Uniforms of the United States Navy are a distinction of the service and still follow many traditional patterns, for example, the changes in uniforms since World War II have been primarily in materials. This article examines dress uniforms, daily service uniforms, working uniforms, special situations, and the history of Navy uniforms. For simplicity in this article, "Officers" refers to both commissioned officers and warrant officers.
The United States Navy has three categories of dress uniforms, from least to most formal: service, full, and dinner dress.
Officers' and Chiefs' service dress depends on the season, with Service Dress White ("Whites") for warm weather wear and Service Dress Blue ("Blues" or "SDB's") for cooler temperatures (Note: The Service Dress Blue may be worn any time of year). The uniform to be used in a particular region is set forth based on the climate by a prescribing authority, in accordance with Navy regulations, such as the admiral in charge of the region where the sailor is stationed. For instance, a command in Florida will be in summer uniforms longer than one in New York, or might never switch to winter uniforms (such as Hawaii or Puerto Rico). With these uniforms, ribbons and badges are worn, but not medals.
The dress blue uniform consists of a black suit coat, trousers, white shirt, and four-in-hand necktie. The material is generally wool or a wool blend, depending on the vendor. The men's jacket is double breasted with six gold-colored buttons, and the women's jacket has a single row of four gold-colored buttons. Rank insignia is the gold sleeve stripes, for officers, while rating badges and service stripes are worn on the left sleeve by CPOs. The prescribed headgear is the white combination cap, although a navy blue garrison cap is optional, unless stated otherwise by the prescribing authority, in some situations when the jacket is not worn.
The service dress white uniform is very divergent for the men's and women's variations. Men wear a high stand-collared white tunic, with navy blue shoulder boards for officers or the metal anchor collar device on the collar for CPOs, white trousers and shoes. This uniform is informally called Chokers, due to the stand collar. The material is a weave of polyester known as "Certified Navy Twill," or CNT. Women wear a uniform similar to the service dress blue, but with a white coat, skirt or trousers. The white combination cap is the prescribed headgear. A noticeable difference between the male uniforms and the female uniforms is the placement of the women officer's rank insignia on the sleeves (in the same manner as that on the blue uniform) and the placement of women CPO rank insignia (the fouled anchor with USN mongram and five-pointed cocked "line" stars) on the lapels of the jacket. Uniquely, the shoes worn with this uniform are white.
The rarely seen but authorized Dress Blue Yankee uniform replaces the dark trousers and black shoes of the service dress blue with white trousers and shoes from the white uniform. This variation is colloquially referred to as 'salt and pepper' (Service Dress Blue Yankee for male and for female officers.)
Either the All-Weather Coat, Overcoat, or Reefer may be worn with Service Dress uniforms in cold or inclement weather.
The Tropical dress uniforms are dark trousers, a gold cummerbund, and a white short-sleeve shirt, worn with shoulder boards or just the rating badge. For all dinner dress variations, a white tie and waistcoat generally are used for formal occasions while a black bow tie and gold cummerbund are used for semi-formal environments. Headgear is not required for all dinner dress uniforms, unless an outer jacket is worn. This uniform is never made the Uniform of the Day, nor is it absolutely required to be retained by naval personnel.
Those under the rank of Lieutenant (O-3) have the option of using the Dinner Dress uniform when Dinner Dress Jacket is prescribed. The enlisted sailors who are E-7 (Chief Petty Officer) and above wear a uniform similar to the officers, but with rank insignia and service stripes on the left sleeve. While enlisted who are E-6 (Petty Officer First Class) and below have Dinner Dress Jacket uniforms similar to the officers and chiefs, they may also wear their Service Dress uniform, the traditional sailor suit, with miniature medals.
The service khaki uniform is the sole province of Officers and Chief Petty Officers; because of this, it is common to see references to "khaki leadership" in documents. It is a khaki short-sleeve button-up shirt and trousers, worn with a gold belt buckle. There are two different materials for this uniform; the poly/wool blend (75/25% similar to the Winter Blue uniform), and Certified Navy Twill (100% polyester, not authorized for shipboard use due to low fire resistance). Ribbons are worn above the left pocket of the shirt, with the warfare insignia above them. A nametag may be worn above the right pocket, and rank insignia is worn on the collar. The regulations for ribbons state the highest three, or all ribbons can be worn at once. There are actually three kinds of headgear authorized. Frequently, a khaki garrison cap or command ball cap is worn, but a khaki combination cover is authorized.
