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US Air Force Formal Tail Coat & Mess Dress

Started by Bob Hudson , Jul 14 2008 09:20 PM

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#1 Bob Hudson

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Posted 14 July 2008 - 09:20 PM

At a local thrift store today I found two vintage US Air Force officer's formal uniforms: one of them a short mess jacket and the other a "tail coat" (both came with trousers). The tail coat has the rank of a Lt. Colonel and the thrift store also had a blue dress uniform jacket with a Lt. Col's name inside so I assume the third coat - the mess jacket - also belong to this officer.

The unusual piece is the tail coat. I have found out that the US Army used these and they were made from civilian formal wear with some additions. This is explained in U.S. Army Uniforms of the Cold War, 1948-1973 By Shelby L. Stanton:


The US Army had apparently adopted this "militarized" civilian tail coat in 1902 and one source says it was know as "the special uniform for evening wear."

While I can find, as yet, no references to the Air Force use of the tail coat, this one with its Air Force buttons and silver instead of gold bullion seems legit. Here's the back of the coat showing the long swallow tail:




I can only assume that the Air Force adopted the Army tail coat style with USAF buttons and ornamentation, but it would be interesting to find out how long it was in use. This one is not dated.

The other coat is the more traditional short mess dress such as descibed in this Wikipedia entry:

The original U.S. Air Force mess dress consisted of a short black jacket with black trousers, with a white jacket for summer wear. The jackets had satin lapels with matching satin sleeve braid. It entered service in the 1950s and was phased out in the 1980s. It is still sometimes worn by retired officers. The current mess dress is similar in cut and tailoring but in a dark blue color for year round wear



The blue mess jacket which replaced this one has silver stripes around the sleeves:


#2 Bob Hudson

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Posted 14 July 2008 - 09:45 PM

I found some examples of the tail coat online. These are from the website: http://usafflagranks...ss_uniform.html

This one is interesting because it is attributed to "Major General William Henry Powell, Jr., USAF (Retired January 31, 1960)" but it has gold stripes:


but this which belonged to "Lieutenant General Robert Haynes Terrill, USAF (Retired July 1, 1964)" has silver stripes as do some others shown at this excellent website about Air Force officer uniforms.


The author of the site provide some very enlightening information on this long-tailed uniforms:

The Formal Evening Dress uniform was the first uniform adopted by the US Air Force and is probably one of the most elusive uniforms found in the repertoire of USAF uniforms. It was very seldom seen and used outside Washington, D.C. The uniform was adopted within a short period of time following the separation of the service in 1947 and predates the acceptance of the USAF blue uniform. The US Air Force formal evening dress uniform is described in detail within the second edition of The Air Officer’s Guide published in January 1949. This means the uniform was adopted and in use sometime in 1948. The gold USAF buttons used on the formal evening dress uniform were authorized for use on 1 October 1948.

He says the buttons and stripes were required to be gold until 1959 and "By the 1978 issue of The Air Officer’s Guide, the formal evening dress uniform using the civilian tux with tails was no longer listed as a regulation USAF uniform. However, the formal evening dress uniform continued to be used but the style changed and became a spin-off of the mess dress uniform. "

I highly recommend reading his full article at http://usafflagranks...ss_uniform.html and going through the rest of his site, which is entitled:








#3 DutchInfid3l

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Posted 15 July 2008 - 01:23 AM

Per the Air Officer's guide of 1951, it states:
The evening dress uniform (plate 17). The evening dress uniform is the familiar civilian full dress, tailed coast and white vest, with ornamentation on the sleeve to indicate it's military character, together with USAF gold buttons in place of the usual civilian buttons. A visored headgear is wond embroidered in gold. Black shoes will be worn. The overcoat to be associated with this new uniform has not yet been developed. Air Force officers who possess a civilian full dress suit may alter the garment by adding the required items and a qualified tailor should be able to complete the work at small cost compared to the outlay required for a completely new uniform.
The only officers required to wear this new uniform are those attending state or diplomatic functions where full dress is prescribed. Commanding officers are prohibited from requiring the wearing of the new dress uniform.
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The Air Officer's guide 1971, 22nd Edition lists mess dress uniforms, white summer and black winter shown below. But the formal mess dress is shown but not mentioned, which is the third illustration, the last illustration is the Evening cape (optional) The evening cape is a black sleeveless garment of all-wool gabardine, barathea, elastique, broadcloth, or beaver. The cape lining is ultramarine blue. It is for wear with either mess dress or formal evening dress uniforms, and is worn with the black dress cap and white dress gloves. Length will be no longer than 2" below the knee.
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#4 Bob Hudson

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Posted 15 July 2008 - 05:03 AM

Thanks for sharing those plates and information: it would be interesting to find one of those capes.

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