SERVICE DRESS COAT
WINTER USAF BLUE SHADE 84
1949 - 1965
After 1 July 1952, Army OD uniform was no longer authorized for US Air Force personnel. The new service dress uniforms, USAF Blue Shade 84, would remain the same for a number of years. The Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P. McConnell, 1965 to 1969, lead the way that changed the style and design of the Air Force service dress uniforms. The change would remain the same to the mid 1990s. In the mid 1990s the McPeak Service Dress was introduced which was followed by the USAF Retrofit Service Dress uniform.
The blue USAF Shade 84 service dress coat was also known as the winter coat. The material for the winter coat is all wool serge, 15 or 18 ounces. The coat is a semi-drape, single-breasted, four-button model with pleated breast pockets and lower blouse pockets. Optional recommended fabrics included: all wool gabardine, 13 to 15 ounces; all wool (Venetian) gabardine, 13 ounce; and all wool barathea, 15 ounce, for officer’s only.
Figure 1: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
USAF Blue Shade 84 Service Dress Coat.
Figure 2: USAF Blue Shade 84 Service Dress Coat. Note pockets and the shade of blue.
Lower pockets were always fondly referred to Captain Kangaroo pockets.
The buttons used on Air Force uniforms are oxidized silver-color medal of suitable composition and weight, circular, and slightly convex with raised rim, the Seal of the Department of the Air Force in clear relief against a horizontally lined background. The button measurements are: 45 ligne at 1 1/8 inches; 36 ligne at 9/10 of an inch; 30 ligne at ¾ of an inch; 25 ligne at 5/8 of an inch; and 20 ligne at ½ of an inch.
Figure 3: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
Button design and sizes found on USAF uniforms.
Proper Fit Instructions: The service coat should always be fitted when the undergarment shirt and tie is worn. The coat is a semi-drape model slightly suppressed at the waist and never formfitting. A well-fitted service coat will have ease in the shoulders, chest and underarm. The sleeve should extend to ¼ inch from the heel of the thumb when the arms are hanging naturally. The length of the coat is proportioned to the height of the figure. A standard guide is that the bottom of the coat should be fingertip length when arms hang naturally and hands are slightly cupped.
The trousers are to match the coat in color USAF Shade 84. The material for the winter trousers is all wool serge, 15 or 18 ounce. Trousers are full cut, straight hanging, and without cuff. When pleats are worn they will face in towards the fly. Rear pocket tabs are required on all blue service dress trousers. Optional recommended fabrics included: all wool gabardine, 13 to 15 ounces; all wool (Venetian) gabardine, 13 ounce; and all wool barathea, 15 ounce, for officer’s only.
Figure 4: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
USAF Blue Shade 84 Service Dress Trousers.
Proper Fit Instructions: Trousers should be trim fitting without bunching at waist or bagging at seat. Standard stock trousers come in extra short, short, regular, long, and extra long inseam length. Personnel should familiarize themselves with one of the mentioned sizes which best fits their physical dimensions. Prescribed length is without a break in the crease and with the bottom of the trousers barely resting on the shoe in the front.
The belt required for service dress will be for winter and summer. Will be of USAF Shade Blue 89, of woven cotton webbing material with silver color metal tips. Buckles are plain satin finish, nickel silver-color medal. The prescribed width of the belt is 1 ¼ inches. The prescribed buckle is approximately 1 ½ inches wide and 2 inches long. The end of the belt will not extend beyond 1 ½ inches of the buckle. Optional fabrics will include elastic and plastic materials in blue. Suspenders are an optional item but must be of plain solid blue material. Suspenders must be worn underneath the coat and not be exposed at any time.
The required undergarment shirt to be worn with the blue winter service dress is USAF Blue shade 120 cotton poplin or 126 cotton oxford cloth. The blue shirt worn under the winter coat is the one-pocket civilian type (no shoulder loops). It may be of poplin material, with medium pointed, non-flaring collar or of oxford cloth, with modified spread collar. The old style blue poplin shirt with two pockets may be worn until no longer services. Sleeves should extend to the heel of the thumb so as to permit approximately ¼ inch to extend beyond the sleeve of the coat. The 10.5 ounce all wool flannel blue shade 84 outer garment shirt was authorized but not required to be worn in colder climates with winter service dress. This would have been the darker shade blue, two-pocket shirt with epaulettes authorized as an outer garment with appropriate insignia.
The necktie required to be worn with the under garment shirt is for winter and summer. The necktie for the service uniform will be USAF Blue 84, four in-hand civilian type, unlined and constructed of all wool tropical worsted fabric 8 to 10 ounces without design or sheen. Optional fabrics would include all wool, synthetics, and blends thereof in tropical worsted, twill, or woven weave without design or sheen.
