a red trim and more buttons down the middle of the coat than officers.
- Dress Blue "B" is the same as "A", but ribbons and marksmanship badges are worn instead of medals. Dress Blue "A" (with medals worn) is strictly reserved for official ceremonies, while Dress Blue "B" may be worn on leave or liberty.
- Dress Blue "C" is the dress blue uniform worn with the long sleeve khaki shirt (without coat). Ribbons and badges may be worn.
- Dress Blue "D" is the dress blue uniform worn with the short sleeve khaki shirt (without coat). Ribbons and badges may be worn
All the blue uniforms have the same trousers, cover, and black shoes, with the exception of general officers who wear dark blue trousers in the same color as the coat.Officers, Staff Noncommissioned Officers, and Noncommissioned Officers wear blood stripes on their trousers. Blood stripes are 1.25" in width for NCOs and SNCOs, 1.5" for officers, and 2" for general officers. A sword may be worn when the individual is in command of troops in formation—the Mameluke sword for officers, the NCO sword for NCOs and SNCOs. When wearing the sword and Dress Blue coat, officers wear the Sam Browne belt. For enlisted, the sword is worn with a white waistbelt and brass buckle when wearing the Dress Blue coat. The Marine Corps is the only branch of the United States military which regularly allows NCOs to carry a sword. For enlisted Marines, they earn the right to carry the NCO sword and wear the scarlet blood stripe on their blue trousers when they achieve the rank of Corporal.
Prior to 1998, certain ceremonial Marine units, such as the Silent Drill Platoon, wore a blue/white dress uniform in which white trousers were substituted for blue while performing ceremonial functions. The blue/white version is now an authorized summer uniform for officers, SNCOs, and on certain functions, NCOs.
Another uniform, the obsolete Dress White uniform, was a white version of the standard dress coat and trousers, was authorized only for officers, and resembled the Navy's Officer/CPO dress whites. No blood stripes were authorized, and white shoes were worn. This uniform was superseded by the Blue/White Dress uniform in 2000.
The Dress White uniform consists of a stand-collar white tunic, white trousers, and white dress shoes. Rank for officers is displayed on shoulder boards for males and on the sleeve cuffs for females, while CPO rank insignia is worn on the collar for both sexes. Service dress white includes ribbons, whereas full dress white includes ribbons and medals. This uniform is informally called "Chokers", due to the stand-collar.
The Dress Blue uniform consists of black shoes, Navy Blue (black in appearance) coat and trousers, a white shirt and either a Windsor or formal bowtie. As with the white uniforms, only ribbons are worn with Service Dress Blue, while ribbons and medals are worn with Full Dress Blue. Depending on the occasion, officers may also wear swords with either Full Dress White or Blue. Both the white and blue uniforms are worn with the distinctive combination cap with white cover.
Naval enlisted personnel ranked Petty Officer First Class, E-6, and below also have seasonal uniforms. The dress white and blue uniforms are both of the traditional "sailor suit" or crackerjack type for men, and women wear the same as summertime dress white uniform. It consists of a pullover shirt, called a jumper, with a V-neck going to a square collar flap, a black neckerchief, and bell-bottomed trousers. The white uniform is worn with a white belt and silver buckle, and the sleeves come down to the middle of the hand. The blue uniform features the thirteen button trousers, and has three rows of white piping on the collar and cuffs. Women wear a uniform similar to female officers and Chiefs, but with silver buttons, and a cover device with a spread eagle and "USN".
U.S. Coast Guard
Prior to 1972, U.S. Coast Guard personnel wore the same uniforms as the U.S. Navy uniform with distinctive Coast Guard insignia, primarily distinctive cap devices for officers and chief petty officers, incorporation of the Coast Guard shield in lieu of line or staff corps insignia for officers, and differentiated uniform buttons on dress uniforms.
