Dress Code Guidelines for Military Installations


It was hard to take fashion advice from someone who used to dress like a pirate on the regular, but there I was standing in front of my husband in my Soffe shorts and flip-flops being told to go change. I tried to explain that these were my “going-out-in-public” shorts and fancy flip-flops from Target, but he didn’t care.

I knew this life was going to be different, but I never imagined I’d have a dress code for buying groceries.

Six years later and I still find myself struggling to change out of workout clothes before going to the commissary. If you do not know what I am talking about, then you are definitely not married to a Marine. But you are probably also — unintentionally — disregarding the dress code on your installation.

Here is an example of the dress code requirements for entering buildings aboard MCAS Iwakuni

At every U.S. military installation, there is a dress code for places like the commissary, the exchange, and even the gas station.

Yes, there is a dress code for pumping gas! You can find the dress code order posted near the entrances of these establishments.

Some of you might be reading this and thinking to yourself that you have been wearing flip-flops and shorty shorts around base for years, and no one has ever said anything to you. That may very well be true. It is up to each individual installation commander to decide if he or she is going to have the dress code enforced or not, and from my own personal experience, it seems to only be truly enforced on Marine bases and overseas.

Since there is no universal dress code across all military installations, here are some of the guidelines for Marine bases in case you ever visit one or are just curious. Like I said, your base or post’s dress code may never be enforced, but you never know!

  • No shower shoes – This refers to the plastic flip-flops that you wear to the beach or that would be suitable in a shower. Sandals with a strap on the back are acceptable in most places. If you haven’t tried Mox shoes you really need to now because these shoes are amazing and are more convenient than flip-flops.
  • No hats – Hats cannot be worn inside any building on base, not even the gym.
  • No ripped, torn, or frayed clothing – I had to send an entire box of Stitch Fix clothing back and make a special request to my stylist to stop sending me ripped or distressed pants. If I lived off-base I would have kept every piece, but now that we live on-base, I have to be cautious of what I wear every time I leave my house. There is no sense in taking up closet space with clothes I cannot wear for the next three years.
  • No tank tops for men or spaghetti straps for women – This is especially hard in the summer and on coastal installations. One of the greatest perks of being stationed near the ocean is the easy beach access. Just because a base has a beach on it does not mean you can show up at the base convenient store in your tank top, swim trunks, and flip-flops to restock your cooler. The dress code still applies no matter where you are headed.
  • No exposed midriff – After having two kids, the last thing I want to do is traumatize someone by exposing my midriff. My personal opinion is “if you got it, flaunt it,” but be sure you don’t flaunt it at the commissary.
  • No pajamas – I am not sure why adults still sleep in pajama sets, but if you do, please refrain from wearing them around the commissary. If you are like most of us moms, you never quite have time to change out of your leisure attire before bed. Here is a great post on how to get away with wearing your pajamas in public, but more importantly to the commissary.
  • No PT gear – Athletic attire should only be worn for athletic activities. Items such as sweat suits, running/jogging suits, athletic shorts, sports jerseys and swim attire are not acceptable to wear out and around the base. My biggest piece of advice no matter what your base’s dress code, do not go into base buildings sweaty. I love grabbing a Starbucks coffee after a run, but I avoid going to the base Starbucks if I am a hot mess. 
  • No Leggings – Please do not shoot the messenger! I am wholeheartedly against this and break this rule on a daily basis. I do, however, try to respect that it is a rule and attempt to wear a nice shirt and flats with my leggings to dress them up a bit. I also avoid wearing my bright colored leggings into base buildings. This is definitely a rule that could use an upgrade, but I have a feeling current fashion trends are low on the Commandant’s list.

Living in Japan has made me more cautious about my attire not only on base, but also when I am out in town in our host nation. The Japanese dress much more conservatively than most Americans, and I want to be respectful of our host nation’s culture and customs.

I will never forget the beet red color my daughter’s teacher turned one of the first times I ran to the bus stop to pick her up. I was wearing a racerback tank top and running tights. I couldn’t figure out why she was so embarrassed, but later learned that the Japanese consider leggings/tights to be an undergarment, and they would never wear them on their own without shorts on top. They also do not typically expose their shoulders in tank tops.

Me running around Japan in my underwear.

Though I was fully clothed, to my daughter’s teacher, I was basically waiting at the bus stop in my underwear. I now keep a sweater in the bottom of my jogging stroller to throw on while I’m waiting for the bus. 

Is there a dress code where you are stationed? What do you think about the dress code policy?