Controversial Post: Wearing Military Garments?

Military uniforms have influenced civilian fashion since uniforms have existed! There's something about the design and meaning of military uniforms that continues to inspire people all over the world. But who can wear them, and when is it appropriate?

As history lovers, military uniforms have special places in many of our hearts. Some in our vintage community are reenactors, and their dedication to the preservation of history means they wear military uniforms as accurately as possible, just like they were worn originally.

Reenactors putting care and research into accurate portrayals:

Others may have pieces that have been passed down from a family member like a grandfather or grandmother, garments with stories. Many grandparents are pleased to see their grandkids wearing their old uniform pieces.

Still more of us have discovered military garments in thrift stores, antique malls, and estate sales. Usually they're orphan pieces--unnamed, incomplete, one-off garments that have lost the rest of their uniform set. They're still parts of history, often very well-made, and it feels wrong to throw them away. 

Then lastly, some of us are currently serving or veteran military members ourselves. We have our own uniform pieces, our own ranks, our own career fields and affiliations. We have been taught to wear the uniform and earned the right to wear it. 

Some uniform pieces are probably safe from any non-official wear. I'm looking at you, maternity jumper.

No matter how you've gotten a military garment, one thing is shared by all these groups: we agree these pieces are special. The places we got them may differ, and we may have varied opinions on what is "okay" to wear. Personally, I have a few questions that can help you filter your choice on whether or not to wear military garments mixed in with your everyday clothing:

When and where is your uniform piece from?

Learn the history of the piece. Research and find out the country origin of the piece and which time period it comes from. If you are unwilling to do any research and just want to wear it because it "looks cool," I question your ability to wear it respectfully.

Does it represent your ideology?

There are military uniforms from all over the world and across time. After doing your research, does the uniform fit with ideology you want to align yourself with? Is it an old Nazi coat? Is it a Soviet winter hat? Does it have sniper insignia on it? Are there any markings on it that would align you with a political group?  Do you agree with those groups and are you willing to be associate with them? If not, you should probably not wear the garment. (This is also why research is so important!)

Are you able to ask the person who originally wore it if they're alright with you wearing it?

This will mostly apply in the case of family pieces. If the person is around... why not ask and find out directly if they're alright with another person wearing it? 

If the piece is yours, are you allowed by your service to mix in the piece with civilian clothes?

I know in the case of the US military, we have rules on which of our uniform items can and cannot be mixed with civilian clothing. Especially if you are currently serving, it would be good to stick with your regulations! (An example from the Air Force is below.)

When and where will you be wearing it? Will the context be appropriate?

Particularly if you have not served in the military, could you be mistaken for a veteran by wearing the garment? Will you be taking credit for something you did not do by wearing the uniform at that time, i.e. Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, etc.? Or, alternatively, are you representing a veteran of the time accurately and honorably (as in a reenactment), someone that may not be present to represent him- or herself or their generation? What about as a Halloween costume? (Feel free to share your thoughts below!)

Will people even know it's a military garment?
Some uniform pieces aren't noticeably "military" while being worn without the rest of a uniform. Pieces like old Navy dungarees, olive drab fatigues, etc. may not even register as a uniform item because they don't have rank, insignia, etc. In fact, many military items of the past were *designed* to be worn as civilian clothing after a person left the military, such as in the case of WWII Navy WAVES uniforms!

Are you honoring the original wearer with how you're wearing the uniform?

Men and women earned the right to wear these uniforms with hard work, training, and sometimes major sacrifice. Is the way you're wearing it respectful of that, or are you being cavalier?

I know this will be controversial, but I'm going to share my personal opinion on this part. As a female military member, it greatly bothers me when people use others' military garments for publicly shared pinup/burlesque/cheesecake shoots.  Women in the military have historically struggled against being marginalized and sexualized, and these kinds of shoots just perpetuate that perception of women in uniform. It also reduces a uniform that women have fought for the right to wear into just a sexy prop that anyone can throw on. Do male veterans tend to mind it? No, for obvious reasons. But they aren't the ones that have been historically sexualized while wearing it. However, the opinions of women warriors vary on this issue, so take it all with a grain of salt and make your own decision!