In 1972, the current Coast Guard Dress Blue uniform was introduced for wear by both officers and enlisted personnel; the transition was completed during 1974. Relatively similar in appearance to the old-style U.S. Air Force uniforms, the uniform consists of a blue four-pocket single breasted jacket and trousers in a slightly darker shade. A light-blue button-up shirt with a pointed collar, two front button-flap pockets, enhanced shoulder boards for officers, and pin-on collar insignia for Chief Petty Officers and enlisted personnel is worn when in shirt-sleeve order (known as Tropical Blue). It is similar to the World War II–era uniforms worn by Coast Guard Surfmen. Officer rank insignia parallels that of the U.S. Navy but with the gold Navy "line" star being replaced with the gold Coast Guard Shield and with the Navy blue background color replaced by Coast Guard blue. Enlisted rank insignia is also similar to the Navy with the Coast Guard shield replacing the eagle on collar and cap devices. Group Rate marks (stripes) for junior enlisted members (E-3 and below) also follow U. S. Navy convention with white for seaman, red for fireman, and green for airman. In a departure from the U. S. Navy conventions, all Petty Officers E-6 and below wear red chevrons and all Chief Petty Officers wear gold. Unlike the U.S. Navy, officers and CPO's do not wear khaki; all personnel wear the same color uniform. See USCG Uniform Regulations  for current regulations.
In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), dress uniform is never actually worn inside Israel. It is only worn abroad, either by a Military attaché or by senior officers on official State visits. This rule also applies to IDF Mess dress. Because of the small number of uniforms required they are tailor made for the specific officer.
In the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic, the Argentine Federal Police, Argentine National Gendarmrie and Naval Prefecture, dress uniforms are worn during military and civil occasions, especially for the Military bands and color guards. They are a reminder of the military and law enforcement history of Argentina, especially during the early years of nationhood and the wars of independence that the country was a part. The Argentine Army's regimental dress uniforms date back from the 19th century, and are best worn by the Regiment of Patricians, the Horse Grenadiers Regiment, and the 1st Artillery Group in the Buenos Aires Garrison. But the full dress uniform of the Argentine Army as a whole is green with a visor cap, epaulettes, sword set and scabbard (for officers), long green pants, a black belt, and black shoes or boots.
The Argentine Navy dress uniform is a navy blue polo shirt with a visor cap, epaulettes and sleeve rank marks (for Admirals), a sword set and scabbard for officers, blue long pants, a belt and black leather shoes or boots.
For the Argentine Air Force, a similar uniform to one used by the Royal Air Force is used however the color used is much brighter.
Chilean Army full dress
The German Feldgrau uniforms are the main full dress of the Chilean Army while cadets of the Army Military School "Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme" wear the Prussian blue uniform with a Pickelhaube helmet. Some Chilean Army units (Chacabuco and Rancagua regiments for example) wear the Army uniform during the War of the Pacific during parades. The Buin regiment (2nd Army division in the Santiago Metropolitan region) has recently reintroduced the historic Army infantry regimental uniforms of the Chilean War of Independence, having been formed in December 1810 as the 1st Infantry Regiment "Chilean Grenadiers", the Chilean Army's first constituent military unit.
The Chilean Navy's officer's dress uniform is naval blue with a visor hat, sword strap (for officers, NCOs and cadets during parades and ceremonies only,) black pants and boots. The enlisted uniform (for sailors and petty officers) is a mix of Prussian and British influences having a sailor cap with the dress while the Marine enlisted and NCO uniform is a dark blue polo with pants and a belt.
The uniforms of the Naval School "Arturo Prat" is also blue with pants, but with a special hat design, similar to those worn by Prat and the crew of the Esmeralda during the Battle of Iquique in 1879.
Chilean Air Force full dress
The air force full dress since 2001 is that of air force blue on both polo dress and pants, a belt, a sword strap and set for officers and Warrant officers, a visor hat and boots or black shoes with straps for the color guard.
- Military uniforms
- Red coat (British army)
- "Dress Regulations". Bermuda Regiment. http://www.bermudaregiment.bm/Dress_Regulations.html.
- Major R. M. Barnes, pages=236 & 237, "Military Uniforms of Britain and the Empire", Sphere Books Ltd, 1972
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