Make a fashion statement: Soldiers should wear uniform correctly

Commentary by Sgt. Maj. Lisa Hunter
U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs Office

This winter seems to have come with some new Army Combat Uniform fashion trends. Surely you’ve seen the green micro-fleece cap with edges rolled, or the Gore-Tex jacket unzipped for a more casual look.

Of course, that’s not how they’re supposed to be worn. For that matter, this whole ACU fashion trend should be pretty simple. After all, it’s a uniform. That means we all dress alike. But some Soldiers like living on the cutting edge of ACU fashion, which means they are not following regulations.

To help those who may be confused about what’s in vogue this year (e.g. what’s authorized) before the “uniform police” nab them, I consulted U.S. Army Europe’s subject matter expert U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel.

I also did a little research, such as reading over the USAREUR Uniform and Appearance Policy Standards Memorandum, dated Dec. 9, 2010, and — of course — Army Regulation 670-1 (Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia), the absolute bible on Army uniforms. Here’s the “Cliff’s notes” version of what the experts say are the do’s and don’ts, for today’s ACU ensembles.

First we’ll look at the basic uniform. It’s hard to go wrong here. The ACU shirt should be zipped and Velcro fasteners closed.

Sleeves should never be rolled or cuffed. All the basic items — rank insignia, nametape, unit and combat patches, etc. — are still the standard accoutrements. In the case of trousers, length is not an issue. Soldiers can go old school, wearing the pants legs tucked into their boots, or they can blouse the pants legs using commercially procured “blousers” or the ACUs’ convenient built-in drawstrings. Regardless of which method you choose, blousing the trouser legs below the third boot eyelet is definitely a fashion don’t.

From there we’ll move onto outerwear. You’ll see the Gore-Tex jacket and the Generation II and III items, such as black or green fleece jackets, everywhere this year.

They are all in style this winter, which means they are authorized for wear. The black fleece might be last year’s fashion, but it’s still authorized. But Soldiers who insist on being seen in nothing but the very latest styles can stop by their local Central Issue Facility and make the change to the green fleece.

No matter which jacket you go for this season — even if you decide to mix and match — remember that the snaps are to be fastened and the zipper should be zipped up to the neck.

As for accessories, Soldiers can wear either pin-on or embroidered slip-on rank in the center of the jacket. The nametape — in quarter-inch block letters — should be worn on the left sleeve pocket only. Do not have your name embroidered directly on the jacket pocket. This takes away from the style — and it’s not authorized. U.S. Army tape, nametape, and rank are to be worn on the fleece jacket.

Let’s move on to headgear. The beret is the hat we will all be seeing this year, as it’s the only authorized headgear for garrison wear. No matter how much you like your patrol cap, keep it on the shelf for special occasions, such as performing maintenance in the motor pool or training events. The commander can authorize the wear of the patrol cap in transit to training events, but trips to the PX are not considered training. Authorization to wear the PC is clearly one of those cases of, “It’s better to get permission first, than to ask forgiveness later.”

When you wear your patrol cap, rank insignia should be affixed to the front and the nametape should be worn on the back. When it comes to the PC, less is more, specifically when it comes to adding fashion accessories such as “cat eyes” reflective strips. The only Soldiers authorized to sew cat eyes on the back of the PC are observer/controllers. And even observer/controllers are only authorized to wear them while they are “in the training box,” Capel said.

Here we come to the most misunderstood uniform item to come along in a long time: the green micro-fleece cap. The green micro-fleece cap is a do when worn with the Improved Physical Fitness Uniform. It’s also a great ACU accessory to wear when pulling prolonged duties, such as guard duty, in freezing temperatures. But it’s not the fashion statement for short walks, say, from your car to the PX. Like the patrol cap, it needs to stay on the shelf most of the time. When authorized to wear it, the cap should be pulled down snugly on the head. And don’t roll the ends — not authorized.

Of course, no ensemble is complete without the right accessories. We’ll start with jewelry. The rule to remember is to leave the bling with your civilian wardrobe. Any jewelry Soldiers wear must be authorized. That means two rings (a wedding set counts as one), a wristwatch and an identification bracelet such as a medical alert bracelet or MIA/POW bracelet (in black or silver only), with only one item worn on each wrist.

When it comes to body piercing, the Army just says no — at least while you’re in uniform and/or on an Army installation or other facilities under Army control. That means do not “attach, affix or display objects, articles or ornamentation to or through the skin” — and the AR 670-1 definition of “skin” includes “the tongue, lips, inside the mouth and other surfaces of the body not readily visible.”

Last but not least, how about the fashion statement you make with eyeglasses and sunglasses? When you’re in uniform, make sure you’re making the right statement, and not “talking (fashion) trash.” Soldiers are not authorized to wear glasses that are considered trendy, such as those with initials, designs or other adornments on the lenses or frames. Sunglass lens colors should be on the conservative side, in gray, brown or dark green. Because eyewear is not authorized for wear on top of your head, the big fashion question for sunglasses is, “Where do I put them when I’m not wearing them?” The short answer is: Know where not to put them. Don’t hang them off your uniform, and don’t hang them from chains, bands or ribbons down the front of the uniform.

These tips take only seconds to apply, which is generally far less time consuming — or painful — than being the subject of a long and loud on-the-spot correction. You’ll know you’ve achieved the look when you are dressed exactly the same as every other Soldier in your unit. Apply these simple guidelines and you’re guaranteed to be the height of ACU fashion this season.