A Civilian’s Guide to Military Service Uniforms

Military Service Uniforms


Every state in the United States has at least one military base and, according to figures from the Military Analysis Network, there are over 450 total bases in the continental United States. With that many bases filled with active, guard, and reserve service members, chances are high that you have seen a few in their service uniforms conducting business in civilian spaces and wondered what all of those pins and badges mean.

Lapel Pins

Lapel pins are accessories that indicate the rank of a military man. Lapel pins are generally worn by the military when wearing uniforms. Usually, the lapel pin is pinned on one side of the uniform collar precisely in a special hole called the “flower hole”.Lapel pins are suitable for wearing at the inauguration of a military rank. For example, you could wear a lapel pin at an Officer Advancement event. Lapel pins differ from regular tie pins in that they create a more dignified appearance.Of course, lapel pins are not only used for formal party events. You can also add to your professional look at a military gathering by attaching a lapel pin. Lapel pins can create a masculine and elegant impression with your uniform.

The lapel pins on a service uniform indicate rank. The rank is usually denoted by lines, “V” or upsidedown “V” shapes, or combinations of the two accompanied by various symbols depending on the branch of the military they are in. The more layered lines and “V” shapes, the higher their rank.

Name Tags

Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy uniform name tags are worn on the right breast. They usually only display the service member’s last name.

Ribbons and Medals 

Merit ribbons and service medals are almost always worn on the left breast. There are dozens of ribbons that service members can earn for various acts of valor and standards of conduct. If the service member has so many medals that they run out of room for ribbons, certain ribbons (depending on the branch) can be worn on the right breast above the name tag.

Hat Pins

Service uniforms also include hats with rank pins worn on the left side. Certain classifications of personnel wear additional pins on the right side as well. For example, the pin on the right side of a Warrant Officer’s hat would denote their department and specialty.

Jacket Patches

Cold weather coats and jackets that are worn over the main uniform have insignia on them as well. Depending on the rank and military branch, these will be on the shoulder, upper arm, or cuff.

While uniforms will vary based on the branch of the military, these key signifiers can help you identify the rank and accomplishments of service members.

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