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Mess dress is the
military term for the formal evening dress worn in the mess or at other formal occasions. It is also known as mess uniform and mess kit1. Its form varies according to regiment, corps or service, but generally a short mess jacket is worn, which either fastens at the neck (being cut-away to show the waistcoat; this is the usual style in cavalry regiments), or is worn with a white shirt and black bow tie (the usual style for all other regiments, corps and services). Most UK regiments' mess dress incorporates high-waisted, very tight trousers known as "overalls", the bottoms of which buckle under heeled boots or "mess wellies". Ornamental spurs are usually worn in cavalry regiments; some other regiments and corps prescribe spurs for "field officers" (majors and above) since in former times these officers would have been mounted.

Mess dress is generally worn as the military equivalent of white tie or black tie. However, in the Royal Navy and some other navies distinguish between mess dress (also known as ball dress), which is the equivalent of white tie, and mess undress, which is the equivalent of black tie. Today the only difference between mess dress and mess undress in the Royal Navy is the colour of the waistcoat, which is white for mess dress and blue (or replaced with a cummerbund) for mess undress. However, before 1939 ball dress required a tailcoat and gold epaulettes. Officers of the rank of Captain RN and above still wear tailcoats for both mess dress and mess undress.

Mess dress in the U.S. Armed Forces is a more recent trend, which started in the early 20th Century. In 1902, when the U.S. Army introduced its last standing collar dress blue uniform, an evening dress uniform, a modified civilian "tail coat" was introduced, and was worn with a white tie and vest. After World War II, the evening dress and mess dress uniforms were reintroduced, with the "tail coat" having a single "Austrian knot" over the branch-of-service color (General Officers had stars over an oak-leaf braid), with the rank placed in the bottom opening of the knot, while the mess coat, for black-tie affairs, used an Austrian knot rank system, with the branch insignia at the bottom. The number of knots indicated the officers rank: five for Colonel, four for Lt. Colonel, three for Captain, two for First Lieutenant, and none for Second Lieutenant. This complicated system was replaced with the evening coat style (which lost its "tails" in the late 1960's) in 1972, using a single knot and the rank placed above the branch-of-service color. A white mess coat, for summertime wear, was introduced in the 1950's.

Both the U.S. Navy & U.S. Coast Guard utilize the same mess uniform, consisting of a black waist-length "tuxedo" coat with rank rings on the sleeves, and worn with a white bowtie and vest for state occasions, or a black bowtie and gold cummerbund for semi-formal occasions. A white coat with black shoulder boards is worn for the summer. The U.S. Air Force wear an identical pattern, except that shoulder boards replace the rank rings, and silver buttons and a silver cummerbund replaces the gold buttons and cummerbund.

The U.S. Marine Corps, since the late 19th Century, has worn the most elaborate of the mess dress uniforms in the Armed Forces. The uniform coat is fastened at the neck, similar to that of the Dress Blue uniform, but is left open, cavalry style, to expose the shirt and cummerbund, which is scarlet (General Officers have a scarlet vest with small gold buttons). Rank, in gold or silver wire, is embroidered directly on the shoulder epaulets, which is bordered with gold wire and scarlet piping (as is the collar), with the cuffs, also bordered in gold wire and scarlet, having a "quatrefoil"--the coiled rope-like decoration found on the officer's cap, for Warrant Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers (2nd Lieutenant to Captain), a single row of oak leaves for Senior Commissioned Officers (Major to Colonel), and a double row of oak leaves for General Officers. The uniform is complete with black trousers with gold & red stripes, and a "boatcloak," a black knee-length cape line in scarlet silk. Staff Non-Commissioned Officers (Staff Sergeant to Sergeant Major/Master Gunnery Sergeant) wear a mess uniform similar to that of the Navy's officers, except with the traditional light blue trousers with "blood stripe," scarlet cummerbund, and black bowtie.

1 Note, however, that the name "mess kit" may also refer to a compact kit of cooking and eating utensils for use by soldiers and campers, also known as mess tins and mess gear.

The above article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mess_dress).  8/6/05

 

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