To Stand Out, the Army Picks a New Uniform With a World War II Look


The United States Army wanted a spiffy new service uniform, one that would stand out in a tough recruiting environment and polish the Army’s image after a generation of grinding and divisive wars.

So it turned the clock back. Way back.

It chose a new uniform that looks almost exactly like the old green gabardine wool field coat and khaki trousers that officers wore in World War II. Probably not by coincidence, that’s what the Army was wearing the last time the nation celebrated total victory in a major war.

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“We went back and asked, when is the most prominent time when the Army’s service to our nation was universally recognized, and the answer came very quickly,” said Daniel A. Dailey, the sergeant major of the Army, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in the service. “That victory, that impact on the nation, is still felt today by the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of the ‘Greatest Generation.’”

The troops who beat the Axis powers in the 1940s gave the service uniform, with its slightly rose-hued trousers or skirt and distinctive belted olive coat, an affectionate nickname: “pinks and greens.” This time around, the Army has decided to just call them Army Greens.

At a White House event for veterans in April, President Trump praised the style.

“Those beautiful new uniforms with the belt — it was a big deal, the belt,” he said. “And if you think those uniforms were inexpensive, they were very expensive. They were very. But they wanted it, and we got it.”

Army Greens will be the military equivalent of a business suit, which the Army largely stopped using during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as civilians have been dressing more casually in professional and social settings, troops have been wearing camouflage fatigues in situations that used to call for a jacket and tie, like office work or travel between bases. Even in the Pentagon, officers spend a good deal of their time in combat boots.

The Army says that while the new service uniform will cost more than past models to make, it will also last longer, making it cost-neutral overall.

In recent years, when the Army has wanted to look sharp, troops have been wearing blue. The current dress uniform (which will be retained for ceremonial use) includes a dark blue coat with light blue trousers or a skirt — colors chosen to evoke the Continentals who fought under George Washington and the Union Army of the Civil War.

If that uniform has not caught your eye, it may be because Army Blues can be hard to distinguish, not just from similar Navy and Air Force uniforms, but also from a sea of blue-clad civilians: police officers, firefighters, commercial pilots, even doormen, said Kenneth O. Preston, who served as sergeant major of the Army from 2004 to 2011.

“People think you’re a cop,” Mr. Preston said. “They are always stopping you and asking you for directions.”

Change the uniform too much, and you risk losing the continuity, legitimacy and authority communicated by an Army’s traditional design. “Plastic buttons or a Peter Pan collar simply wouldn’t feel right,” she said.

On the other hand, change the uniform too little, and you risk continuing to blend in with the doormen, the pilots and other fashion usurpers.

“The right uniform immediately exudes trust and power — it’s a shorthand that says, ‘Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing,’” Ms. Craik said. “Imagine the opposite: If you got on a plane and the pilot turned up in jeans and a T-shirt, you might get right off.”

An effective military uniform, she said, has to be distinctive but also immediately recognizable, and the best designs should reflect an institution at its best.

“That’s why I think they decided to go back to the old style,” she said. “World War II is seen as a just war, a good war. This uniform says, ‘We are the good guys.’”



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