Figure 5: From AFM 35-10 Blue Shade 120
cotton poplin or Blue Shade 126 cotton oxford cloth.
The Service Cap and Flight Cap are both appropriate for use with the winter uniform. The service cap is the visor type with dark blue, ¾ inch braid and a front chin strap of black leather. Material is wool serge, blue, for winter and summer. Caps are packed with a medal packing grommet which must be removed before wearing. The wearing of the service cap without the soft rolled grommet is prohibited.
A lightweight service cap is also approved. A lightweight service cap of gabardine material is authorized for optional wear. It will be of the same basic design as the required service cap except the head band will be of an open mesh construction to give clear firm openings through the braid. Also as optional wear on all service caps, a rear chin strap of black leather.
Figure 6: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
USAF Blue Shade 84 Service Dress Cap.
The required fabric for the service cap is Blue 84, 15 ounce wool serge. However, optional fabrics were allowed as the cap was regulation for both summer and winter. The optional fabrics are: all wool gabardine, 13 to 15 ounces; all wool (Venetian) gabardine, 13 ounce; all wool tropical worsted, 8 to 10 ounce; and all wool barathea, 15 ounce for officers only.
On the service cap, persons are distinguished by use of aluminum wire on the visor as follows: General Officer – black broadcloth covered visor embroidered in aluminum wire with the Air Force lightning, cloud and dart design identifying general officers; Colonels – black broadcloth covered visor embroidered in aluminum wire with Air Force lightning cloud, and dart design identifying colonels; and Officers, Warrant Officers and Airmen – black leather visor without design.
Figure 7: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
Top: General Officer - Middle: Colonel (eventually will also be
lieutenant colonel and major) – Bottom: all officer ranks below colonel.
The only USAF officer cap that changes in design is that of the USAF Chief of Staff or if the person also becomes the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this case, the clouds with lightning bolts found on the visor also go around the band of the cap as well.
Figure 8: Private collection. USAF Chief of Staff cap worn by General Charles Gabriel.
Figure 9: Second USAF Chief of Staff Hoyt S. Vandenberg
wearing his appropriate service dress cap with
clouds and lightning bolts going around the band of the cap.
Private collection – Official USAF photo.
The flight cap is the overseas type with insert braid corresponding to the grade. Persons are distinguished by use of braid inserted on the flight cap as follows: General Officers – silver colored braid; Officers and Warrant Officers – silver color and blue brain in diamond pattern; and Airmen – blue braid. Material is wool serge, Blue 84, 15 ounce for winter and summer. As an option, Venetian gabardine is authorized for winter and summer, tropical worsted is authorized for summer and barathea material for both winter and summer.
Figure 10: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
Garrison cap, also known as the flight cap and overseas cap.
Figure 11: Private collection. Solid silver colored braid for general rank officer.
The shoes for service dress are low quarter, black, laced, smooth or scotch grain leather, with plain or plain-capped toes, and without perforations, buckles or straps. The upper part of the shoe is not to exceed ankle bone height. Socks are of black wool, worsted, cotton, synthetic type or silk, without decoration.
How the winter service coat uniform is worn. Uniform items: Headgear – service cap or flight cap, blue shade 84; Tie – blue shade 84; Belt – blue shade 89; Shoes – black; and Socks – black. Materials in the coat and trousers are to match. Blue shade 84 service coat with blue shade 84 trousers and blue shade 120 or 126 undergarment poplin or oxford cloth shirt. Blue shade 84 gabardine coat with blue shade 84 gabardine trousers and blue shade 120 or 126 poplin or oxford cloth shirt. Officers may use blue shade 84 barathea coat with matching trousers.
Figure 12: From AFM 35-10 and private collection.
USAF Blue Shade 84 Service Dress Coat Uniform.
Figure 13: Standing to the left. Second USAF Chief of Staff Hoyt S. Vandenberg
wearing the USAF Blue Shade 84 Service Dress Coat Uniform.
To the right is General Omar Bradley, USA. Private collection – Official
ALL SEASON USAF BLUE SHADE
1084 AND 1549 SERVICE DRESS
1962 – 1969
The Summer Service Uniform Tan Shade 193 was no longer authorized for use after 15 October 1965. To replace the summer tan uniform, the US Air Force adopted the lightweight All Season Blue Shade 1084 uniform on 1 May 1962. The time between 1962 and 1965 was the transitional period in which officers were to make the switch. The officer could retain and use the blue winter material service dress but had to add the lightweight all season blue service dress uniform for summer. The style and design of the all season 1084 service dress remained the same as its predecessor, the Blue Shade 84 Winter Service Dress Coat Uniform. The main differences were the material which became tropical worsted and a slight change in the shade of blue. Eventually, the all season service dress uniform became the norm for year round. The winter material Blue Shade 84 service dress could be used until they were considered no longer serviceable.
