“You can’t wear that.”
“What do you mean I can’t wear this?” I told my husband. We were recently married and living in Yuma, Arizona. It was a Sunday afternoon nearly 10 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my first experience with the dress code that exists for service members, dependents and their guests at military installations.
I was wearing a tank top, shorts and sandals. Apparently I wasn’t dressed appropriately for our planned trip to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s commissary. My husband looked me up and down and told me I was wearing “workout gear” and “shower shoes.”
“Shower shoes,” I scoffed.
Clearly I was not wearing shower shoes and I was wearing a tank top because it was more than 90 degrees outside. But being a new military spouse, I changed before heading to the base. Once we walked through the sliding glass doors at the military commissary, my husband pointed to the dress code policy sign. One question popped into my head.
Does this dress code apply to military spouses?
The short answer is yes. The dress code applies to military spouses and anyone else with base access, including dependents, retirees, civilian employees, contractors and civilian guests.
Is the dress code enforced? What’s the penalty for breaking the dress code?
Here’s where it gets complicated. At every U.S. military installation around the world, there is a dress code for the commissary, exchange and gas station. The dress code is an order that is normally posted near the front doors of these base businesses. The poster explains that civilian clothing must fit properly (not too tight, not too loose) and that patrons are prohibited from wearing pajamas, athletic shorts, swimsuits and spandex-type gym attire.
If you break the dress code, a service member who is tasked with “policing their own,” will point out that you are inappropriately dressed and deny you access to that facility. This happened to a Navy spouse after a Marine said her 7-year-old son was wearing workout gear to the commissary in Kaneohe Bay. They were refused admission. After her son changed his shorts, the two returned to the commissary to buy their milk.
One important piece to decoding the dress code: The dress code isn’t the commissary’s policy.
It’s the installation commanders who order and choose to enforce or not enforce the dress code. That’s why a service member, not a commissary manager, is the person publicly pointing out your noncompliant attire. It’s the reason why dress code enforcement is inconsistent among military installation and even among different military branches. It’s also the reason I dress up to pump gas at a Marine Corps gas station, but never sweat my wardrobe at an Air Force commissary.
Bruce W. says
Saw a young Marine walk up to a lady that was in her 70’s (if she was a day), dressed for church, and requested that she remove her “hat” as it was not allowed in the Commissary that is onboard the Marine Corps Base. When she asked clearly and succinctly why she needed to do this, he replied that it was posted at the entrance and that if she wanted to continue shopping, she was required to comply. I often wonder what would have happended if she told him to go mind his own business, and quit bothering her. 😉
Time to adjust the dress code(s) for the current century ?
Also agree with the observations that all commissaries are not policed equally, nor are the “Defense” Commissaries regulated equally.
One boat, one crew, one shaft, one screw. If you are going to act as one, then let’s go all the way.
Jen S says
The heat index in my area will be 100+ this week. At 33 wks pregnant, about the only thing I wear lately are flip flops & tank tops. Not all “flip flops” are shower shoes, etc. And tank tops are more acceptable than many other items patrons wear.
38 weeks pregnant and in 29 Palms, CA where it’s 110 degrees on a cool summer day. You won’t catch me wearing a tank top or flip flops (though I do agree there is a difference in a nice pair of flip flops and shower shoes) to the commissary. Not because I care, but because my husband cares about the rules set forth by his commander and I care enough about my husband to do my part.
My goodness, it’s a contest.
That’s what I thought when I read this! I live in my flip flops, If someone asked me to leave the commissary because I have flip flops on, so be it i’ll shop off post!
never been to a base with a set dress code. we retire next month. as long as you do not dress like your going to a big brand store starting with a W and ending in Mart then I see no problem. I use to “dress down” when shopping in some off base local areas so as not to stand out.
Christopher Jeffery says
I don’t think they are outdated.. it is a matter of respect, not for the least offended person but for a higher standard. Part of the charm of being a military family is having to live to a higher standard.
For that reason, adjustments should be made at the local level-absolutely a difference between the commissary in the US and one overseas and I concur with a difference between a NAF and a BX… Navy/Marines have a different history and approach from the Air Force and the Army..
I was off duty, in a Navy dining facility wearing a ball cap (an ok thing to do on an AF post) I had no problem removing it when instructed that it was not acceptable to the Navy… HOUSE RULES.
