US Military Mess Dress Styles

Military Mess Dress and Bow Ties

US Military Mess Dress Styles

US Military mess dress styles: Army (top left), Air Force (middle left), Marines (bottom left), Navy (top right), and Coast Guard (bottom right).

I’ve never served in a military organization, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t know that military uniform regulations are very strict. For good reason… Men and women look good in military uniforms — particularly dress uniforms.

According to Wikipedia (yes, REALLY authoritative ;)), the military Mess Dress style of uniforms are found throughout the western world — especially where British influence is strong. Mess Dress is a term used to connote formal dress attire. Such attire is typically worn at events that require black tie or white tie attire, which means that such events are very formal.

Unsurprisingly, bow ties are common components for the male formal military uniforms. In fact, “bow tie” appears 21 different times throughout the Mess Dress Wikipedia article as I type. They’re found in many countries and different military branches.

Of course, each country and branch have their own uniform regulations. For instance, black bow ties are common, but the US Air Force calls for satin blue ones. Some branches expect white ones for white tie affairs. From the article and other sources I checked, I found that it’s common for the really formal uniform styles to only involve commissioned officers. However, there are variations like the US Marine Corps that has staff non-commissioned officers (SNCO) sporting bow ties while officers don’t.

One thing I find interesting is that in most pictures of military bow ties I’ve found, the neckwear appears pre-tied instead of self-tied. According to US Navy uniform regulation Article 3501.36, bow ties “May be clip-on or hand tied,” which seems strange knowing how fastidious military organizations are about uniforms. In fact, holding to this attention to detail, Article 3501.36 also states that the ties “Shall be plain style with square ends between 2 inches and 2-3/4 inches in vertical width.” So, given such thoroughness and high expectations, I’m surprised that military organizations don’t expect the men to tie their own. Perhaps that’s due to my view as a purist about this topic, but since I’ve heard about the importance of shining one’s boots and shoes in the military, why not expect people to tie their own bow ties?

Regardless of that quibble, military dress uniforms are certainly dapper. I’m glad that bow ties take such a prominent position in this formal dress code in many countries.