The Changing Face of Female Military Uniforms

Nazya Ayaz

Without a doubt, military women wear the uniform with understandable pride. There is a longstanding history of women serving in the armed forces dating back to the civil war, and undeniably the uniform represents a symbol of many rich traditions.

Over the years the female military uniform has undergone significant changes but quintessentially, it remains classy in design, historically significant, and both practical and elegant at the same time.

The very first women’s green service uniform was approved in March 1956 by the Army Uniform Board and marked the birth of the army green for women – which men had earlier received – and therefore symbolizing a move toward equity between men and women soldiers. This was only the beginning of the changes to the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) uniform.Photo: Women in military uniform, [ca. 1945]

Military uniforms are designed and built to account for the soldier’s comfort and convenience so they can carry out their duties to the best of their abilities. However, military uniforms must also perform the following functions:

Distinction – Signify an individual’s specific job role within the military and distinguish their rights to carry weapons or operate certain types of machinery.

Visibility and camouflage– From bright colors in the 19thCentury to help in identification on the battle field, to more camouflaged ones currently used today to support in disguising.

Protection – Offer protective features not just from climatic elements but also enemy fire.

Logistics – Ease of reproduction to outfit thousands of soldiers quickly and efficiently during a war.

Psychological warfare – Form enhancing gear to strike fear in the opponent by making soldiers appear larger and more formidable.

Today, with women accounting for 15.5% of the U.S. Army, the unisex military uniform is now being redesigned with the female figure in mind.

This is primarily to reduce their risks of musculoskeletal disorders from ill-fitting armor, and therefore enhance their performance on the battlefield. Although this may alter the basic design of the military uniform, the basic functions of the gear still prevail.

Modern day military uniforms are much more simple and utilitarian in nature compared to their grand and decorative predecessors. U.S. Army soldiers wear standard camouflage utilities for practically all purposes unless there is a dress parade or formal occasion where they will wear their full dress uniforms.

Contrary to popular belief, the dress uniform is a product of fine craftsmanship and design. The fashion industry clearly has lent a hand in this regard, dressing military officers for meetings with important public and political figures such as Kings and Queens and nation Presidents.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the dress uniform continues to remain a symbol of military elegance and stature.

White seems to be the color of choice, not only for summer uniforms but also for formal occasions. However, different services within the military (Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc.) utilize different colors to indicate their own fields of specialization.

Army and Marine divisions predominantly make use of green in their dress uniforms, while Air Force and Navy opt for blue in light and darker hues respectively.

Military officers always wear their insignia of rank on their uniform, and depending on their unit, this is always shown either on the shoulder loop, sleeves or hat device.

Accessories such as dinner jackets, capes, gloves, ascot ties and decorated headgear such as berets are common embellishments used to adorn the military dress uniform.

Similar to the combat attire, the dress uniform has also evolved to reflect the changes in taste and attitude of an era.

Aside from offering comfort and practicality, these changes not only make the military uniform more handsome, they also elevate the garment as a hallmark of a respected profession. Personally, there could be no finer way to serve.

Military uniforms will come under the microscope at IDGA's 5th Annual Soldier Equipment & Technology Expo on June 18-19. For more details, go to