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Mess Dress for Best Dressed
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Posted: 2/2/2016 1:30:19 PM

Mess Dress for Best Dressed

By Trudy Chan

Working on board a historic aircraft carrier means we have the honor of hosting many functions involving the military, including the Museum’s own gala each May. That’s when we get to honor our heroes and also, as fashionable New Yorkers, admire the elegant gowns and mess dress formal uniforms of the guests, of course!

Guests at the 2015 Salute to Freedom gala.

To the uninitiated, the variety of white or black jackets, tuxedo-striped pants, shiny medals, gold buttons, fancy epaulettes and other accessories are just simply dazzling looks. One of our colleagues, a former marine, told us that there are actually very specific protocols for who gets to wear what and when. As he started to enumerate all the differences, it was difficult to keep it all straight!

The elements of a mess dress uniform depend on a whole system of factors, including the branch of the military (Army? Navy? Marine Corps?), field of service (engineer? civil affairs?), status and rank, as well as whether an event is held during the afternoon or evening. There’s even a special exception permitting short sleeves for “tropical” dinner dress.

For example, if you’re a female officer in the Army, to be properly dressed in white evening dress you’d need a white mess jacket, black mess skirt, white sleeve braid (unattached), mess chain and buttons, mess blouse, neck tab, bullion mess knots, bullion sleeve rank and black cummerbund.

Army Female White Dress” package from Marlow & White.


Here are two different looks for the Marine Corps:
Marine dress illustration plates.

While I’ll never be able to decipher anything about guests from their mess dress, I can still admire their sharp ensembles at the next gala or formal dinner. Officers in uniform will always make my best-dressed list!