Eventually, two types of material were used in the All Season Blue 1084 Service Dress, a lightweight and a heavier weight in corresponding to winter and summer. Both weights of material and uniforms were considered year round. However, it was recommended that an officer possess at least two sets of uniforms of each weight. The different weights could not be worn together. Coats and trousers had to be matching weights. By 1967 Blue Shade 1549 was introduced. Both shades of blue were acceptable and both were produced in lightweight and heavyweight. The service dress cap shade of blue was to match the uniform. The caps were also produced in 15 ounce or 18 ounce serge corresponding to year round winter and summer.
Figure 14: The new All Season USAF Blue Shade 1084
uniform worn by Major General Harry M. Darmstandler.
The Tropical Blue was the all season for summer light weight material.
GENERAL JOHN P. MCCONNELL
1969 – 1994
By the end of 1969, a major design change was introduced. It was the first major design change of the uniform since its inception in 1949. Under the leadership of the USAF Chief of Staff, General John P. McConnell, the darker shade of blue (1549) was made permanent, smaller lapels were added and the two lower external large pockets were changed to hidden pockets with the flap only showing. The replaced large external pockets were always fondly called Captain Kangaroo pockets for those who remember the Captain.
Figure 15: Comparison of uniforms.
Top uniform is the design prior to the changes under
General John P. McConnell. Bottom is the design after the changes.
The most noticeable changes are the shade of blue, smaller collars and lapels,
and the two large external pockets became
internal with only the flap showing. Captain Kangaroo pockets are gone
on the new design.
By 1975, and the changes introduced by General McConnell, there was only one shade of blue authorized for the USAF Service Dress Uniform. Blue Shade 1084 was totally phased out and Blue Shade 1549 was the only acceptable shade of blue. However, the uniform continued to be made in light weight and heavier weight material. All uniforms were considered to be year round all season but the weights of material corresponded to winter and summer. In addition, polyester blends were introduced which had an impact on the USAF Service Dress uniform. By 1978, some terminology changed. The uniform was no longer referred to as the all season blue but rather the “dark blue” service dress uniform.
By 1986, insignia found on the service dress uniform started to change. Silver or silver-oxide color was always the acceptable type of insignia for service dress. High gloss insignia were now covered by regulations. However, one could not mix the different insignia on the uniform. If high gloss was used, all insignia had to be high gloss, same for silver or silver oxide. This practice continued until the McPeak Service Dress Uniform became regulation. At that point all insignia was to be high gloss. High gloss continues to be the norm to present date.
Different shades and materials continued to change in the hopes of improving the USAF Service Dress Uniform. By 1989 the service dress uniform was available in dark blue shade 1578 in wool and polyester, tropical or gabardine; 1598 polyester serge; and 1608 polyester and wool tropical weave. Eventually there was a 100% polyester service dress uniform. Mixing of materials was still prohibited and the cap would be of matching color to the coat and trousers.
Minor changes to the service dress uniform started to become common place. A type of material might be phased in and phased out before anyone knew a change was being considered. One has to remember that for every change to the service dress uniform there are wear testing dates, adoption dates and transition dates for officers to comply. A lot of these dates overlap and different items are used simultaneously until phased out or in one way or another. At time, it is impossible to trace all the minute changes. Sometimes there is a testing period but the change is not adopted. Sometimes there are adopted changes with no transition periods because the change is so small, i.e. changing a number on the nomenclature. At times, some items were slated to be phased out through attrition. Unless one had the transcribed minutes from the USAF Uniform Board, it would be impossible to list all changes and variations. Variations may be found not listed on this web site.
Figure 16: Official French military photo – private collection.
USAF Chief of Staff, General Charles A. Gabriel
wearing the McConnell style service dress uniform at
an official French military function.
GENERAL MERRILL A. MCPEAK
1991 – 1994
Figure 17: USAF Chief of Staff, General Merrill A. McPeak wearing
his newly designed uniform.
Private collection – Official USAF Photo.
By far, the most controversial and unusual uniform within the repertoire of US Air Force uniforms. The uniform was named after General Merrill A. McPeak, the fifteenth Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force - 30 October 1990 to 25 October 1994. Since the US Air Force separated from the US Army in 1947, the US Air Force uniform evolved very little. General McPeak felt the US Air Force uniform needed a long overdue change of appearance. In 1991, he ordered a change in the style and design of the service dress uniform. The change in style was so profound; the uniform has since become identified to the general. It was, by far, the most sweeping change in the USAF service uniform since 1948 but became the Edsel of US Air Force uniforms.
