UNIFORMS OF THE MARINE CORPS
The Uniforms of the United States Marine Corps serve to distinguish Marines from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Among current uniforms in the U.S. military, theirs have been in service the longest. The Marine Dress Blue uniform has been, with few changes, worn in essentially its current form since the 19th century.
The Marine Corps dress uniform is the most elaborate of the United States armed forces, worn for formal or ceremonial occasions. Its basic form of a blue jacket with red trim dates back to the 19th century. It is the only U.S. Military uniform that incorporates all three colors of the U.S. Flag. There are three different forms of the Dress uniform: Evening Dress, Blue Dress, and Blue-White Dress; only officers and SNCO’s are authorized to wear the Evening Dress. Until 2000, there was a White Dress uniform, similar in appearance to the U.S. Navy’s Dress White uniforms, but worn by officers only (in a manner similar to that of the Dress White uniforms worn in the U.S. Coast Guard). This uniform has since been replaced with the Blue/White Dress uniform for officers and SNCOs.
The most recognizable uniform of the Marine Corps is the Blue Dress uniform, often seen in recruiting advertisements. It is often called “Dress Blues” or simply “Blues”. It is equivalent in composition and use to black tie. The various designations are listed in descending order of formality:
Blue Dress “A” has a long-sleeved midnight blue coat (enlisted members have red trim) with a standing collar and belt (white web belt & gold waistplate for enlisted, midnight blue for officers with a gold M-buckle), white barracks cover (a peaked cap), plain white shirt, sky blue trousers, white gloves, and black shoes and socks. Large medals are worn on the left chest; ribbon-only awards on the right. Marksmanship badges are not worn. Females wear pumps in place of shoes, and may wear a skirt in place of slacks. For males, the dress coat is cut to be formfitting.
Blue Dress “B” is the same as “A”, but medals are replaced with their corresponding ribbons and all are consolidated on the left. Marksmanship badges may be worn.
Blue Dress “C” is same as “B” but without the outer blue coat and white gloves. A khaki long sleeve button-up shirt and tie are worn instead. Ribbons and badges are normally worn on the shirt.
Blue Dress “D” is same as “C”, but with a khaki short sleeve button-up shirt and no tie.
Because the Blue Dress uniform is considered formal wear, Blue Dress “C” and “D” are rarely worn. The main exception are Marine Recruiters and Marine Corps Security Guards, which will wear the “C” and “D” in warm weather. Only the “B”, “C”, and “D” Blue Dress uniforms are authorized for leave and liberty wear; the “A” is not.
General officers have a two-inch wide scarlet “blood stripe” down the outer seam of each leg of their blue dress trousers; field and company grade officers have a 1 1/2-inch wide scarlet stripe down the outer seam of each leg of their blue dress trousers; and Staff NCOs and NCOs have a 1 1/8-inch wide scarlet stripe down the outer seam of each leg of their blue dress trousers. General officers wear trousers that are the same color as the coat, while other officers, Staff NCOs, and NCOs wear medium (sky) blue trousers.
A blue crewneck sweater, in the same color shade as that of the trousers, may be worn with the “C” and “D” uniforms, in which case rank insignia will continue to be worn on the collar by officers and all ranks will wear rank insignia on shoulder epaulets (polished brass for enlisted). The collar is worn on the outside of the sweater in order to display the rated rank insignia of officers. When wearing the crewneck sweater with the long sleeve khaki shirt, a tie is not required.
Prior to 1998, the “Blue-White” dress uniform was authorized to be worn for the ceremonial units at Marine Barracks, 8th & I in Washington, D.C. (most famously the Silent Drill Platoon and Color guard). Since then, it has become the authorized summer dress uniform for all officers (it replaced, in 2000, an all-white uniform, similar in appearance to that of the Naval Officer/CPO white dress uniform), SNCOs (unless they are in formation with NCOs and junior enlisted personnel who are not authorized to wear the uniform), and by NCOs and junior enlisted personnel for ceremonies and social events only, if authorized and provided by the command structure.