A member of the vintage community, Faith, that does an awesome job honoring veterans!

What will veterans think?

Some of you are connected to the military community, some of you aren't, so I'll share a couple anecdotes with you to illustrate the differing views of veterans on people wearing uniform pieces that aren't theirs. Of course, the cultural views around military uniforms vary widely from country to country, and I only have experience with American culture. (If you have insight for other countries and cultures, please share below!)

A common story is the story of a grandson wearing his WWII/Korean War veteran grandfather's uniform pieces, whether it's a coat, jacket, etc. The grandfather is proud and happy to see his grandson wearing it.

One time while I was at a training school, an Army member wore a tan Marine Corps tie with a civilian outfit. When a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant saw it, he was livid. He told him it wasn't his uniform item to wear, that he hadn't earned it. Particularly as a currently serving military member, he should know better than to disrespect a uniform like that. (It almost resulted in a fight!)

In other cases when people that aren't military members wear military garments, I've largely seen veterans just kind of roll their eyes and chalk it up to ignorance, being a "dependa," or a person's desire to look "tactical." They probably won't say anything to the person, but it's a thing.

I don't mean to imply any of these responses are more right or more wrong than the others. They're just things that, unless you're close to someone in the military community, you may never know about. They're possible responses for you to take into consideration as you decide what to wear.

So do you have any thoughts? Particularly for those of you that have earned the right to wear a uniform by serving in the military, what are your thoughts on the issue? Are there particular country/culture views that may come into play in your context that people should consider?

For others, what do you do with old uniform pieces you run across?


  1. This is an incredibly interesting topic and I love the insight you gave to it.

    While I had two grandfathers who served in WWII, both had negative experiences, and I do not believe their uniforms were kept. At least, the discussion of where they are has not been brought up, nor did I ever see them.

    In some ways, finding a piece of a uniform second hand almost feels as if the person who "earned it" gave it up. Yes, the uniform is still part of a large group of people who are still around, but that original wearer abandoned it. Or, perhaps their heirs did.

    In my experience, most second-hand military uniforms (I remember 60s German jackets being very popular) were have been worn by anarchists, those in the punk scene, and those who overall don't really seem to care much for the military.

    For a long while I wore a Korean era Army Ike jacket, with a Vietnam era button that read "POWs Never Have a Nice Day" with an unhappy face on it. Later I amassed collection of anti-Vietnam War, pro-voting buttons that I put on the jacket, but eventually it got to a point where the jacket was more like a piece of art, than a garment, and it rarely is worn. I liked the juxtaposition of a military jacket being adored with anti-war messages, and it reminded me greatly of how many soldiers in Vietnam would alter their own gear with anti-war messages. I received one negative comment when I wore it, but overall the response was one of interest, but with no positive or negative comment. I can understand some being offended by it, and seeing it as disrespectful, however, I would point simply to the fact there were members of the military who had similar messages and altered their uniforms in a similar fashion.

    At one point I had a WAVES uniform, thinking I would get into reenacting, but later sold it, because I have complex feelings about reenacting.

    1. I've also found that many orphaned uniforms are given away by family members after someone dies.

      Yes, the anti-war pieces are a very important part of history and the American military experience. I think it's important that military members speak on their experiences; Vietnam was an especially hard time to be in the military.

      For me, though, these anti-war messages tied to military uniforms are meaningful when they're worn by the people who wore those uniforms in the military. They're *their* uniform pieces. It's their statement to make because they earned that perspective through experience.

  2. What a great, informative post. Many thanks!

  3. I guess I never really thought much about the topic. But it is something to consider. We once found a uniform hat for my younger brother. (but he just wore it around the house.)
    Anyway it is definitely good advice to think through your actions whatever they may be.

    Also am so excited to see that you posted! I have been following your blog but, at the time I joined, you had stopped posting for a spell, anyway its great to see that you still are blogging!!!

    1. Awww, thank you! I post a lot more on Facebook and Instagram these days if you want to follow there!