Without a doubt, the Marine Corps Dress Blues uniform is the best-looking military uniform in the United States Armed Forces. There is no other uniform that even rivals dress blues in look, class, and prestige. Unsurprisingly, I often get questions about the different Marine uniforms; especially the Marine Corps dress blues, from both men and women who are considering enlisting into the Marine Corps.
So, with this article, I’ll answer your most popular questions about the slickest of military uniforms. (update check)
When Can Marines Wear Dress Blues?
In the military, there is something called the “uniform of the day.” This is simply the uniform that the supervisor of the base has deemed appropriate based on the time of year, date, day of the week, and temperature. To be totally honest, I don’t know what causes commanders to choose one uniform versus another in certain instances, but there’s likely some military history that I’m not aware of that is dictating their choice. That said, if you are attending an official base function you are required to wear the uniform of the day for that day. And very rarely is that dress blues. It is typically “Service Charlies” (olive green pants/short-sleeved khaki shirt) or “Deltas” (blue pants/short-sleeved khaki shirt) in the summer months or “Service Alphas” (olive green pants/long-sleeved khaki shirt/tie/olive green coat and belt) or “Service Bravos” (olive green pants/long-sleeved khaki shirt/tie).
As someone who was in the Marine Corps Band (and yes, I went to regular Marine Boot Camp), I think that the uniform of the day affected me and my unit more than most. The Band was front and center during every ceremony so it was essential that we were in the correct uniform. Also, because the uniform of the day tended to change seemingly at random, we had to ensure that we had access to every uniform at a moment’s notice just in case. There were multiple times when we’d be fully dressed and in formation ready to head to perform in a graduation and we’d get a call that the uniform of the day had changed completely. That is rough.
Only occasionally do Marines wear the dress blues as the uniform of the day. However, one ceremony that always requires dress blues is a Marine Corps Birthday Ball. This is a large ceremony held yearly near the time of the Marine Corps Birthday (Nov. 10, 1775). There are also some random special occasions like a base general’s Change of Command ceremony in which he/she may request that the uniform of the day be dress blues. That usually occurs when it is 99 degrees out and the general is long-winded. It is brutal, but it definitely happens.
The last major reason for which Marines will typically wear dress blues is when they are off-base representing the Marine Corps as a whole, for example in large recruiting events, as the dress blues is the most impressive and representative of the Marines’ uniforms.
Dress blues (in the configuration that most outsiders understand them) can technically be worn either on-base or off-base without a ton of restrictions. Very few Marines will wear their dress blues just “for fun” though, as they are not terribly comfortable, are hot, and draw a ton of attention. At first, you think it is amazing when people stare at you in uniform. It quickly gets old, though, because you cannot blend into any crowd if you’re wearing dress blues.
Camouflage utilities, on the other hand, cannot be worn off base. “Cammies” are used on military installations only and that is why you should never see a Marine in public wearing cammies. So, if you see a military person wearing cammies at Walmart, then they’re either Army, Navy, Air Force, or totally out of Marine Corps regulation. It just shouldn’t happen.
Where Does the Marine Dress Blues Originate From?
There are many theories on the origin of the Marine Corps dress blues uniform. Some historians believe that the uniform is blue to signify the Marine Corps’ tie to the Navy. Others, that Marines began wearing blue only because they re-used old riflemen’s uniforms handed down from the short-lived Legion of the United States.
According to Uniforms of American Marines: 1775-1932, by Marine Major Edwin North McClellan, a former officer in charge of the Marine Historical Section, this first blue uniform called for, “Plain short coats of blue, with a red belt, edged with red, and turned up with the same, with common small naval buttons, with blue pantaloons edged with red, and red vests.”
Other stories say the red trim on the uniform is a nod to the Marines who served aboard the Bonhomme Richard, a famous Revolutionary warship. On the other hand, some historians say that neither the Revolutionary War, its Marines, nor its ships had anything to do with the red trim on dress blue uniforms.
With so much misinformation out there, what do we actually know for a fact about the dress blues?
For one, we know that the gold buttons worn on the dress blue coat have been a part of the uniform since 1804 making them the oldest military insignia still in use today. We also know that the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (EGA), which adorns all Marine uniforms, was adopted in 1868. It remains the hallmark of every Marine uniform today.
“The eagle does, in fact, represent the proud nation the Corps defends. The globe represents its worldwide presence; and the anchor points to the Marine Corps’ naval heritage and its ability to access any coastline in the world. Together, the eagle, globe and anchor symbolize the commitment of the Corps to defend this nation — in the air, on land and at sea.”
It seems like the Marine Corps did in the early 1800s what it still does best today: It took the materials, designs, and technology of the day and adapted them to best suit its needs. And then they went on its business of winning battles.
Who Gets the Blues?
When I enlisted into the Marines, we were not issued a dress blues uniform in boot camp. We were only issued an “Alpha” uniform and a “Charlie” uniform. However, because I was in the Marine Band I was issued two pairs of dress blues upon completion of the Armed Forces School of Music.
Although dress blues aren’t regularly issued, they are available at any time for individual purchase. I’d wager that some Marines go an entire first enlistment without owning a pair of dress blues, but that just wasn’t my experience. I wore them many hundreds of times during my enlistment.
What Color are Dress Blues?
This question isn’t as obvious as it sounds. Enlisted personnel wear dress blues that have a dark-blue coat and royal blue pants. The brass on the enlisted personnel’s dress blues uniform is gold (though there are variations in design for higher enlisted rank).
An officer’s dress blues uniform consists of the same royal blue pants with a blood stripe on the outside of each leg and a black coat, rather than a dark-blue one. Officers’ uniforms have both gold and silver trim. This differentiates the officer uniform even further.