Like the Blue Dress uniform, the Blue-White Dress consists of an “A” and “B” uniform, and is worn in the same manner as that of the Blue Dress uniform, except for the trousers, skirt, or slacks being white instead of blue. Unlike the Dress Blues, the Blue-White Dress uniforms do not feature the “Blood Stripe”. As with the Dress Blues, the “A” is not authorized for leave and liberty wear. The white trousers are not authorized for wear with either the long-sleeved or the short-sleeved khaki shirt, precluding “C” and “D” uniforms.
To differentiate themselves from the infantry, musicians — at that time, merely buglers and signal callers — would reverse the traditional colors. Today’s Marine Corps musicians still carry on such tradition by wearing a scarlet blouse with blue trim instead of the Dress Blues blouse.
Like the Blue-White Dress uniform, musicians are not authorized to wear the khaki shirts with the Red-Dress Uniform. Should the condition warrant (summer heat), the band will wear the appropriate Dress or Service uniforms.
The Evening Dress is the most formal (and by U.S. Military standards, the most elaborate) of the Dress uniforms, and is the equivalent of white tie in usage. It is only authorized for wear by officers and SNCO’s, and only a required uniform item for senior officers (Majors and above). It comes in three varieties:
Evening Dress “A” (for officers) is similar to Dress Blue “A”, except an evening coat with strip collar, white waistcoat, and white shirt with pique placket is worn. The stripe on the trousers is a thin red stripe inside a gold stripe instead of scarlet. Females wear a long skirt. Miniature medals and badges are worn.
Evening Dress “B” is identical to Evening Dress “A” except males wear a scarlet waistcoat (General officers) or cummerbund (other officers), and females may wear a short skirt.
SNCO’s Evening Dress for Staff Non-Commissioned Officers, and much resembles a tuxedo with historic 1890’s-era rank insignia sewn on the sleeves.
A blue boatcloak with a scarlet silk liner is optional. Junior officers not required to possess Evening Dress may substitute Blue or Blue-White dress “A”. It is appropriate for such occasions as State functions, inaugural receptions and dinners, and formal dinners.
The service uniform consists of green and khaki colors. It is roughly equivalent in function and composition to a business suit. It is the prescribed uniform when serving on a court-martial, making official visits and calls on American and foreign dignitaries, officials, and Military officers, visiting the White House, except when in a tourist capacity, or on an occasion where another uniform is specified, reporting for duty onshore. Like the Blue Dress uniform, the service uniform is authorized for wear while off-duty (on leave or liberty).
The Service uniforms are designated:
Service “A” (or Alpha) is the base uniform. It consists of a green coat, green trousers with khaki web belt, khaki long-sleeve button-up shirt, khaki tie, tie clasp, and black shoes. The coat is cut to be semi-form fitting, with ribbons and shooting badge worn on the left chest of the coat. Females wear a green necktab in place of the tie, pumps instead of shoes, and have the option of wearing a skirt instead of slacks. It is sometimes appropriate to remove the jacket while indoors.
Service “B” (or Bravo) is identical to the “A” except the coat is removed. Ribbons may be worn on the shirt.
Service “C” (or Charlie) is identical to “B” except with a short-sleeve button-up shirt and no tie.
There are three types of authorized headwear for the service uniform. Both males and females may wear the green soft garrison cap, sometimes nicknamed a “piss cutter”. There is the option of wearing a hard-framed service cap (called a Barracks Cover). The design of these covers differ between females and males. As on the Blue Dress uniform, officers wear rank insignia on the shoulder epaulettes of their jackets and the collars of their shirts, while enlisted personnel wear rank insignia sewn on their sleeves.
A green crewneck sweater may be worn with the “B” and “C” uniforms, in which case rank insignia will continue to be worn on the collar by officers and all ranks will wear rank insignia on shoulder eppaulets (black for enlisted). The collar is worn on the outside of the sweater in order to display the rated rank insignia of officers. When wearing the crewneck sweater with the long sleeve khaki shirt, a tie is not required.
The Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform or MCCUU is intended for wear in the field or for working parties, but has become the typical working uniform for all deployed and most garrison Marines and Sailors. It is rendered in MARPAT digital camouflage that breaks up the wearer’s shape, and also serves to distinguish Marine uniforms from those of other services. Previously, Marines wore the same utility uniforms as the Army. It consists of MARPAT blouse and trousers, green undershirt, and tan (specifically “olive mojave”) suede boots. There are two approved varieties of MARPAT, woodland/winter (green/brown/black) and desert/summer (tan/brown/grey). To further distinguish the uniform, upon close examination, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor can be found within the pattern.
