Air Force Uniform Evolution and History

(Scroll down for uniforms) USAF Uniform Evolution

History of the Uniform from the 1951 Airman's Handbook

The history of the Air Force uniform is the history of the U. S. Army uniform. During the Colonial period there, was a motley collection of colonial uniforms. Most of them were variations of European uniforms of the same period, often mixed with garments adopted from the Indians. The Indians wore loin cloths, feathers, and paint. The militia wore bright colors, including vivid red coats similar to those worn by the British. Frontiersmen wore fringed deerskin hunting shirts. During this period, Washington recommended adoption of the hunting shirt and long breeches. These were made of brown cloth because it was easily obtained.

During the Revolution, various efforts were made to change this motley collection into a uniform. In 1775, the Continental Congress decided to dress troops in brown (favorite color because it was used on every farm), but difliculty in getting cloth made the Quartermaster Department buy whatever was available. So the troops appeared in blue, brown, and gray, with various colors for lapels, cufis, and collars. Men paid for uniforms through pay deductions, as was the custom of the British service (bringing monthly pay of a private down to $2.00). In 1776, the Congress authorized Washington to raise an army by direct enlistment and to prescribe a uniform. During the greater part of the Revolution, this American uniform was supposed to be a light-blue coat, a three-cornered hat, a bufi vest and buff breeches and leggings; but, as a matter of fact, the American soldier wore just about whatever he could get. The familiar cocked hats of Washington's army (1782) were the outgrowth of brimmed hats worn by men of wealth, who, in trying to outdo their fellows, increased the size of their hat brims until it finally became necessary to pin them up out of the way.

In 1790, Washington decided that as soon as supplies became available, new uniforms (according to States) would be adopted. All troops would wear a blue coat trimmed with white. New York and New Jersey adopted blue coats trimmed with white, with white buttons and white lining. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia wore blue coats trimmed with red. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia wore blue coats trimmed with white, with buttonholes edged narrow white lace or tape.

Not until the 1830's did our troops actually appear in uniforms of a common and distinctive type. Except for the gray of West Point, adopted in 1816, light and dark blues have remained the basic colors of the American "dress" uniform, although cut and style have changed from time to time. Beginning with the Spanish American War, a service, or field, uniform of khaki that blends with most backgrounds was used because the longer range of guns made bright uniforms too easily noticed. Olive drab uniforms were introduced in World War I.

Prior to World War II, special dress uniforms were worn by bands, West Point cadets, and many National Guard units. Special dress uniforms for official functions were cut on the lines of civilian, blue-black evening dress, but with gold lace and colored stripes on trousers and sleeve indicating grade and branch of service. Blue or white dress uniforms for officers could not be worn in formation. Although not issued, enlisted men also were permitted blue dress uniforms when not in formation. When off duty or on parade, enlisted men were allowed to wear a white shirt under the O. D. blouse.

The need for an Air Force uniform to identify and distinguish Air Force personnel from those of other services, as well as to raise morale and esprit, was recognized in late 1947. Shortly after unification, the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force approved the design of the new uniform. Finally, on 8 April 1949, Air Force Letter No. 35-46 was published, giving full details - of the new Air Force blue uniforms, for winter wear, and of the new summer uniforms. This Letter was superseded, on 15 November 1950, by AFR 35-14 which prescribes in detail, "Service and Dress Uniforms for Air Force Personnel." The gradual shiftover from the Army’s olive drab to the Air Force blue is now virtually completed. 30 June 1952 has been set as the last day on which olive drab may be worn. Thereafter only "blues" are regulation wear. For the airman, this conversion began in the fall of 1950 when general issue of the blue uniform commenced.


SrA Pete Mulock - April 23rd, 2015 - 7:11PM


MSgt James Tritle - January 11th, 2015 - 12:40AM

“There are many of us currently in the Air Force that are hoping and praying the ABU goes away and does so quickly! Hopefully leadership will work with the Army to bring OCP to permanent Air Force use!”

SSgt Mike Van andre - January 16th, 2014 - 2:00PM

“I believe there is an error in the description of the "Men's Dark Blue Long-sleeve Uniform." I wore one of these back in the 70's. You were required to wear the "collar brass" (circle with eagle) on each collar as well as the ever-present name tag AND either your wings and or full rack as it was considered a 'dress' uniform. I wore mine with the brimmed cap (with 50 mission crush, of course) and tie tucked in to the third button (illegal). I looked quite rakish in this get-up.”

SMSgt Shawn Payne - February 17th, 2013 - 7:39PM

“The best uniform I have worn was the Green Fatigues from the 80's. It was extremely comfortable and easy to maintain. You could make it short sleeve or leave it long. Tuck it in or leave it untucked. You did not have to blouse your pants. It still looks better than anything we have worn since. ”

TSgt Johnson Justin - February 6th, 2013 - 9:29AM

“I've worn a uniform called the DCU for atleast two years. It was light and cool. It was such a distant memory. If I recall correctly DCU stood for Desert Camo Uniform.”

SSgt Eric Helgeson
SSgt Eric Helgeson - November 3rd, 2012 - 6:19AM

“Mike, We finally added in the BDU. Enjoy! Eric”

Sgt Michael Kopack
Sgt Michael Kopack - October 20th, 2012 - 8:34AM

“Weird that the BDU, or Battle Dress Utility uniform, which may have been the longest serving and possibly the most successful multi-service uniform in USAFE history isn't pictured or mentioned. Mine served me well, from 15F and snow in the Italian Alps to 120F in the Persian Gulf.”

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