Guide to Wearing your Military Medals, Insignia and Uniform

One of the first lessons taught to new recruits is how to wear military lapel pins, medals, ribbons, uniform, and insignia. The same rules apply to wear of military awards by veterans and retirees on their old uniform. There are many occasions when tradition, patriotism, ceremonies and social occasions call for the wear of military ribbons and awards.

Civilian Dress and Military Medals

The most common manner of wearing a decoration or wearing military medals on civilian clothes is as a lapel pin in the left lapel of a civilian suit jacket. Make sure you know how to wear military lapel pins correctly, The small enameled lapel pin represents the ribbon bar of a single decoration or medal an individual has received (usually the highest award or one having special meaning to the wearer). Many well-known veterans such as former Senator Bob Dole, a World War II Purple Heart Medal recipient, wears a lapel pin. Pins are available for all awards and some ribbons such as the Combat Action Ribbon or Presidential Unit Citation. Small miniature wings, parachute badges and Combat Infantry Badges are also worn in the lapel or as a tie tack. Additionally, retirees are encouraged to wear their retired pin and World War II veterans are encouraged to wear their Honorable Discharge Pin (affectionately referred to as the “ruptured duck”).

Honorably discharged and retired Armed Forces members may wear full-size or miniature medals on civilian suits on appropriate occasions such as Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day. Female members may wear miniature or full size medals on equivalent dress. It is not considered appropriate to wear skill or qualification badges on civilian attire.

Formal Civilian Wear

For more formal occasions, it is correct and encouraged to wear miniature decorations and medals. For a black or white tie occasion, the rule is quite simple: if the lapel is wide enough wear the miniatures on the left lapel or, 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.

Wear of the Uniform

On certain occasions, retired Armed Forces personnel may wear either the uniform prescribed at the date of retirement or any of the current active duty authorized uniforms. Retirees should adhere to the same grooming standards as Armed Forces active duty personnel when wearing the uniform (for example, a beard is inappropriate while in uniform). Whenever the uniform is worn, it must be done in such a manner as to reflect credit upon the individual and the service from which he/she is retired. (Do not mix uniform items.)

The occasions for uniform wear by retirees are:

• Military ceremonies.
• Military funerals, weddings, memorial services and inaugurals.
• Patriotic parades on national holidays.
• Military parades in which active or reserve units are participating.
• Educational institutions when engaged in giving military instruction or responsible for military discipline.
• Social or other functions when the invitation has obviously been influenced by the member’s earlier active service.

Honorably separated wartime veterans may wear the uniform authorized at the time of their service. The occasions are:

• Military funerals, memorial services, and inaugurals.
• Patriotic parades on national holidays.
• Any occasion authorized by law.
• Military parades in which active or reserve units are participating.

Non-wartime service personnel separated (other than retired, Army National Guard and Reserve) are not authorized to wear the uniform but may wear the military medals.