Civilian Garb Has Parallel with Military Dress Codes

February 14, 2018|

During a radio interview last summer, the interviewer, John Patrick, drew a connection between my time in the Navy (and as a Navy spouse) and my personal wardrobe philosophy. Many of my attitudes about clothing and wardrobes come from this part of my history.

Here are a few military basics, and how they relate to civilian business dress.

Uniform of the Day

Sure, a military uniform is easy. You don’t have a lot of choices, and the work of the day generally determines what uniform you will wear. One day you may dress in a working uniform, another in a service uniform. You have what you need for everything from scrubbing bathrooms and repairing equipment to attending a military ball. You may not have a lot of options, but you are covered for all occasions.

Civvie Parallel 1: Think about what your day holds, and dress accordingly. Have a “you-niform” to fall back on when time is tight, all goes haywire or plans are changed on you. Yours might be jeans or khakis, and a button-front shirt (or blouse) topped with a blazer. Unless you are a yoga instructor, your “you-niform” should not be yoga pants.

Civvie Parallel 2: Make sure you have what you need for the life you live, and the unexpected (funerals, jury duty, visiting your lawyer, banker or accountant). You don’t need a lot of options, but your wardrobe should cover all the bases!

Polish Your Shoes

One of the quickest hits during inspection is/was shoes: Scuffed heels or toes, raw laces, not edge-dressed or run-down heels. We would put on freshly polished shoes at the very last second, and walk carefully down to line up for inspection.

Civvie Parallel: Take care of your shoes. Find a good cobbler, not just one of the quickie shoe repair places (although they can be a godsend for heel taps in a pinch). Cobblers do still exist, but are becoming rarer than hen’s teeth. Find one, respect the craft, and treat him or her like the amazing gift he/she is. Buy shoes that can be improved. Care for them. Clean them. Polish them. Store them properly at the end of the season.

The Details Matter

Are your ribbons on straight!? Did you check with a ruler? Are they in the right order? Are your creases crisp? Is the edge of your belt buckle lined up exactly with the keeper? Yes, these details may seem trivial, but when everyone is wearing the same clothing, those little details stand up and shout.

Civvie Parallel: Pressed clothing that should be crisp. Wear your trousers at the right length. Adjust your necklace(s) so that they hang at a flattering point. Check the dimple in your tie. Make sure your shoes are laced the same way. Change your shirt if the buttons are straining (bust or tummy). Check yourself from head to toe (or even better, snap that full-length selfie!) before you head out the door.

Your (Work) Wardrobe Can Fit in a Sea Bag (or Suitcase!)

This is a holdover from carrying a year’s clothing wardrobe in a sea bag. For those of you with no “squidly” experience, a sea bag is the vertical green duffle bag issued to Navy recruits to transport their uniforms from boot camp to future schools and duty stations. Everything except your cover (hat) and travel uniform was to fit into your sea bag. (Yes, uniforms have changed since the 1980s!)

Civvie Parallel: If you plan well, your clothing wardrobe can fit into a suitcase, and take you far. Corollary: Any trip less than a household move does not require a 70-pound suitcase!

I’d love to hear what dressing tips other veterans have for the civilians out there. Please feel free to contact to share yours!

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