Although medal displaying was encouraged in Great Britain and other allied countries after WWII, the U.S. did not develop the tradition early on. As medals have become more available and the services have improved on issuing and presenting them, Americans are starting up their own tradition of displaying their awards after service whether that is at home or by wearing their ribbons and medals on civilian clothes. The Armed Forces are now one of the most respected and admired institutions in the U.S. Since World War II over 28 million Americans have served their country in the Armed Forces and their pride and their families pride of their service is reflected in the enormous respect of their fellow countrymen.
Beginning with Veterans Day 2006, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs urged Veterans to show their pride of service by wearing their medals on Veterans Day. He expressed the hope this display of military decorations, which he called the “Veterans Pride Initiative,” would become a traditional part of Veterans Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and other patriotic observances.
For Civilian Wear:
For more formal occasions, it is correct and encouraged by the Veterans Administration to wear miniature decorations and medals. For a black or white tie occasion, the rule is quite simple: if the lapel is wide enough you wear the miniatures on the left lapel. In the case of a shawl lapel on a tuxedo, the miniature medals are worn over the left breast pocket. The center of the holding bar of the bottom row of medals should be parallel to the ground immediately above the pocket. Do not wear a pocket-handkerchief. Miniature medals really do make a handsome statement of patriotic service at weddings and other social events. Miniature ribbons and medals can also be worn on a civilian suit at Veterans’ functions, memorial events, formal occasions of ceremony and social functions of a military nature.
Army Regulation 670-1, paragraph 30-6, says that former members of the Army (including active duty, reserves, or Army National Guard) may wear medals on civilian clothes (that’s “appropriate”) on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and Armed Forces Day, as well as at “formal occasions of ceremony and social functions of a military nature.” “Appropriate” civilian clothes include clothes designed for Veteran and patriotic organizations, such as VFW or American Legion uniforms. You can wear either the full-size or miniature-size medals. You should place the medals and decorations in approximately the same location and in the same manner as for the Army uniform, so they look similar to medals worn on the Army uniform.
Air Force Instruction 36-2903, paragraph 4-4 says that honorably discharged and retired Air Force members may wear full-size or miniature medals on civilian clothes on appropriate occasions such as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day. Female members may wear full-size or miniature medals on equivalent dress. As with the Army, medals should be placed in the approximate same location and in the manner they are planned on the Air Force uniform.
The Navy Uniform Regulations, Chapter 6, paragraph 61002; subparagraph 7 includes the requirements for wearing Navy decorations and medals on civilian clothes. The regulation authorizes the wear of miniature medals and miniature breast insignia on civilian evening dress (white tie) or civilian dinner dress (black tie) in the same manner as for dinner dress jackets. For non-dress-up-affairs, you may wear miniature replicas of ribbons made in the form of lapel buttons(written before mini-ribbon technology), or ribbons made in rosette form, on the left lapel of civilian clothes. You may also wear miniature-distinguished marksmanship and pistol shot badges as a lapel pin or as part of a tie clasp on civilian clothing.
The Marine Corps Uniform Regulation, MCO P1020.34G, says that decorations, medals, appropriate ribbon bars, or lapel buttons may be worn on civilian clothes at the individual’s discretion. Individuals should ensure that the occasion and the manner of wearing will not reflect discredit on the award. Miniature medals may be worn with civilian evening dress. For non-evening dress, miniature replicas of ribbons made in the form of enameled lapel buttons(written before mini-ribbon technology), or ribbons made in rosette form, may be worn on the left lapel of civilian clothes.
WearMilitaryAwards – (pdf of image below)