The authorized shoes are black or brown oxfords, but traditionally, brown shoes are only worn by aviation connected officers and Chief Petty Officers. The black shoes are worn with black socks, and the brown with khaki socks. In any case, the shirt, which has a pointed collar and two front button-flap pockets, is tucked in. An optional black V-neck pullover sweater can be worn with this uniform, in such case, the collar rank insignia is retained and soft boards are worn on the sweater's shoulder epaulets, as well as a Velcro nametag that states name and rank and displays warfare insignia on the left breast. (Note: There are two types of black V-neck sweaters: One made of 100% Wool and one made of a combination of synthetic materials. Only the wool sweater is approved for shipboard wear.)
Service khaki is the uniform of the day at all times for commissioned officers and CPO's at the Pentagon.
This uniform is being replaced with the Navy Service Uniform, which is a khaki shirt and black pants.
This uniform is being replaced by the Navy Service Uniform for all personnel E-1 through E-6. Officers and CPOs will retain their variants of the uniform.
Upon the installation of then-Chief of Naval Operations (now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Admiral Michael Mullen, one of the first tasks he would do was to sign a charter creating "Task Force Uniform," whose principle purpose was to replace the different seasonal service uniforms with a single year-round service uniform for personnel under the rank of Chief Petty Officer and the replacement of the various Work Uniforms (whose appearance varied according to rank) with a single uniform to be worn by all sailors, from the top admiral down to the seaman.
After a test period in which select commands would try out the new E-1/E-6 service uniform, in 2006, ADM Mullen issued order NAVADMIN 070/06, announcing the approval of the new service uniform. These uniforms are currently in their first regional release and should be in use as a fleet wide used uniform by late summer 2009, the new service uniform replaces the blue "Johnny Cash" uniform and white service uniform with a single year-round uniform consisting of a short-sleeve khaki shirt and/or blouse, similar to those worn by Naval personnel attached to the Fleet Marine Force, black trousers and/or optional skirt. Unlike previous practices of wearing rate insignia on the left sleeve, sailors will wear miniature silver anodized metal rate insignia on the shirt and blouse lapels, with the shirt also bearing the appropriate Unit Identification Tab on the right shoulder. More photos here: Uniform Photos
This tab, a black arc with white lettering, denotes the command the sailor is assigned to, i.e. USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, STRKFITRON 81, NMC PORTSMOUTH, etc., and is the direct descendant of the old-style ribbon tallies worn on the old-style flat-topped wool "Donald Duck" hat worn prior to World War II. A black Eisenhower-style jacket with a knit stand-up collar and epaulets, on which Petty Officers will wear large anodized metal rank insignia, and a black garrison hat with the rank insignia worn on the left side would also be worn, with those entitled to wear the gold chevrons will continue to wear them as the jacket's large metal rank insignia.
Another new service uniform, also announced in 2006, but for officers and CPOs, would see the reintroduction of the khaki service coat worn with a black necktie and the shoulder boards. Mostly seen during World War II, it was dropped by then-CNO Admiral Elmo Zumwalt in order to reduce the number of items in the officer's seabag, but was reintroduced by Admiral Mullen based on a desire to distinguish officers and CPOs from their enlisted counterparts. Some commentators, including the official periodical Navy Times, have spoken of this uniform as having a "throwback" look.
The enlisted Utilities uniform consist of a light blue shirt and dark blue trousers. This type of uniform is also informally known as the "dungarees". They are meant to be worn in a working environment. Usually sailors wear the command ballcap with this uniform, although a black watch cap may be required to be worn with this uniform in cold weather. When worn on board a ship, the Commanding Officer may allow short sleeve shirts, although long sleeve must be worn on duty days.
This type of uniform was originally worn with the white "dixie cup" cover before the ballcap became mandatory. The bottoms of the uniform were also wide legged denim jeans but were later replaced with less durable chino cloth trousers.
Like the new E-1/E-6 service uniform, the new Navy Working Uniform or NWU is the latest working uniform to be introduced by the United States Navy. Based on the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT combat utility uniform, with multiple pockets on the shirt and trousers, it uses a multi-color digital print pattern similar to those introduced by other services. However, the NWU will also be made in three variants: predominately blue, with some gray, for the majority of sailors and shipboard use; and a woodland digital pattern and a desert digital pattern for Sailors serving in units requiring those types of uniforms. Woodland and desert variants may be tailored differently than the blue-pattern uniform.
The overall blue color reflects the Navy's heritage and connection to seaborne operations. While not intended to disguise the wearer, the color pattern was chosen in part to harmonize with U.S. Navy ship colors and avoid presenting an obvious target when working aboard a vessel in port susceptible to infiltration by hostile forces. The pixelated pattern is also used to hide wear and stains, something unavoidable with the dungarees and working khakis currently in use.