The variety worn depends on the environment and season: Deployed Marines wear whichever color is more appropriate to the climate and terrain, Marines in garrison wear the woodland MCCUU with long sleeves in winter months, and the desert MCCUU with sleeves rolled up in summer months (the transition occurs simultaneously with Daylight Saving Time). When rolled, the sleeves of the blouse are tightly folded up to the biceps, exposing the lighter inside layer, and forming a neat cuff to present a crisper appearance to the otherwise formless uniform. In the past, when Marines wore the same utilities as the Army and Air Force, this served to distinguish them from the other branches, who folded the sleeves in with the camo facing out. In Haiti, the practice earned them the nickname “whitesleeves”.
Both officers and enlisted wear rank insignia on each collar, which is affixed like a pin and not sewn on as in the Army/Air Force. Enlisted insignia is always black, while officers wear bright metal insignia in garrison and subdued insignia (or none at all) in the field. Most badges and breast insignia are authorized for wear on the Utility uniform, shined or subdued as appropriate. Landing Support Marines also wear the Red Patch insignia.
Unlike the Dress and Service uniforms, utilities are not permitted for wear on leave or liberty (while off-duty), except when traveling in a vehicle a place of duty and a residence, or in emergency stops.
The approved headwear is the utility cover, an eight-pointed brimmed hat that is worn “blocked”, that is, creased and peaked. In the field, a boonie cover is also authorized. The trouser legs are “bloused”, or the cuffs are rolled inside and tightened over their boots with a spring or elastic band known as a “boot band” or “blousing garter”. With the introduction of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), Marines now wear color-coded rigger’s belts instead of the old web belt, indicating their level of proficiency in MCMAP (the web belt was phased out in 2008 due to a requirement for all Marines to achieve a tan belt rank by then.
In combat, Marine will also wear one of two ballistic vests: the Outer Tactical Vest and the newer Modular Tactical Vest, as well as the Lightweight Helmet (replacing the PASGT helmet) and Improved Load Bearing Equipment. Marines in a combat area may also wear Flame resistant organizational gear, or FROG uniforms. These combat uniforms are designed to reduce fire-related injuries, and look quite similar to the MCCUU. Other individual equipment may be worn as directed.
The wearing of the MCCUU by civilian contractors deploying with Marine units was granted early in the Iraq War, but rescinded in early 2008.
Physical Training Uniform
The Physical training uniform or PT uniform consists of one of the following pairs:
– green nylon shorts and cotton t-shirt (shirts with unit logos can be authorized)
– green sweatpants and sweatshirt with the Marine Corps emblem printed in black on the left chest and thigh.
Commanders will soon be able to authorize a new green tracksuit with gold and scarlet “Marines” lettering and reflective trim as the proper wear. It was unveiled during a tour of Iraq in December 2007, by Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway. It will be issued to Marines free of cost, having begun in February 2008 and will be mandatory possession by the end of FY 2009.
In addition, Marines can wear a watch cap and gloves in cold weather, or a hydration pack to prevent dehydration.
The following items may be worn at the individual’s discretion, except when in formation, ceremony, inspection, or when the commander decrees that uniformity is required:
Grey all-weather coat (which is a double-breasted trenchcoat with removable liner) is authorized for wear with all uniforms during inclement and cold weather (the Silent Drill Platoon has its own special Dress-blue coat).
Grey tanker jacket is authorized with the Dress “C” and “D” and Service “B” and “C” except when the all-weather coat is worn.
Wool service sweater will be worn with rank insignia on the shoulder epaulettes:
Blue service sweater may be worn with the Dress “C” and “D”; enlisted Marines will wear gold pin-on rank insignia.
Green service sweater may be worn with the Service “B” and “C” as well as with the MCCUU (under the blouse); enlisted Marines will wear black pin-on rank insignia.
Gloves may be worn at the individual’s discretion except when in formation ceremony (white for Dress, black for Service, none for Utilities except in the field).
