Mess dress is the
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
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 color 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
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
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.