The unveiling date of the new uniform was 31 October 1991. Wear testing was to be accomplished in 1992. The uniform was to be made available to all officers by 1994. The issuing date of the new uniform was 1 October 1995. However, the old service style uniform still in use was also covered by regulation and could be used up to and including 1 October 1999. This meant a four-year transition period was allowed for officers to switch to the new style uniform. However, the uniform started to appear publically as early as 1992 during the wear testing period.
Normally, a transitional period in the US Air Force would run without a hitch. By the end of the four year period, the officers would have been given ample time to make the transition. However, once the uniform was released, it became an immediate flop with the officers. Not very many officers liked the new uniform. Some thought it looked too much like the US Navy uniform while others thought it looked like and airline pilot’s uniform. Whatever the discontent, the officers did not look forward to the transition to the new uniform.
Many officers decided to wait to the last minute before switching over to the new service dress uniform. They new there was wide spread discontent among the officers in lieu of the new uniform. They felt if they could avoid the change as long as possible there might be a chance that the new uniform would be discontinued or dropped before the end of the transitional period due to so much discontent. Another factor for consideration was that General McPeak would probably not be the USAF Chief of Staff by the end of the transitional period, 1999. The officers were hoping the wide spread discontent toward the new uniform would convince the new Chief of Staff to countermand the orders of his predecessor and discontinue its use.
The hopes and patients of the officers paid off. General McPeak was no longer the USAF Chief of Staff after 25 October 1994. General McPeak was replaced by General Ronald R. Fogleman on 26 October 1994 as the new USAF Chief of Staff. During the tenure of General Fogleman’s leadership of the US Air Force as Chief of Staff, the orders on the new service dress uniform were countermanded and the General McPeak uniform was no longer considered regulation.
The McPeak uniform was no longer regulation and the transitional period was brought to an early immediate close. However, the old US Air Force service dress uniform was not reinstated. Another new style US Air Force service dress uniform was adopted which was much more acceptable to US Air Force personnel. The old style US Air Force service dress uniform would never be used again.
Just as the Edsel was a flop the McPeak uniform was a flop as well. However, today the Edsel is one of the most sought after cars as a collectible. Not many people bought or held onto the Edsel and, in time, a rarity was created for the collector. The same is true for the General McPeak uniform. Because the officers waited to the last minute to buy their new McPeak uniforms, not many were sold. When the McPeak uniform was discontinued there were not many in circulation. This has created one of the rarest US Air Force uniforms to collect. In matter of fact, when a McPeak uniform is found without the attached US Air Force insignia, most people do not recognize it as a US Air Force uniform and think it belongs to the US Navy or a commercial airline company.
Many high-ranking officers wore the McPeak uniform as early as possible to show solidarity with the US Air Force Chief of Staff especially if they were stationed in Washington, D.C. The wear-testing period for the McPeak uniform was 1992. Many of the high-ranking officers, who received their uniforms early, received them through Air Material Command as Experimental Test items. Therefore, if a high-ranking officer’s uniform is found it will probably be marked “Experimental Test” which creates a much more sought after uniform to have in one’s collection.
The McPeak uniform was blue shade 1620 and was 55/45 percent polyester wool blend serge weave. Its equivalent counterpart in the civilian world would have been the business suit. The coat is semi-draped and single breasted with three buttons. As in a civilian suit, there was one left breast pocket without a flap. There were two lower pocket flaps. The buttons bear the old US Army Air Corps wings and star. Officer rank will be worn on the lower sleeve as silver colored braid bands similar to the US Navy. The trousers are of matching color and material.
Figure 18: From 35-10 and private collection. The McPeak Service Dress Uniform.
Intended to be sleek and uncluttered. The new USAF service
dress uniform was characterized as being stripped of unnecessary insignia.
No longer covered by regulations were outer patch pockets,
epaulettes, names tags and the officer’s
U.S. device on the lapel.
Figure 19: Silver rank bands for four star general.
Only the general officer had the two-inch wide braid with clouds and lightning bolts.
Each band above the general band was another star. Private collection.
The belt and buckle remained the same as in the old style service dress except general officers may wear a buckle bearing the wing and star design. The shirt under garment can be any of the regulation long sleeve light blue styles with epaulets. The tie is to be polyester herringbone twill, Air Force shade 1621. Footwear is the black low quarter shoe without design or decoration and the socks are plain black. The cap worn with the McPeak uniform was the service cap or flight cap. The shade and material of the cap did not need to match the uniform. All regulation insignia was to be high gloss.
