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New to the Military? Get Answers to Common Military Uniform Questions

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Thinking about joining the military? Perhaps you’ve already signed up and are waiting to head to boot camp or someone close to you has joined the military. Some of the common questions among recruits and their loved ones relate to military uniforms.

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Knowing the difference between military uniforms, when to wear them and how often they change can be confusing. Each branch has its own uniforms, and each uniform has specific guidelines and regulations that must be followed.

You’ll learn all the details in basic training – whether it’s the Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force – but for now, here are some commonly asked military uniform questions, answered:

The military wears uniforms to create consistency and a sense of comradery. It also establishes professionalism and makes it easy to identify rank and leadership.

The Army has four uniforms: Combat, Service, Greens and Fitness. The Army transitioned its Combat Uniforms to the Operational Camouflage Pattern in 2019 and has reinstituted the Green Service Uniform for everyday business. The Army Greens are being phased in through Oct. 1, 2027, when it will be mandatory for all soldiers.

The Marine Corps has a total of six uniforms, but not all Marines are authorized to wear each one. The uniforms are Utility, Service, Blue Dress, Blue White Dress, Evening Dress and Training. Like the Navy, Marines wear Dress Blues in the fall/winter season and Blue White Dress in the spring/summer season. For the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform, there are two patterns: Woodland Camouflage and Desert Camouflage, which are worn during deployments.

The Navy has six uniforms: Working, Service, Service Dress, Ceremonial, Dinner Dress and Training. These uniforms differ for officers, chief petty officers and enlisted members who are E6 and below. Like the Army, the Navy also changed to the Navy Working Uniform Type III in 2019. They have a green camouflage pattern. For Dress Uniforms, Dress Blues are worn in the fall/winter season and Dress Whites are worn in the spring/summer season.

The Air Force has three uniforms: Utility, Dress and Training. For the Utility Uniforms, the Air Force recently completed its transition from the Airman Battle Uniform to OCP. The color pattern is the same as the Army OCPs: brown, green, tan and cream colors. The Dress Uniform has a few functions that consist of formal, semi-formal and mess dress.

The Space Force has three uniforms: Utility, Dress and Training. The Utility Uniform is the Operational Camouflage Pattern Utility Uniform worn by Army and Air Force personnel, but with a distinctive blue thread and colored U.S. flag on the left arm.

In basic training, you will receive your initial sets of uniforms. Depending on the branch, service members typically receive three to four sets of camouflage uniforms and at least one set of all other uniforms. Officers purchase their own uniforms and may receive a stipend to help offset the cost.

The military provides an annual clothing replacement allowance for enlisted service members: basic and standard.

The basic clothing replacement allowance is received during the first three years of your service. The first payment is after six months of active-duty service, and the next two payments are received at the end of your anniversary month.

The standard clothing replacement allowance is received annually after three years of active-duty service and is also paid at the end of your anniversary month. Clothing allowances are determined by each branch.

It is your responsibility to maintain your uniforms properly and make sure they’re in regulation throughout the year. However, your annual clothing allowance can be used to pay for uniform repairs or “cosmetic fixes.” Setting aside some of this allowance will allow you to easily cover unexpected costs to keep your uniform in good shape.

What uniform you should wear on any given day is usually determined by your chain of command. Special occasions and the weather can also determine what uniform you should wear. For example, service members wear a variation of the Dress Uniform at military balls or Service Uniform for a promotion ceremony.

To learn more about military uniforms, check out Military Insignia: What Are Those Stripes and Bars.

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