When the US Air Force decided to adopt the Informal White uniform in 1963 it was thinking about a counterpart known as the Informal Black uniform. The Informal Black uniform was adopted by the end of 1965; however, it was being examined by the USAF Uniform Board as early as mid 1962. The USAF Uniform Board was perplexed with the idea of which I refer to as “NOT QUIT.” They needed a good semi-dress uniform that had to fit somewhere between Service Dress and Mess Dress. The uniform had to be “NOT QUIT” Mess Dress but, then on the other hand, “NOT QUIT” more than Service Dress. Using the old Semiformal Evening Dress by officers by changing the Service Dress uniform was not acceptable. The Semiformal Evening Dress uniform, after the adoption of Mess Dress, was for enlisted personnel only. The new Informal Black uniform was designed specifically for the officer, had to stand in for official and social functions of the Air Force, and also be acceptable for use in military ceremonies. The uniform had to have eye appeal, elevate the importance and appearance of military ceremonies in general and be distinctively new and unique.
The Informal White uniform was an easy task. It took the Dress White uniform which was already regulation, made minor changes and turned it into the Informal White uniform. Though initial USAF Board discussions had Mess Dress shoulder boards on the Informal White, the idea did not make the final cut. On the other hand, the Informal Black uniform was a bit more complicated and incorporated the styles and designs of Mess Dress, Service Dress and Informal White uniforms. It was thought that both uniforms would work well together as the Informal White and Black and bridge the gap between Service Dress and Mess Dress. Both uniforms were considered to be optional for most officers but mandatory for those in designated positions. The initial trend of thought of the 11th USAF Uniform board in 1962 was that the “dark uniform is proposed for wear on occasions when the Army blues would be worn” and the “white uniform is proposed for wear on occasions when the Navy whites would be worn.”
The Informal Black uniform was the same cut and style of the US Air Force blue Service Dress uniform but in black. The material authorized for use was nine ounce wool polyester, twelve ounce all wool gabardine, and seventeen ounce elastic. It retained the nylon silver-gray or aluminum lace braid of the Informal White on the sleeves of the coat and down the trouser legs. However the braid on the sleeve for general officer was always one and one-half inches in width. In lieu of full loops on the shoulder, Mess Dress shoulder boards were worn to denote rank. Miniature medals and badges were always worn as on the Mess Dress uniform.
Figure 1: Men’s Informal Black uniform as
pictured in AFM 35-10
Figure 2: usafflagranks.com
Informal Black Dress uniform.
Mess Dress shoulder boards and miniature
medals were regulation.
General William Y. Smith, USAF
Figure 3: usafflagranks.com
Top and bottom - USAF Chief of Staff Charles Gabriel
wearing his Black Informal Dress uniform
while attending a ceremony in Korea.
Many collectors and others have asked the question, “Why black?” in regard to an Air Force informal or semiformal uniform. After all, the Air Force has never had a history of using black uniforms. Upon examining piles of minutes produced by the USAF Uniform Board, the answer was not simple. Without directly mentioning the reason, it seems the Board was interested in continuing the color used in the winter black Mess Dress. The winter black Mess Dress was a success and they were trying to produce a uniform that was “NOT QUIT” Mess Dress. And then there is the historical link. Black was always the color for formal occasions in civilian life going back to the evolution of coat with tails and the tuxedo.
As was with the white, the black uniform was authorized for optional purchase. However, there were many cases in which it was required. It was a required uniform for Air Attaches and Assistants as directed by the Chief of Staff, USAF. It was required for officers and warrant officers to USAF Military Missions and to Military Assistance Advisory Groups as appropriate. It was for off-duty wear and for informal social occasions both for daytime use and evening. It could be worn at official functions or ceremonies when authorized by the local commander. The uniform was not worn in lieu of the Mess Dress on occasions when the civilian counterpart is the dinner jacket.
The undergarment shirt was plain white cotton with short or medium point collars and with French or barrel cuffs. Suspenders were considered optional but if used were black. The belt is a regulation webbed USAF style but is black with silver satin finish buckle. The four-in-hand tie was black. The socks were plain black and the shoes plain black low-quarter style without perforations or other decorations. The regulation cap worn with the Black Informal dress uniform was the visor type cap with black cover. It is the same cap as prescribed for the winter black Mess Dress uniform. All badges and insignia worn on the Informal Black uniform are the same as worn on Mess Dress.
Commissioned officers and warrant officers who were aides and attaché were required to wear aiguillettes. They wore silver dress aiguillettes of silver color rayon or metallic type. Aiguillettes were worn on the right shoulder by an aide to the President of the United States, duly appointed White House Social Aides while on duty with the First Family and officers designated as aides to foreign heads of state. Other aides and attaché wear the aiguillette on the left shoulder.