Figure 20: Regulation on the McPeak uniform, the general officer belt buckle
displayed the wings and stars design. This style belt buckle was used for a
number of years by generals before the McPeak uniform. Private collection.
Figure 21: The button with the old US Army Air Corps
wings and star adopted for the McPeak uniform. The style
is still used today. Private collection.
Outer garments worn with the McPeak uniform were the all-weather coat, overcoat or raincoat. If gloves are used they are to be wool knit or leather and gray or black in color. A scarf was authorized for use with the outer garment. The scarf was to be made of wool or cotton, with or without napped surface, white or gray and worn tucked in. Any commercial earmuffs may be used as long as they were plain and solid blue, black or gray color. Cuff links could be one of any three kinds authorized by the USAF: wing and star design; oval bearing US Air Force coat-of-arms; or the plain satin silver finish. Style of cuff links was optional as long as it was one of the three mentioned.
Figure 22: McPeak style slip on shirt epaulet for general officers.
Figure 23: General McPeak wearing his service dress uniform with
his new style slip-on shoulder marks. Photo taken from the
March 28, 1994 issue of Air Force Times.
Figure 24: Commissioned rank insignia as worn on the McPeak uniform.
First band is two inches from the end of the sleeve. Each consecutive band
is one-quarter inch apart.
Figure 25: Out with the old and in with the new.
At the inactivation ceremony at Williams AFB on 31 March 93, ATC
Commander, General Henry Viccello, Jr., (left) and the 82nd
Training Wing Commander, Colonel Roger A. Alexander,
furl the wing flag. Note the general’s uniform is the McPeak style
while the colonel’s is the older McConnell style.
From AETC in Profile (page 121) published by the
USAF Office of History and Research.
1994 – PRESENT
By 1995, things were in a bit of confusion for the USAF officer in lieu of the service dress uniform. Three different types and styles of uniforms were covered by regulations. The General John P. McConnell style was still regulation because it was suppose to be phased out by 1999 for the General Merrill A. McPeak uniform. The General Merrill A. McPeak uniform was regulation up to 30 September 1996 for those who switched to the McPeak style. When the McPeak transition period discontinued in 1994 the style did not revert back to the John P. McConnell uniform. Instead, a new service dress uniform was introduced which was referred to as the USAF Retrofit Service Dress Uniform. The Retrofit Service Dress would eventually win-out and be the only uniform covered by regulations.
In reality, there were opponents and proponents of all three service dress uniforms. It seemed most were hoping things would revert back to the old style. One has to remember that not many of the officers changed to the McPeak uniform and were still wearing their old uniforms. There were supporters of the McPeak uniform but, in general, the uniform did not have the history and popularity of the McConnell uniform. On the other hand, the Retrofit uniform is new and looks like a business man’s uniform. This aspect has been cited by both proponents and opponents of the Retrofit uniform. Many liked the new business style uniform but many thought the blazer business style looked too flimsy and did not relate to the history and heritage of the US Air Force. At present, the Retrofit is the only acceptable service dress uniform covered by USAF regulations. However, a new Heritage Service Dress uniform is under study which better reflects the history of the United States Air Force in style and design.
The Retrofit Service Dress uniform is a polyester-wool blend, serge weave, semi draped, single breasted coat with three buttons. The buttons are satin finished Hap Arnold style with wings and star. There is one welt pocket on the upper left side and two lower pocket flaps. The welt pocket is used to align ribbons and badges. Ribbons are to rest on but not over the edge of the pocket. Three or four ribbons per row are acceptable. All insignia such as the aeronautical ratings, specialty badges, occupational badges, distinctive badges, identification badges and the officer’s U.S. lapel insignia are high gloss in style. At first, name tags were not authorized. In time, the blue plastic name tag was adopted and then dropped in favor of a medal name tag. The medal name tag was to be worn on the right side of the uniform and at the same level of the bottom row of ribbons to the left. Colonel and below wear regular size insignia on the epaulettes and have a one-half inch dark blue sleeve braid three inches from the end of the sleeve. General officers sleeve braid is dark blue with a width of one and one-half inches. Generals wear three-quarter or five-eighths inch stars. Lieutenant generals, major generals and brigadier generals center one inch stars on the epaulettes.
Figure 26: From AFI 36-2903 and private collection.
The USAF Retrofit Service Dress Uniform. Notice
the thick one and one-half inch band around
the lower arm for general officer.
Bro John Schlund, SM
1 September 2006
17 May 2007
22 January 2010