The “blood stripe” is steeped in Marine Corps tradition. According to the USMC Museum, the Marine blood stripe “commemorates those Marines killed storming the castle of Chapultepec in 1847.” Marines are said to have worn a red stripe down the outside of their pants prior to that raid.
Needless to say, you don’t want to be caught dead or alive with an officer’s brass on if you’re an enlisted Marine or vice versa. If you are caught, your day is going to be rough. On a side note, the improper wearing of uniforms is a really good way to call BS on those stolen valor scumbags. Most of them are too stupid to do the appropriate research, so if you know your stuff it takes about a second to know they’re faking it. This knowledge also drives most military personnel nuts when they see movies or shows that totally bastardize the uniforms.
You can read the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations here. If you’re a POS stealer of valor, then at least have enough respect for your criminal, fraudulent behavior to read this and not look like a moron in public. It may save you from having to get a mouthful of new teeth and a steep dentist bill too.
How Do I Set-up Dress Blues?
To be honest, I’m not even going to tackle this topic. If you’re a Marine and you’re looking here for the answers, you’re doing it wrong. There are so many variations and awards that it would take me half the day to write it all out; and would take you three days to understand what I wrote. That said, if you’re dying to know what the Marine Corps uniform regulations are then click that enter this 250-page rabbit hole of Marine uniform regulations.
How Do Marine Dress Blues Feel?
Put on a super tight wool jacket, long wool-blend pants, and black shoes, and go stand in the sun for a couple of hours. That’s how dress blues feel. They are fitted to look impressive on your physique (assuming you have one), not for comfort… and man can they make you look good.
They say a uniform can take someone who is a five and make them an eight. But I can say from experience that Marine dress blues take a five all the way to a perfect 10. It’s wild to see. In general, though, when I wore dress blues it was for an outdoor ceremony and somehow it always seemed to be 90 or more degrees.
The band prides itself on people not passing out while in formation since that is what we do; line up, stand, and march in formation. If we passed out the event would be significantly interrupted. Because of that, we routinely wear dress blues so that we’re comfortable (to whatever extent we can be) wearing them for outdoor ceremonies.
Yet, even practice doesn’t prevent all accidents, as the following story illustrates.
We Were Dropping Like Flies
Parris Island South Carolina. Mid-July. The outgoing base general was having a Change of Command (COC) ceremony and had declared the uniform of the day to be dress blues. Oh yeah, and the temperature was in the upper 90s.
Every unit on base stood at parade rest on the parade deck and listened as the ceremony droned on. We then got to the time when the outgoing general would address the base and thank everyone from his kindergarten teacher to his Vacation Bible School counselor in 3rd grade. When some people get a microphone they don’t know how to shut up. This was one such situation.
About 10 minutes into his speech (which was nearly an hour into the ceremony), Marines from every unit other than mine started face-planting onto the blacktop. Our drum major had a decent view and was surreptitiously narrating for us every time someone rearranged their nose on the blacktop. There were dozens of people falling out. But not the Band.
That was until we started dropping like flies. The first strange noise I heard was some shuffling and then the distinct sound of brass hitting the blacktop. We’d lost someone. Not a minute later we lost another. And another. Then people started taking a knee to keep from passing out. I then heard a quick squealing sound from behind me and a second later the female Marine right at my back did a face-plant directly into my rear end. She was out. At least she didn’t break her face, I guess.
Fast-forward another 10 minutes and the drum major — who was positioned staring directly at the right side of my face — said, “Hill, you’re about to drop.” I was kind of zoned out, I guess, and because of that, I’d locked my knees. Uh-oh.
Because I was in the formation’s front row going face down would give the unit a bad look. I tried to wiggle my toes, but my body was frozen. At least, for that moment, I was frozen in an upright position. I then began to breathe very carefully as my vision was like looking through night-vision goggles in broad daylight. I was on the brink, but I told my major I wasn’t going to fall. Fortunately, I managed to start wiggling my toes. Shifting my weight from right to left I got some blood flow back into my body. Slowly but surely I started coming back to life. Thankfully, the general’s long-windedness allowed me to come back to my senses. I was staying upright, but barely.
It was then time for the Pass-In-Review portion of the ceremony, where the band plays music while marching, and every unit on base passes in front of the general and gives him a final sendoff salute. I kid you not, the first 50 steps I took felt like I was either a newborn fawn or marching with two legs that were completely asleep. I didn’t even play, I just concentrated on not falling. About 50 steps in, though, I got my legs back and we finished the gig out.
You want to know how dress blues feel? That’s your answer.
A Uniform That Makes You Feel Great
Finally, I want to talk about how the dress blues make you feel on the inside. In short, they make you feel like a double-stud superhero. They really do.
The amount of respect you get from civilians when you wear them in public is incredible. Even police officers give you respect when they see you in uniform. It truly is a special feeling. I was on active duty in the Marine Corps when 9/11 happened. The amount of support we received following the terrorist attacks was overwhelming. My unit was actually sent to New York City a few months after the towers collapsed to perform a concert for the people of New York. It truly was an incredible experience. We got to ride in the fire trucks and instead of taxi cab drivers, we had police officers drive us. Our large custom bus also had a police escort as we entered and left the city. Talk about awesome.
Undoubtedly, the pride overwhelms the discomfort.
The Marine Corps is a time of my life I’ll never forget and the achievement I felt the first time I put on my dress blues was totally indescribable. Marine Corps dress blues are about far more than a look or a uniform of the day. They’re about tradition, honor, and respect, both to those who came before you and those who died wearing that same Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.