As in the Informal White uniform, there were two styles of Informal Black uniforms for women. They were similar in style and used the Mess Dress shoulder boards and miniature medals. The silver braid for officer was only found on the single breasted version of the uniform.
Figure 4: AFM 35-10
The women’s Informal Black uniform.
By 1983, the Informal Black dress uniform was no longer listed for regulation use. A couple years prior, the name of the uniform changed to the Black Ceremonial Dress uniform. The Air Force continued its use of ceremonial uniforms but did so with the newly adopted Blue Ceremonial Dress uniform. Once the blue Mess Dress was adopted it didn’t take the USAF Uniform Board long to figure out the ceremonial uniform had to go blue as well. One of the main reason for doing away with white and black Mess Dress was blue was a much more acceptable Air Force color and could be worn year round instead of seasonal.
In contrast to Informal Black, the Blue Ceremonial Dress uniform was mandatory for all officers and optional for all enlisted personnel. It was thought the miniature medals gave the uniform too much of a Mess Dress theme so they were discontinued. Mess Dress shoulder boards were continued but with the use of Service Dress ribbons, badges, wings and insignia. However, the insignia had to match and be all silver-oxide or all high polish insignia. Prior to the uniform be discontinued in the mid 1990’s, silver oxide insignia were no longer allowed in favor of the high the polish style.
The silver braid of the Informal Black uniform carried over to the blue. General flag rank officers used three-quarter inch silver braid around the sleeves of the coat and down the trouser legs. Field grade officers had one-half inch silver braid around the coat sleeves and no silver braid on the trousers. Company grade officers used the one-half inch blue braid normally associated with Service Dress and corresponding plain blue trousers. Enlisted personnel had no braid and therefore could use the Service Dress uniform with little or no difference. The silver cap chinstrap being the only item required.
The only difference between the company grade officer’s Service Dress and Ceremonial Dress uniforms were the Mess Dress shoulder boards. It was easy for a company grade officer to transform the Service Dress uniform. Company grade officers were instructed to place the Mess Dress shoulder boards over the full shoulder loops. The shoulder boards were kept in place with two-ribbon mounting bar devices through the strap of the shoulder board and epaulette of the uniform.
Figure 5: usafflagranks.com
Blue Ceremonial Dress uniform for
rank of major general with appropriate silver braid.
Note the early silver braid used on the trousers for rank of general.
The trouser stripe was eventually discontinued.
General Charles J. Searock, Jr., USAF
The blue coat was 100% polyester serge, semi-drape, single-breasted, with four buttons, pleated breast pockets and inside hanging lower pockets. All the pockets had flaps. The coat was never form fitting but was suppressed at the waist with ease in shoulders, chest and underarms. The trousers were full cut, straight hanging and without a cuff. The undergarment shirt was white, plain knitted or woven, commercial type with short or medium point collars, without design. The shirt may be button or French cuff. If French cuffs were worn on the shirt, cuff links were to be used as previously described. The tie worn with the shirt was blue plain-woven wool, synthetics or blends thereof. The tie was a four-in-hand without sheen or decoration. The suspenders were optional, were black or blue and were not visible when worn. Footwear was black is low quarter, with plain rounded toe, and without perforations or other decorations. The footwear may be smooth or scotch-grained leather or manmade material and may be high-gloss or patent finish. Plain black socks were worn and the blue Service Dress belt was used for the trousers. The regulation cap worn with the blue ceremonial dress uniform was the visor type Service Dress cap with silver front chinstrap. Outer garments with the ceremonial dress include the all-weather coat, overcoat and raincoat.
Figure 6: usaff;agranks.com
The only difference between Service Dress
and Blue Ceremonial Dress was the silver chin strap.
General Charles J. Searock, Jr., USAF
The women’s blue Ceremonial Dress uniform is identical to its white counterpart except in color and the silver braid on the sleeve for the officer. The silver sleeve braid on the white Ceremonial Dress uniform had blue piping bordering the top and bottom of the silver braid. The blue Ceremonial Dress uniform does not.
Figure 7: AFR 35-10
The women’s blue Ceremonial Dress uniform.
On 1 August 1994, ceremonial dress uniforms of the United States Air Force were no longer listed for regulation mainstream use. A style of Ceremonial Dress uniform continued but was used only for the US Air Force Honor Guard and Chaplaincy and was considered a “Distinctive Uniform.” After 1994, the Mess Dress uniform was used for year round formal and semiformal occasions.
The phase out date for all embroidered badges and insignia for any formal or informal uniform was 1 October 1997. Embroidered badges and insignia could no longer be used on the officer and enlisted Mess Dress and the enlisted Semi Formal Dress uniforms.