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The uniforms of the United States Army distinguish soldiers from other service members. U.S. Army uniform designs have historically been influenced by British and French military traditions, as well as contemporary American civilian fashion trends. The two primary uniforms of the modern U.S. Army are the Army Combat Uniform, used in operational environments, and the Army Service Uniform, worn during formal and ceremonial occasions.


The Brierwood Pipe an 1864 oil painting by Winslow Homer of two 5th New York Zouaves.

The design of early army uniforms was influenced by both British and French traditions. One of the first Army-wide regulations, adopted in 1789, prescribed blue coats with multi-colored facings to identify a unit's region of origin: New England units wore white, southern units wore blue, and units from Mid-Atlantic states wore red.[1] Bandsmen wore red uniforms to make them more easily identifiable to commanders on the field of battle. Infantry wore tricorner hats, with different cover prescribed for cavalry and specialist troops depending on function.

Beginning in the 1850s, American military leadership began to place an increased emphasis on French army tactics and styles, influenced, in part, by the rise of Napoleon III.[2] The most extreme examples showing the adoption of French military fashion was in the use of zouave uniforms by some U.S. Army infantry regiments, and the purchase of 10,000 chasseurs à pied uniforms to outfit the Excelsior Brigade.[3] However, more subtle styling - including frock coats, kepi hats, and collar ornaments - also made their way into U.S. Army uniform design preferences. From the early 1900s through the end of the World War II, the U.S. Army went through several styles of khaki and olive drab uniforms and, by 1956, settled on the Army Green Uniform for service dress[4] which was eventually pulled from service in 2010. An alternate semi-dress uniform authorized for officers during the summer months, the Army Khaki Cotton Uniform continued in use until 1985. Field dress during this period was either the Army Tropical Uniform, or the M1951 wool field uniform. These were followed in 1981 by the Battle Dress Uniform, which was pulled from use in favor of the Army Combat Uniform in the mid 2000s.

Current designs

Standard uniforms

Combat uniform

Lieutenant Commander Ronald Johnson in the Army Combat Uniform

Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Johnson in the Army Combat Uniform

The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) is the utility uniform worn in garrison and in combat zones by the U.S. Army. The uniform features a digital camouflage pattern, known as the Universal Camouflage Pattern, which is designed for use in woodland, desert, and urban environments.[5] The ACU jacket uses hook-and-loop-backed attachments to secure items such as name tapes, rank insignia, and shoulder patches and tabs, as well as recognition devices such as the American flag patch and the infrared (IR) tab. Two U.S. flag insignia are authorized for wear with the ACU: full-color and subdued IR. The U.S. flag insignia is worn on the right shoulder pocket flap of the ACU coat. Unit patches are worn on the left shoulder, while combat patches are worn on the right. In July 2011, coinciding with the Army's Birthday, it was announced that effective immediately, the Army Patrol Cap, or "PC", would replace the black beret for wear with the ACU, and that name tapes, rank, and skill badges can optionally be sewn on. In the field, the jacket may be replaced by the flame resistant Army Combat Shirt when worn directly under a tactical vest. Most soldiers operating in Afghanistan are issued a "Multicam" pattern better suited to that country's terrain.[6]

Service uniform

General George Casey in the Army Service Uniform

General George Casey in the Army Service Uniform

The standard garrison service uniform is known as the "Army Service Uniform". It replaces the "Army Greens", or "Class A" uniform, which had been worn by all officers and enlisted personnel since its introduction in 1956, when it replaced earlier olive drab (OD) and khaki (called Tropical Worsted or TW) uniforms worn between the 1890s and 1985.[7] The "Army Blue" uniform, dating back to the "Virginia Blues" of George Washington's first command, in the Colonial Virginia Militia, had previously served as the Army's formal dress uniform, was phased in to replace the Army Green and the Army White uniforms in October 2009. This uniform will function as both a garrison uniform (when worn with a white shirt and necktie) and a dress uniform (when worn with a white shirt and a bow tie for "after six" or "black tie" events).[8] The blue uniform will be a mandatory wear item by fourth quarter, FY2014. The beret, adopted Army-wide in 2001, will continue to be worn with the Army Service Uniform for non-ceremonial functions.