Olive green undershirt with a unit insignia or other design may be worn in lieu of the green undershirt for the MCCUU or with the PT uniform (a custom shirt will not be mandatory unless provided without cost to the individual).
Umbrellas and purses may be worn or carried by female Marines when appropriate if they are black and plain.
Female Marines may wear the Service or Utility maternity uniforms when the standard items will no longer fit. There is no maternity dress uniform, while the maternity MCCUU only comes in woodland.
Various organizational clothing items may be worn with the utility uniform during inclement or cold weather, to include the All Purpose Environmental Clothing System (APECS) parka and trousers, the Combat Desert Jacket, or rain poncho.
Plain black and white plastic name tags may be worn above the right breast pocket of the dress and service uniforms only when mandated by the commanding officer. This is usually seen by instructors at schools or conferences, such as by drill instructors or NROTC advisors.
Working uniforms will be worn when the individual’s duties require, to include coveralls, flight suits, cooking & medical uniforms, and other safety clothing like goggles, gloves, or aprons.
Wear by Navy Personnel
Navy Officers and enlisted sailors assigned to Marine units are authorized to wear all Marine uniforms except the Dress and Evening Dress uniforms. When wearing Marine uniforms, Naval personnel must meet Marine grooming and physical regulations, as well as replace Marine insignia with Naval insignia whenever feasible. These members of the Fleet Marine Force include Doctors, Dentists, Nurses, Medical Service, Hospital Corpsmen, Chaplains, Religious Programs Specialists, Lawyers, Legalmen, U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen whom are selected for Marine officership, and Naval Gunfire Coordinators.
Most Marine units will have, at minimum, Navy medical and religious personnel, who will be issued and required to wear the MCCUU; wear of other Marine uniforms is optional. Medical battalions and dental battalion. A sailor wears the MCCUUs, being almost entirely Naval officers and sailors, may direct other uniform wear. Other units, such as artillery, aviation, or legal units, may have other Naval personnel attached, and issued Marine uniforms.
Insignia, Rank, & Other Accoutrements
Military awards of the United States Department of the Navy, Badges of the United States Marine Corps, and Culture of the United States Marine Corps:
Like any uniform, Marine uniforms have many accoutrements whose symbolism may not be obvious. One of the most notable adornments is the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, found in some manner on most uniforms; it is even within the MARPAT digital camouflage pattern. It is also the standard cap badge for all uniform covers. An older insignia, similar to the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor can be seen in modern dress and service coat buttons.
The “blood stripe” is found on the outside seams of the dress uniform pants of NCOs and officers. It represents the high casualty rates of those leaders during the Battle of Chapultepec.[Officers wearing the Evening Dress uniform also have additional gold trim on the trouser stripe.
Various uniforms display rank insignia differently. Enlisted Marines will wear chevrons on the sleeves of all uniforms but the Utility and other working uniforms: gold stripes on red for the Dress coat, green stripes on red for the service coat, green stripes on khaki for the khaki short and long sleeve shirts, and black metal or plastic pin-on insignia on the collar of the utility and other working uniforms and the all weather coat. The same insignia is pinned on the epaulettes of the wool sweaters and tanker jacket. Officers will wear large insignia on the epaulettes of dress, evening dress, and service coats as well as sweaters and tanker jacket; smaller insignia is worn on the collar of all other uniforms (officers in a combat environment may wear subdued insignia, where flat black replaces silver and flat brown replaces gold). Chief Warrant Officers who are designated “Infantry Weapons Officer” with an MOS of 0306 (also known as “Marine Gunner”) replace their left insignia with a gold or black bursting bomb. Navy personnel authorized to wear Marine uniforms wear their assigned rating. Musicians in the United States Marine Band replace the crossed rifle in thier insignia with lyres to denote thier non-combat role.
Marines wear awards in several ways. Large medals are authorized only on the Dress “A” uniform, while awards for which no medal was struck will have ribbons mounted on the opposite pocket. Miniature medals are worn on the Evening Dress uniform, and are authorized for wear with civilian tuxedos when appropriate to the event. Other dress and service uniforms are worn with ribbons and weapon qualification badges, though the unit commander may decide to forgo the latter. Breast insignia, also known as badges, are similarly worn, though individuals have the option of wearing subdued insignia on the utility uniform.
