At formal events and ceremonies, U.S. soldiers step out of their daily uniforms and wear mess dress.
Mess dress, or mess kit as it is often called, is the formal evening uniform worn by military personnel at the officer’s mess, during formal events, and on special occasions. Mess dress is a tradition among several militaries around the world, including the U.S., Canada, England and Germany. Mess dress has been used by some militaries for hundreds of years.
Mess dress – including for the U.S. Army – is often a modified tuxedo that includes a bow tie and waist coat. Since the late 19th Century, the U.S. Marine Corps has worn the most elaborate mess dress among the branches of the U.S. military. The Marine Corps mess dress has, at various times, included a cape and sword. The mess dress for female soldiers tends to be as formal as the kit worn by men. However, female mess dress often includes long, ankle length dresses.
Rank and Medals
Mess dress is also used as an occasion for soldiers – particularly senior officers – to display their metals and other distinguished awards. Most mess dress clearly indicates a soldier’s rank and their military unit. Different branches of the military have different types of mess dress and often try to distinguish themselves from one another. Some mess dress can be very elaborate – past mess dress worn by British soldiers included hats with feathers adorned on them. Mess dress is worn exclusively on formal occasions and often only in a military mess. It is not worn in combat environments.