Mess uniform

Colonel Thomas Palmatier in the evening variant of the Army Mess Dress Uniform

Colonel Thomas Palmatier in the evening variant of the Army Mess Uniform

Mess dress is the military term for the formal evening dress worn in the mess or at other formal occasions. This is generally worn as the military equivalent of white tie or black tie. The Army blue mess uniform comprises the Army blue mess jacket, dark- or light-blue high-waisted trousers, white semiformal dress shirt with a turndown collar, black bow tie, and black cummerbund. The Army blue evening mess uniform comprises the Army blue mess jacket, dark- or light-blue high-waisted trousers, white formal dress shirt with a wing collar, white vest, and white bow tie. The blue trousers are cut along the lines of civilian dress trousers, with a high waist and without pleats, cuffs, or hip pockets. The trouser leg ornamentation consists of an ornamental braid worn on the outside seam of the trouser leg, from the bottom of the waistband to the bottom of the trouser leg. General officers wear pants of the same color as the jacket, with two ½–inch, gold-colored braids, spaced ½ inch apart. Current stated uniform regulation for mess dress is that all other officers and enlisted personnel wear lighter blue trousers with one 1 ½ inch, gold-colored braid. However, regulations for the Army Service Uniform dictate that the trousers of junior enlisted personnel, specialist and below, be without ornamentation. There has been no official Army guidance as to whether this should also apply to the mess and evening mess uniforms.

The Army white mess uniform comprises the Army white jacket, black high-waisted trousers, white semiformal dress shirt with a turndown collar, black bow tie, and black cummerbund. The Army white evening mess uniform comprises the Army white jacket, black high-waisted trousers, white formal dress shirt with a wing collar, white vest, and white bow tie. The trousers are the same for all ranks.

Physical training uniform

The Army Physical Fitness Uniform, manufactured by UNICOR, was adopted in 2013 following an army-wide, online vote from among six options developed following a survey of soldiers.[9] The uniform is modular, with individual pieces that can be combined or eliminated depending on physical training conditions. The pieces of the uniform include: track jacket, short-sleeve t-shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, track pants, and stretchable running trunks. All parts of the uniform are styled in black and gold, and each piece includes either the U.S. Army two-part identity patch, or the word "ARMY." There is no standard shoe style worn; soldiers are expected to purchase commercial running shoes. Shoes with profane or vulgar logos, as well as "toe shoes" (such as the Vibram FiveFingers running shoe), are prohibited, however.[10]

Special ceremonial units

U.S. Army uniform regulations define a class of "special ceremonial units" (SCU). SCUs, which include guards units and bands, are authorized to wear distinctive uniforms - in lieu of the Army Service Uniform - for public duties, including state arrivals, tattoos, official funerals, change-of-command and retirement ceremonies, and the presidential inaugural parade.

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The U.S. Army has 34 active-duty bands and more than 50 reserve bands. Most of these units wear the Army Service Uniform for public duties, however, certain units – primarily located in the National Capital Region – have unit-specific uniforms that are used for special occasions. Unlike the Army Service Uniform, these specialized uniforms are, for budgetary reasons, generally issued to units – instead of individuals – and returned to the unit following the soldier’s departure. The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the U.S. Army Field Band, and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets wear a parade uniform designed by the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry and introduced in 1969 for the inauguration of Richard Nixon. The uniform blouse has a choker-style collar, instead of the open collar used on the Army Service Uniform, and eight buttons, representing the eight notes of the musical scale. Decorative gold braid adorns the cuffs and standard army cover is replaced by a crimson peaked hat, while Drum-Majors wear a bearskin helmet. A summer white blouse is also available.[11] In the 1950s "Pershing's Own" briefly wore a yellow and black uniform known as "the Lion Tamer" due to its resemblance to a circus costume. Before World War II, the band's uniform was a grey variation of the standard dress blue uniform. The 3rd Infantry Regiment Fife and Drum Corps wear red, open-front regimental coats, white coveralls, and black tri-corner hats. The U.S. Military Academy Band – a full-time Army band assigned to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point - wears distinctive, high-collared navy jackets with white accessories and dark shakos. From 1875-1890 the band wore pickelhaube instead of shakos.


The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, part of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, uses a special dress uniform that is evocative of the uniform worn by Gen. George Washington’s life guard. It consists of open-front, blue regimental coats, white coveralls, and black tricorner hats. The First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry (a Pennsylvania National Guard unit) has a special full-dress uniform known for its distinctive helmet with extravagant bearskin roach.[12] The 1st Cavalry Division's Horse Detachment was given status as a Special Ceremonial Unit in 1972. Their parade uniform consists of a navy "fireman's shirt," worn with columbia blue trousers with yellow piping. Accoutrements include a divisional kerchief worn around the neck and yellow suspenders. Cover is the "Cav hat." Other non-band SCU units with distinctive uniforms include 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Cadet uniforms