The buttons on the dress and service coats are reminiscent of Marine insignia prior to the adoption of the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. The quatrefoil worn atop the cover of an officer’s cover is a tradition from the pre-Civil War era, when officers wore a rope cross on their caps to allow sharpshooters high in the rigging of a sailing ship to identify his allies in a battle. Enlisted Marines wear service stripes on the cuff of the dress and service coats, each stripe denoting four years of service as a Marine. The standing collar of the dress coat is reminiscent of the uniform that earned Marines the nickname “Leatherneck”.
Green cartridge belts and/or brassards can be worn by personnel in an authoritative or ceremonial duty status, wearing such items regards the individuals as “under arms” whether they are actually carrying a weapon or not. As such, they do not uncover indoors. During ceremonies, officers have the option of wearing a Sam Browne belt and the Mameluke sword, and Noncommissioned Officers may wear the NCO sword. The current Mameluke sword is modeled on the sword presented to First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon by the Ottoman Empire viceroy, Prince Hamet, on December 8, 1804, during the First Barbary War, as a gesture of respect and praise for the Marines’ actions at the Battle of Derne.
Members of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments wear the French Fourragère to represent the multiple awards of the Croix de Guerre by the French government in World War I.
Comparison with the Army
Marines are sometimes confused with United States Army. This was more prevalent when both services wore the same utilities, but with the introduction of unique digital camouflage patterns (MARPAT for the Marines, UCP for the Army), this is no longer a point of confusion. There are several other significant differences:
Marines do not wear berets, and wear boots only with the utility uniform, while certain airborne-qualified and ceremonial Army units previously wore shined black boots with service/dress uniforms. Both services, make exceptions for boots with other working uniforms, such as coveralls, aviation, and cold weather uniforms.
The Marine utility cover is an 8-pointed creased and peaked cover, the Army uses a rounded kepi-style patrol cap in the field when helmets are not worn. Unlike the Army, Marines do not wear rank insignia on the cover, instead there is an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in the middle of the cap. The Marine utility cover is worn both in the field and in garrison, while the Army typically wears berets in garrison. The cloth helmet covers formerly were required to have iron-on EGAs, but this has fallen into disuse. Marines may also wear the creased garrison cover or a barracks cover with their service uniforms, while the Army wears berets and service cap with theirs.
When in garrison during summer months, the sleeves of the Marine blouse are tightly folded up to the biceps, exposing the lighter inside layer, and forming a neat cuff to present a crisper appearance to the otherwise formless uniform. In years past, when all four branches wore identical Battle Dress Uniform, this served to distinguish them as the other services have a different standard for rolling sleeves, rolling them inward. In Haiti, the practice earned the Marines the nickname “whitesleeves”. Marines continue this tradition today with MCCUUs, while the Army no longer rolls sleeves on the Army Combat Uniform (ACU).
Marines now wear predominantly dark green or tan camouflage utilities (switching between woodlands in winter and desert in summer, and as appropriate to the theater of operations), while the ACU is a light green and gray uniform intended for all climates. Marines most often wear a green undershirt with their utilities, while the Army wears a sand-colored shirt.
Marines are not authorized to wear their utility uniforms off-base while on leave or liberty, except while in a vehicle traveling to or from base, or in an emergency. The Army offers more leeway in this regard, but still prohibits casual wear of utilities, especially in social or drinking scenarios.
The Marine service uniform is an olive green coat with a waistbelt and worn with khaki shirt and tie. The Army’s current service uniform is a dark blue coat with a white shirt (the green coat with light green shirt and white coat are being phased out in favor of the blue uniform).
The Marine service uniform contains fewer decorations – only ribbons, marksmanship badges, and breast insignia. The Army Service Uniform contains, in addition, skill or service badges (e.g. Combat Infantryman Badge or Combat Medic Badge), shoulder sleeve insignia (only on the green service uniforms), and skill qualification tabs above current unit shoulder sleeve insignia like the Ranger Tab or Sapper Tab.
