From Powdered Wigs to Camouflage: The Ever-Changing Style of the U.S. Army – Chris Miller – The Atlantic

Those who have never served in the military would find it hard to believe the attention placed on a soldier’s appearance. Army Regulation 670-1 governs the wear and appearance of the Army uniform and is constantly revised. But it goes far beyond just uniforms. It covers shaving, haircuts, and hairstyles; fingernail polish, length, and cleanliness; tattoos, piercings, and dental work; and even extends to off-duty appearance. AR 670-1 is the reason you won’t find soldiers with their hands in their pockets.

This degree of micromanagement is one of many reasons many, including myself, decide not to make the Army a career. During my nine years in the service, I followed regulations like a professional soldier, but after I came back from combat each time I found it increasingly difficult to care about what color gym bag I could or couldn’t carry.

And yet, when I joined the U.S. Army in 1999, I starched and pressed my uniform every day with creases so sharp you could cut bread with them. I polished my boots to a shine so high you could see your soul in it. Some soldiers used to soak their uniforms in buckets of starch and iron them until they could stand up on their own. Others used hair dryers to melt and re-melt their boot polish. A few used floor wax. Many would turn their uniforms in to the cleaners every week to be pressed. Some even bought their own industry-grade machines. Every Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. there was a showdown to see which platoon had the sharpest looking troopers.

via From Powdered Wigs to Camouflage: The Ever-Changing Style of the U.S. Army – Chris Miller – The Atlantic.

I never could shine shoes or boots worth a damn. But man,  I could  press the heck out of some BDUs.

9 thoughts on “From Powdered Wigs to Camouflage: The Ever-Changing Style of the U.S. Army – Chris Miller – The Atlantic”

  1. After 3 years of Military School I could shine shoes and boots to a mirror shine. And I could wax and buff floors so well the DI’s were actually falling, even with wearing taps on their boots. So I got Voluntold to teach the rest of the guys in my platoon to polish their boots/shoes and do the floors in basic. I missed out on a lot of the fun stuff because of being held back at the barracks buffing the floors or polishing everyone else’s boots for inspection. The kicker was when we were switching from OD’s to BDU’s the No Starch Allowed in the Barracks, I showed them the way to get around that with Windex and Purple Power window cleaner, I spent 3 days doing nothing but teaching the rest of the platoon how to iron their BDU’s and their class B’s and class C’s. When I got to my unit I kept my mouth shut and never mentioned that I knew how to Iron, Shine shoes/boots or wax/buff floors.

  2. I was awarded an honorable discharged from the Marine Corps in 1995. Fast forward to 2011. My then 14 year old son joins the Civil Air Patrol. The first CAP uniform he gets are woodland BDU’s and black leather boots. I showed him how to shine the boots and iron the cammies, ooops, I mean BDU’s by first shinning one boot and ironing the trousers. He finished the rest, under my careful direction. ( I said NO STEAM! You sprayed it with Magic Sizing! Why would you put the cardboard on top of the pocket flap! Put it over the buttons, but under the flap. Geez! Have you been huffing that Magic Sizing. Don’t burn those Irish pennants that long unless you like scorch marks! Use those scissors first. ) It was like 16 years hadn’t gone by. I didn’t even have to think about what I needed to do. The first time he did it all by himself, it took over an hour. Now he can work that iron and boot brush like a boss. He likes ironing the thin ripstop way more than the heavier weight material. He now teachers new cadets how to iron their BDU’s and shine their boots.

    He is really leaning toward a career as a Marine officer. I told him if he does become a Marine officer, fortunately (or not), he won’t be required to so thoroughly iron a camouflage uniform or shine boots, unless the uniform regulations are changed. His reply: “I hope the regulations don’t change.”

  3. Nothing says “I’m a useless tool that doesn’t do any work” like military creases on coveralls.

    I’ve never understood why people get so caught up in working uniform appearance. A friend of mine was kicked out of a speech by the VP (Cheney) while in the Gulf because he had paint on his coveralls. Probably has something to do with having relatively unimportant jobs that lack any kind of external metric of quality.

  4. Ah, the scent of scotch tape melting into a crease under the heat of the iron … lotso memories of knob year right there ….

  5. I still polish my Jump Boots to the mirror standard regularly, it is practical meditation.

    In the barracks, I ironed my BDUs and got called out during Open Ranks on mondays. One day, a fellow in the platoon asked if I could iron his inspection BDUs. The however, comma, was he expected me to do it for free.

    That attitude cost him fifty dollars. In advance.

    After that, I opened a laundry in the barracks. Good enough to warrant a waiting list.

    I had just started operations at Campbell when the Pixel Grays were RFI’d.

    Damned war profiteers . . . there is a special circle of hell reserved just for them . . . and congress critters.

  6. I could never press, but I could shine. And even back in the day, the excercise struck me as stupid. Dress uniforms? Sure. Spit and polish till the cows come home. But Battle Dress Uniforms? Why the HELL were those supposed to be spit and polished? I know the standard answer (attention to detail), but that still made zero sense in the context. You can demonstrate the attention to detail in wall locker presentation and dress uniforms, but work uniforms should be used for WORK.

  7. I thought the best looking unifroms we wore were teh jungle fatigues with jungle boots which were reauthorized for use on some Southern CONUS bases in the early to late 1980s while they figured out the LW BDUs. A top and bottom were $4 at clothing sales.

    I could buy a new set, sew on rank and branch insiginia, name tapes, scare badges and have them cleaned and pressed for less than a new LW BDU shirt.

    And the jungle boots were teh most comfortable (and practical) shoes I ever wore outside fo my LL Bean moccasins.

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