Personally, I think flip flops/loose sandals are a safety issue when walking and tank tops borderline un-hygenic for a grocery store.
Not outdated at all. Respect for yourself and where you are is never outdated. I wish all businesses had these rules. If you don’t like the rules then shop elsewhere.
Not outdated at all. The CP (courtesy patrol) are at the entrance to the commissary and px on Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. There needs to be a dress code. PJ’S in public, pants down around the knees, shorts and skirts so short u can see vajayjays, spaghetti strap tanks with bras showing…. none of that is acceptable or decent. Don’t like the dress code? Go shop at Walmart.
I think it’s ridiculous to have a dress code. Especially since most of the so’s aren’t in the military and half of the bases are a good drive away from a city and if I want to hit up the grocery store to get something real quick on my way back from the gym or in my PJ’s in the morning before I get dress… I should be able to. Actually, I still do. No one has ever said a thing to me. I understand something ‘indecent’ showing or ‘offensive’ on a shirt being banned but PJ bottoms and work out attire? Totally different story.
Retired USAF says
Respect is what it is all about. Clean ans simple. If you clearly refuse to follows these simple rules, obviously you can’t follow others, same.
Sad really, its not hard, its not asking to much, and most certainly not painful.
Retired USAF says
You can’t dress right so you must be a bad troop. This is proof of old school vs new school. If you are not showing anything inappropriate then wear your tank top. Wearing PJs? Don’t care if it’s not showing anything. When on base we are “among family” and I know I wear PJs around my family.
The policy doesn’t need modification. People need to realize that there is a time and place for everything. If you do not like the regulations, shop off post. It is that simple. While shopping with my daughter yesterday, I had to navigate the commissary to avoid a female shopper in cheek peeking booty shorts. Yes, it’s hot outside. Does that mean be as close to naked as possible? No. It means wear weather appropriate clothing. Sundresses, realistic length shorts, sandals, etc. Even in the cooler months people are dressed inappropriately. The absolute worse are the people parading round in the store wearing lounge pants and cami sets (pajamas/underclothes). It’s disgusting. If they didn’t know, coming out in pajamas indicate you rolled out of bed, didn’t take a bath, drove in a vehicle, walked into a store. Gross.
Please put some clothes on. Please. The regulations are basic common sense. Be decent, that is all they’re asking for. Common courtesy.
I find it very sad that there has to be a sign to point out what is and isn’t appropriate attire to be out in public in.
If you come to my house unannounced, don’t be surprised to find me in boxer shorts and a t-shirt. However, you will not see past my front yard in that attire! Not because I am out to prove something, but because my mother raised me better. Along with that, with the position my husband has, I need to be cognizant of who sees me and where they see me and the children. I don’t care what anyone says, the family is a reflection of the Soldier. For those that think it isn’t, pay attention to your thoughts when you see an unkempt spouse or unkempt children out in public.
I don’t think they are outdated. It’s really simple. The commissary is a privilege not a right. If you don’t want to follow the dress code then don’t shop there.
I think pregnancy is one of the biggest things here, I’m 33 weeks pregnant and between not fitting into jeans and swollen feet BARELY fitting into flip flops, it’s impractical to restrict pregnant women especially from shopping or anything on an installation considering these special conditions. Buying a new “acceptable” wardrobe for the remaining few weeks of pregnancy is expensive and unnecessary. I think there are special circumstances that need to be taken into consideration when enforcing a dress code.
I agree with those who say the standard is a little higher for military spouses. I’m always telling my kids they need to behave because their behavior directly reflects onto my husband. After all, if a soldier can’t manage his own family (ie, keep them clothes properly, fed, everything clean, etc), then how can he lead soldiers he isn’t around all the time?
I was walking into the commissary with my 7 year old son the other day and a woman exiting was literally flashing her panties from under her “dress” when she walked, and got mad at me when I asked if she knew what tights were. I’m sorry, it’s ok to show my son things he doesn’t need to see, but not for me to ask you to have some self respect and stop showing the world your privates?
I don’t see why people get so offended when they’re asked for a little smidge of decency and decorum. Yes, it’s hot, but you can still dress appropriately and be comfortable. If you want to be naked, go home and close your blinds.
