Military Formal Attire: Mess Dress



In 1845 the British military introduced evening dress intended for formal occasions held in mess halls and elsewhere.  This new concept of mess dress was later instituted by armed forces in other Commonwealth countries and eventually in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century.  Readers who are curious about the military equivalents of Black Tie and White Tie around the world will find an excellent summary of international mess dress in Wikipedia's "Mess Dress" article.  Generally speaking, while there is a wide variety of styles used by different military branches and sometimes even within a given branch some common themes emerge across the board:



mess dress for officers generally includes a mess jacket, waist covering, bow tie, trousers and dress shoes

mess jackets are waist-length jackets that can have shawl or peak lapels or no lapels at all (the latter are known as cavalry style mess jackets and their upright collars require them to be worn without neckwear); unlike civilian formal jackets they usually feature epaulettes and rank insignia

American mess jackets are most commonly blue or white, the latter typically reserved for warm climates or summer months

in the militaries of the British Commonwealth red is also a popular color for mess jackets, often with black shawl collars

bow ties are usually black, with white generally reserved for White Tie equivalent uniforms

waistcoats and cummerbunds come in many different colors although the white waistcoat is generally reserved for White Tie functions

White Tie equivalents are only for officers and even then they are optional for some junior officers; lower ranks use a Black Tie equivalent for all formal functions


Surprisingly, the tailcoat remains optional mess dress for a number of military branches even to this day.



Specific Regulations


For further details of national mess dress, including its historical development, see Wikipedia's individual articles on the uniforms of various armed forces.  For the most precise details possible, readers should consult official regulations issued by the corresponding military organizations.  The following are online versions of some of those regulations:





United States Marine Corps Uniform Regulations PDF see regulations for Evening Dress (White Tie equivalent for officers), Blue Dress and Blue-White Dress Uniforms starting on page 2-5

United States Navy Uniform Regulations see regulations for Dinner Dress Uniforms in chapter 3; note that only officers have White Tie equivalents (known as Formal Dress)

Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia PDF see Blue Mess & Blue Evening Mess (Black Tie and White Tie equivalents, respectively) in chapters 24 and 25 (male and female)

Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel PDF see Mess Dress and Formal Dress regulations in chapter 4; note that "Formal Dress" is White Tie equivalent and only for officers (although the manual mistakenly refers to the White Tie coat as a tuxedo instead of a tailcoat)




Royal Air Force Uniform Dress and Appearance Regulations see Mess Dress regulations in chapter 2

Royal Navy Uniforms and Badges of Rank see Blue Royal Navy No 2 Dress and White Royal Navy No 2 Dress




Canadian Forces Dress Instructions see Mess Dress in Chapter 6 Annex B  (note that Full Dress uniforms in chapter 5 are more ceremonial than formal)




Australian Army Standing Orders for Dress see various Mess Dress uniforms

Royal Australian Air Force Insignia and Uniforms see Mess Dress in chapter 1 of document

Uniform Instructions for the Royal Australian Navy: ABR 81 - see Orders of Dress and Regulations for Wear in chapter 3 of document


South African Navy Dress Regulations - see Dress No. 5 Mess Dress