U.S. Military Academy cadets in spring parade uniform

West Point

Cadets enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have access to standard Army uniforms, including the Army Combat Dress and Physical training uniform, but also use several unique uniforms for drills and daily wear. Since 1816, West Point cadet uniforms have been styled in grey, and grey continues to be the primary color used in academy dress. Spring parade dress consists of grey swallow-tail coats with 21-gold buttons, white trousers, and black shakos (known as a "tarbucket hat" in U.S. Army nomenclature). Winter parade dress is similar to spring parade dress, though trousers are colored grey, instead of white. Service dress (“white over grey”) consists of grey trousers, white shirts with shoulder boards, and white peaked caps. Semi-dress grey uniforms – used for daily routine – consist of gray blouses trimmed with a one-inch black mohair braid band, and either white or gray trousers, depending on the season.[13]

Senior military colleges

Cadets at senior military colleges are authorized, under army regulation 670-1, to wear uniforms developed by their institutions. Regular U.S. Army personnel assigned to those units as instructors may also wear institutionally developed uniforms in lieu of standard army dress. Most corps of cadets at senior military colleges wear uniforms loosely patterned on that of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. One exception is Texas A&M University which has several styles of unique cadet dress uniforms, the most formal variation being the "Midnight" uniform, consisting of olive drab shirt, khaki trousers and tie, riding boots, Sam Browne belt, and either peaked hat, Stetson, or side cap, depending on circumstance. The corps' special ceremonial unit, the Ross Volunteers, wear an all-white parade uniform with peaked hat.[14]

ROTC units

Officers of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets in "Class Bravos," a semi-dress uniform.

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets wear both the Army Combat Uniform and the Physical Training Uniform, but use the Green Service Uniform for garrison and formal wear. There is currently no timeline for phasing out of the Green Service Uniform among ROTC units. Although some ROTC units already possess the new army service uniform.

Special uniform situations

Unit-specific cover

Soldiers assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division may, during certain divisional functions, replace standard army soft cover (the black beret, the blue peaked hat, or the camouflage patrol cap) with the “Cav Hat,” a black Stetson with gold braid and cavalry branch insignia.[15]

U.S. Army drill instructors are authorized to wear a campaign hat while in the Army Combat Uniform. First adopted in 1911, the campaign hat was abandoned for drill instructor use during World War II, but readopted in 1964. Army campaign hats are olive green with the Great Seal of the United States centered on the front of the hat on a gold disc. Several berets in alternate colors to the Army standard black beret are also used. Personnel in the 82nd Airborne Division and special operation forces wear maroon berets and those in the 75th Ranger Regiment wear tan berets. Soldiers who have earned a Special Forces tab are authorized to wear green berets.

Highland dress

The U.S. Army tartan, designed by Strathmore Woollen Company, is black, khaki, blue, gold, and two shades of green. The United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command has a separate tartan of green, black, purple and white. However, there are currently no U.S. Army units that use Highland dress and the wear of kilts with U.S. Army uniforms is prohibited by Army regulations. Among armies in the five UKUSA Agreement nations, only the United States and New Zealand do not actively field Scottish units, though both nations have done so in the past. Nonetheless, in keeping with U.S. Army uniform regulations that permit cadet commands at the U.S. Military Academy and the senior military colleges to introduce institution-specific uniforms, members of the bagpipe bands at West Point, The Citadel, and the Virginia Military Institute wear a Highland uniform while performing as part of their respective ensembles. These uniforms are patterned on collegiate tartans instead of the U.S. Army tartan. The Oregon State Defense Force (OSDF) also fields a pipe band that wears a modified Highland uniform, including kilt and sporran, authorized by the Oregon Military Department.

See also


  1. David Cole. Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons, and Accoutrements (Report). U.S. Army. p. 1. 
  2. Emerson, William (1996). Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806126221. 
  3. American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO. 2013. 
  4. "History of U.S. Army Uniforms". Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  5. FROM
  6. Lopez, C. (February 20, 2010). "Soldiers to get new cammo pattern for wear in Afghanistan". US Army. US Army. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  7. The Army Green Uniform - March 1968
  8. Army Service Uniform
  9. Booth, Nathan (22 October 2012). "New, improved physical fitness uniform options make debut at Fort Hood". U.S. Army. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  10. Bacon, Lance M. (August 29, 2011). "'Toe shoes' get the boot, Army-wide". Retrieved July 16, 2012. 
  11. "The U.S. Army Band Uniform". U.S. Army. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  12. Seymour, Joseph (2008). First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0738557676. 
  13. "West Point Cadet Uniforms". U.S. Army. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  14. "The Corps Uniform". Texas A&M University. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  15. Philip Battaglia (15 August 2010). Memorandum of Instruction (MOI) Concerning the Wear and Appearance of the CAV Hat and Spurs (Report). Department of the Army. 

Further reading

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