Civil Air Patrol cadets are expected and required to wear the prescribed uniform whenever engaged in CAP activities. However, there are many other youth groups out there who wear uniforms too. Boy Scouts, marching bands, cheerleaders, and sports teams all wear distinctive uniform to set them apart from other groups and to create a unity of appearance. So what is so special about the uniform that CAP cadets wear? The "specialness" comes from being able to wear an authorized version of the uniform that is worn by the United States Air Force!
Being able to wear the Air Force uniform is a privilege extended to us, but it is not a right. For that reason you must always wear the uniform with pride, discipline, and in compliance with all rules and regulations. CAPM 39-1, the CAP Uniform Manual, and its Wing supplements set the standard for uniform wear in CAP. In the following section we will touch on some basic uniform wear issues. You must realize that properly wearing your uniform is one of the most basic and required responsibilities you have as a cadet. Until you can demonstrate mastery of this task, your commanders will be very hesitant to give you any additional duties, responsibilities, or grade!
CAPM 39-1 outlines very specific standards that detail how your hair must look and how long it may be. Males must be clean-shaven except for a mustache and females must wear cosmetics that present a conservative appearance.
The Basic Service Uniform
The service uniform is worn when directed by your Commander. Typically there are worn during formal functions, non-strenuous activities, and other times when a dressy appearance is important. The basic minimum service uniform is:
Short-sleeve, light blue shirt (males) or blouse (females)
Dark blue trousers (female/male) or skirt (female)
Blue belt/silver buckle (n/a for skirts or pants without belt loops)
Blue flight cap (gender appropriate)
Black shoes and socks (females with pants or males) or nylons (nude, black, or suntan shade)
Insignia, CAP nameplate, shoulder patch, collar/lapel insignia, embroidered epaulet sleeve and flight cap emblem
The Basic Utility Uniform
The utility uniform, or battle dress uniform (BDU's), is worn when you are doing work, strenuous activities, or other times as directed by your Commander. The basic BDU uniform:
BDU blouse (with sleeves cuffed or uncuffed as specified by your Commander)
BDU pants (bloused over the top of the boot)
Blue belt/black buckle
Brown or black T-shirt
Insignia, CAP tape, nametape, shoulder patch
Wearing of the uniform
When you wear your uniform you must wear it with pride and properly at all times. You may wear your CAP uniform when conducting CAP duties, attending meetings, flying in orientation flights, or as directed by your unit commander. You may wear your uniform for up to one hour after a meeting or activity ends.
You must not wear your uniform if you are doing any of the following:
Attend meetings of a group that the U.S. Attorney General has designated as totalitarian, Fascists, Communists, or subversive.
Participate in any organization that supports denying other people their Constitutional rights by force or violence
Participate in any group that seeks to alter the Constitution of the United States through unconstitutional means.
Participating in any rallies, marches, speeches, or other activities not approved by the Air Force. Your presence in the Air Force uniform may lead other to believe that the Air Force supports the cause you are participating in.
When in private employment or commercial interest where someone may construe your presence as the Air Force supporting your employer or business.
When engaged in private employment
Conduct any actions that may discredit upon the Air Force
Insignia, accouterments, and placement
The CAP Uniform manual specifically tells you where the different items go on your uniform. None of the placements are unusually difficult or troublesome, they simply take a little time and care when putting the items on to get them correct. If you are wearing insignia incorrectly you are out of uniform. By the time you are ready to become a NCO, your officers should no longer have to correct these types of items.
The following placements are for the short-sleeve service uniform:
Collar Insignia - Worn one inch from the front edge of the collar and centered. CAP Cutouts must be shiny. Grade insignia is worn on the right and the CAP cutout is worn on the left.
Nameplates – One the male uniform, the blue CAP nameplate is placed so it rests on top of, but not over, the right breast pocket. For females, the nameplate Blouse: (pointed-collar) centered on right side even with or up to 1 1/2 inches higher or lower than the first exposed button; (rounded collar) center on right side 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches below bottom of the tab, parallel with ground.
ibbons – For males, the ribbons are placed on the left side and resting along the top of the left breast pocket. For females with the pointed collar blouse, ribbons are centered on left side even with or up to 1 1/2 inches higher or lower than the first exposed button. With the rounded collar blouse, the ribbons are centered on left side 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches below bottom of the tab, parallel with ground.
Belt, Buckle & Gig Line – For all males, and for females with belt loops, the belt is mandatory. Silver tip end of the belt extends beyond the buckle facing the wearer’s left; no blue fabric shows. Woven cotton web or elastic, solid or woven, belt with matching silver-color metal tip and buckle (oxidized silver or chrome-like finish).
Gig Line refers to the line that is formed by the button fly portion of your shirt, your buckle, and the fly portion of your pants. This “line” should be straight down your shirt, across the buckle, and down the pants fly. The line must cross the buckle where the slight indentation is on the left side of the buckle.
Headgear – Your flight cap must fit on your head correctly. Males may not have any hair showing out of the front, while females may. The airman hat device is placed 1.5” in from the front and centered.
Shoulder Patch – Your Wing patch is worn on the left shoulder. It is to be centered off of the epaulet (not the back seam!) and ½” below the shoulder seam. Your commander must decide whether your unit places creases in your shoulder patch or not.
Pants/Trousers/Slacks/Skirts – Your pants must fit correctly and be the proper length. When you wear your pants there must only be one “break” in the leg before your pants meet the top portion of your shoe. For skirts, the skirt must fall between the top of the kneecap and the bottom of the kneecap.
Shoes – Your shoes must be all black and must be plain. They should be polished to a high shine. Some units allow their cadets to purchase pre-polished shoes, called patent leather, while others restrict that to only officers. You must wear black socks.
Other items – There are many little things that you must pay attention to when in uniform. The sign of a disciplined cadet is one who pays attention to even the most minor of details. Here are some common errors that you will want to avoid:
Earrings: Only females may wear earrings and only one in each ear. It must be a small hoop or post and must be gold or silver in color.
Rings: Jewelry is permitted but must be conservative and no more than three at any time.
Hair devices: Females who put their hair up may do so. However the berets, bands, etc. that are used must match the color of your hair. Large ribbons, clips, scuunci’s, etc. are forbidden.
Hair color: Your hair color must complement your skin tone in a conservative fashion. No blue, green, pink, purple, etc hair color.
Your uniform is a reflection of you. Be proud of it and treat it well. Iron it and wash it frequently. Your BDU uniform is important too. Iron pockets and collars so they appear crisp. Check CAPM 39-1 for the proper placement of patches before putting them on to prevent doubling the work. Above all you must understand that your uniform tells the world what kind of cadet you are and how much discipline you have. You only get one chance to make that first impression.