The uniform is primarily composed of a 50/50 nylon and cotton blend, which eliminates the need for a "starch and press" appearance and reduces the possibility of snags and tears from sharp objects (thus making the garment last longer). Accessories include a navy blue cotton t-shirt, an eight-point cover (similar to that worn by the United States Marines), and a black web belt with closed buckle. All-weather garments will include a unisex pullover sweater, a fleece jacket, and a parka, all of which will be available in matching camouflage patterns.
The uniform is worn with rank insignia on both collar points and on the front panel of the 8-sided camouflage cover, with sew-on name and "U.S. NAVY" tapes, also on the new digital background pattern, having gold-colored lettering for officers and CPOs and silver-colored lettering for all lower ranks. An embroidered Anchor, USS Constitution, and Eagle (ACE) is on the left breast pocket on all NWU uniforms.
Black safety boots, identical to those worn by United States Coast Guard personnel with their new Operational Dress Uniform, are worn with the new NWUs. Boots will come in two versions: black smooth leather boots, with black suede no-shine boots for optional wear while assigned to non-shipboard commands.
Like the previous Working uniforms, the new NWU uniform was designed to allow personnel to stay warm and dry in inclement weather, thus they were designed to be slightly larger for the wearing of sweaters underneath, along with meeting shipboard fire safety standards. The NWU uniform, unlike its predecessors, were also designed to be longer lasting, and does not need to be ironed like previous uniforms. The digital pattern also has the same infrared readback patterns like that of the MARPAT uniform, allowing personnel using infrared equipment to easily identify Naval personnel. The uniform also has more pockets than its predecessors, with four on the shirt and six on the trousers. The NWU uniforms are currently in production and will not be phased in until Fall 2008.
Officers and Chiefs may wear the "Ike" Jacket, with the rank insignia worn on the shoulder epaulets, the reefer, with rank insignia worn on the shoulder, or the all weather coat, with rank insignia also worn on the shoulder.
Pilots, Naval Flight Officers, and Naval Aircrewman are authorized to wear G-1 seal-brown goatskin-leather flight jackets, with rank and warfare insignia listed on a nametag over the left breast pocket, attched with a VELCRO Hook-and-loop fastener. These jackets often are adorned with various "mission patches," which indicate places the wearer has served. A popular one is the Gulf of Sidra Yacht Club patch, which immortalizes a few encounters between American F-14 Tomcats, A-6 Intruders and other fighters on one side; and Mig-25's and other fighters on the Libyan side. In both cases, the MiGs were splashed.
Also, the Navy issues foul-weather jackets, which are either olive or Navy blue in color, at various commands. They are not part of a seabag. The Navy also issues cold-weather jackets, which are olive in color and are not part of a seabag. These jackets are considered "Organizational Clothing."
As the Marines do not have medical personnel and chaplains, the Navy provides them (both the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps are heads of separate branches – the connections between the Navy and Marines include that they report to the Secretary of the Navy and they share common legal institutions like Naval Criminal Investigative Service and JAG). The officers and enlisted include doctors, dentists, Nurses, Hospital Corpsmen, Chaplains, and Religious Program Specialists. There are also specialized ratings that will be attached to Marine commands such as Navy Divers for example. Because of this relationship, these personnel are authorized to wear U.S. Marine Corps service (khaki/green) uniforms, but with Navy rank insignia replacing the Marine insignia for enlisted personnel (Navy and Marine officer rank insignia are identical). Their camouflage utilities, currently the MARPAT pattern camouflage, replaces the "U.S. Marines" with "U.S. Navy," and Navy insignia (shiny metal for officers and black metal for enlisted) is worn on the collars. They wear the MARPAT 8-point cover, but lacking the Marine Corps emblem; If Navy personnel opt to wear Marine Corps uniforms, they must meet Marine Corps grooming and physical appearance standards, which are more stringent than Navy standards. Navy Corpsmen are not authorized to wear the Marine Corps Dress Blue Uniform, instead Navy Dress Blue and White uniforms are worn.
Pilots, Naval Flight Officers, and Naval Aircrewman are authorized to wear green flight coveralls (made of nomex for fire protection), with rank insignia for officers is stiched on the shoulder epaulets, and a nametag/warfare insignia on the left breast pocket. Either a Command/Navy ballcap or a Khaki Garrison Cap (For Chiefs and Officers) are worn with this uniform. Coveralls are authorized to be worn with either the all weather coat or utility jacket (Petty Officers only).
Due to the extreme noise on the flightdeck of an aircraft carrier, personnel handling the aircraft have specific-colored flightdeck jerseys, which by sight describes that person's function.: