Mess dress rules

Written by cameron holmes
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The term mess dress is referred to as the military's dress code to formal events. According to Apparel Search, mess dress is a trend practised among the U.S. Armed Forces. The term began in the early part of the 20th century, and some of its rules are still highly regarded today. Each armed forces dress code varies. However, standard mess dress rules generally combine the traditional and the modern, black-tie approach.

Jacket Requirement

Mess dress jackets follow an important code applicable to both men and women. The jacket should reflect those of the traditional full dress uniforms of regiments past, according to Big City Ball. Jackets should be scarlet, blue or rifle green in hue and have collars, lapels, cuffs and waistcoats that are in uniform with fellow officers.

Mess Dress Men

Men should wear a single-breasted mess dress jacket that is semi-fitted with sleeves ending approximately 1/4 inch from heel of the thumb. The jacket should be straight back and accompany "three Wing and Star buttons diagonally on both sides," according to Military Plain Facts. The jacket should have a front link chain closure with a button on each end that features a satin collar and lapels. Neckties are mandatory, and men should wear them centred between the bottom edge of the knot and the bottom of the tie.

Mess Dress Women

A female officer should wear a scarlet or blue cavalry-style mess dress jacket that closely resembles that of her male counterpart. She can wear the jacket over a standard, black or dark navy blue ball gown. The ball gown should be ankle length and should not expose her bust or shoulders. Maternity jumpers are also acceptable. Black handbags are acceptable. Black formal shoes, no more than four inches high, complete a woman's mess dress look.

Name Tags

Position plastic laminated name tags on the right side and parallel to the first exposed button on the jacket. The base of the name tag should align to the base of a ribbon.

Badges, Ribbons and Symbols

Showcase Air Force command symbols, grade insignia, ribbons and badges on attire. Mess dress attire commands that badges and ribbons especially be mid-size. Officers should refrain from mixing badge and ribbon sizes. Aeronautical, occupational or miscellaneous badges should be centred 1/2 inch above the top row of all other ribbons or insignias. In addition, position metallic name tags on the right side between the sleeve seam and the lapel, and the bottom of the name tag should be parallel to the bottom of any ribbons or insignia.

Women should position a plastic blue laminated name tag on the right side and even with to 1 1/2 inches higher or lower than the first exposed button. Although ribbons are optional, women should centre them on the left side and horizontal to the ground. The base of the ribbons should align with the base of the name tag.


For officers not yet in possession of proper mess dress attire, service dress is acceptable. According to Regimental Rogue, it is acceptable for officers to wear their service attire, complete with a white shirt and black bow tie. Women may wear a standard, ankle-length ball gown. If shoulders and bust are exposed, a black shawl should cover it. Civilian members and guests of officers or enlisted personnel should always wear an evening gown or black tie tuxedo to the commander's approval.

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