Likewise, Marines wear few devices on their utilities, compared to the Army, which wear American Flag patches, shoulder sleeve insignia, and service tabs. Typically, the only distinguishing features on Marine utilities are service and name tapes (which were not worn until the early 1990s); Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem; rank insignia; breast insignia (which is not worn in the field) and the Red Patch.
Marines never salute without a cover. This precludes the vast majority of Marines from saluting inside, where covers are removed except for those individuals under arms (or wearing a duty belt, a method of symbolically being under arms without a weapon). Soldiers are permitted to salute uncovered when reporting to a superior.
On 5 September, 1776, the Naval Committee published the Continental Marines uniform regulations specifying green coats with white facings (lapels, cuffs, and coat lining), with a leather high collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man’s head erect. Its memory is preserved by the moniker “Leatherneck”, and the high collar on Marine dress uniforms. Though legend attributes the green color to the traditional color of riflemen, Colonial Marines carried muskets. More likely, green cloth was simply plentiful in Philadelphia, and it served to distinguish Marines from the red of the British or the blue of the Continental Army and Navy. Also, Sam Nicholas’s hunting club wore green uniforms, hence his recommendation to the committee was for green.
At the second founding of the United States Marine Corps in 1798, the Secretary of War authorized a blue uniform edged in red; blue chosen for naval ties, and red with sentiment for Royal Marines and John Paul Jones’s Marines tradition of wearing red. A year later, Marines were issued leftover uniforms from Anthony Wayne’s Legion, blue with red facings. It was the beginnings of the modern “dress blues”. The uniforms also came with a round hat, edged in yellow. In 1834, President Andrew Jackson reinstated the green and white jackets of the Colonial Marines, with gray trousers. However, the dye on these faded quickly and in 1841 the uniform was returned to the blue — this time with a dark blue coat and light blue trousers with a scarlet stripe down the seam for officers and NCOs. In 1859, new dress uniform regulations were issued; the new uniform had a French-style shako with an unpopular pom-pon. There was also the option of a fatigue cap, fashioned after the French képi. In the expeditionary period post Civil War, Marines began wearing a khaki field uniform, better suited to tropical and arid environments. In the 1890s, the Marines adopted some practical changes to the field uniform, adding a “campaign” cover, with a large Marine emblem on the side, and canvas leggings.
When the size of the Corps grew in preparation for World War I, Marines were forced to adapt surplus uniforms from the Army to clothe its troops. The green service uniform was adapted with a standing collar, while khaki uniforms were worn in combat. This marked the first time Marines, as well as other U.S. service members, wore distinct combat and non-combat field uniforms, in addition to dress uniforms. The service uniform was designated for ceremonies, garrison, and leave.
Sometime after World War I, the tradition of a “uniform of the day” designated by the unit commander was created to ensure uniformity of troops, now that there was a wide variety of uniforms available for wear. Also born was the tradition of reporting to a new duty station in the Service “A” uniform. Also sometime between the world wars, the standing collar on the service uniform was changed to a rolled flat collar, but the dress uniform collar remained standing. A khaki version of the service uniform was adapted as well, for use in summer months. The field uniforms were also replaced with utilities. The garrison cap was introduced, originally to be worn overseas, but quickly became standard. The introduction of women into the Corps doubled the number of uniforms, as women had an equivalent for every male uniform.
During World War II, Marine combat uniforms were mostly adapted from Army inventories again, a tradition that would continue through until the adoption of the MCCUU in 2000. However, they made more extensive use of camouflage, due to the jungle environment being more suitable for era patterns. After the war, female uniforms became close to their male equivalents as women were more closely integrated into the Corps.
Swagger Sticks were once in vogue in the Corps, starting as an informal accessory carried by officers in the late 19th century. In 1915, it gained official approval as recruiters were encouraged to carry them to improve public image. This tradition grew when Marines deployed for World War I encountered European officers carrying swagger sticks, leading to an entry in the uniform regulations in 1922 authorizing enlisted Marines to carry them as well. The usage died down in the 1930s and 40’s, excepting China Marines, and returned in vogue when a 1952 regulation encouraging them; reaching a peak from 1956 to 1960, when Commandant Randolph M. Pate encouraged use. However, his successor, David M. Shoup, quickly forbid their use, and have not been used since.
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