I won’t even get started on the pyjamas.
I am a new military wife and I do not think the dress code is outdated. In my seven months of marriage inside a military base I have not encountered one problem with the dress code. The important fact that not once my husband had the need to tell me “you need to change your clothes”
I thought myself how to dress properly to be the women I want the world to see in me. I got tired of been looked as a sex object and when i looked at the mirror closely I noticed that it was me the one that needed to dress modestly. I cannot change the world by myself but I can change the world around me.
I dress with 10 basic rules of modesty and still following fashion trends.
That is why I think the dress code is necessary.
My problem is when they take it overboard, like leggings for instance or jeggings. Ever since my gall bladder was removed these are the only kind of pants I can wear. They will have a huge problem if they ever stop me for that. Some of the workers like to just be spiteful sometimes to , like really how is how a child is dressed really matter to anyone!
I don’t understand why you claim you can only wear leggings/spandex since having gallbladder surgery, my daughter and niece had gallbladder surgery and wear all kinds of pants from jeans to dress pants with no problems. Leggings are not pants and some people should not be wearing leggings in any way unless under a long dress. I have seen women wearing leggings with only a t-shirt or tank top and they don’t look good wearing them…Spandex is a privilege not a right. I am a military brat and we always dressed accordingly when we were on base for any reason. I see too many people today running around in their PJ’s, leggings, and shorts small enough to be a thong. Believe me their are way more people who rather not see that, than those who do.
I also had my gall bladder removed and I can tell you right now I could barely put on clothes period..not all surgeries and recoveries are the same so for you to imply that they are is ridiculous! There are several different types of surgeries that can be performed such as “laproscopic” gallbladder surgery (which my aunt had) and she only had three very very small incisions. I did not get that surgery and they had to completely open me up and remove it. I have had 6 foot surgeries (I have what is called club foot. Google that if you think it is not a thing), amd 27 and have 4 kids..so i know pain and this was painful. Not everyone has the same pain tolerance. For people to be so judgmental I find that DISGUSTING and not honorable. I would much rather see a polite, friendly, even helpful, half dressed customer than a snooty, entitled, judgemental, stuck up, known it all, dressed like a queen, bitch such as yourself. If you haven’t personally experienced something then you don’t know what it’s like so get off your high horse. You said it yourself that you’re a “brat”..so grow up. Smdh
Nearly 10 years of shopping in commissaries all over the country and today with this posting, I learned there is a dress code. I don’t do the tank top/shorts/flip flop thing because I’m self conscious of my weight, but I’ve gone there wearing sweats often enough. As long as I’m not dressed in a revealing or indecent way, I don’t see why it matters. Maybe it’s time to expand my horizons and shop off the post.
I’m thinking it’s a shame that you have to be told. Have some pride and self-respect. If the men and women fighting for your freedom in some godforsaken balls-hot desert can wear 80 lbs of battle rattle every day, you can suck it up in your air-conditioned car to shop in your air-conditioned supermarket, then go home and dress any way you want. ‘Merica!
I don’t think it’s just about heat for people, it’s that for a lot of people especially those with kids casual comfortable clothes are what they wear, not saying pj’s, but gym shorts or sweatpants etc. Where I find it silly is I feel as if I have to dress like I’m going to church and the grocery store. There should be nothing wrong with dressing casual. There should be a dress code, absolutely, but not to the extreme of not allowing flips flops or appropriate length gym shorts and such. I don’t think people should be dressing like complete slobs but being comfortable to fight the crowd that’s ALWAYS at the PX, BX, etc. shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
I used to work at the commissary on my military base, so I saw first hand the kind of clothes that dependents wore. It was really shameful. Honest to god I saw plenty of women dressing like sluts. No-one has said you can’t wear shorts, They shouldn’t be short shorts. Obviously your ass shouldn’t be hanging out because nobody wants to see that, just as nobody wants to see your underwear or bra. Tank tops are usually okay, and I’m not talking about spaghetti strap tank tops. As for shoes, there’s not much of a difference between flip-flops and shower shoes…You can wear flipflops. Regardless of how hot it is, have some respect for yourself and the others around you. Nobody wants to see your skin all flopping about everywhere. Having worked at the commissary, I saw stuff every day. You may not realize it and think “oh I don’t dress that bad” but believe me when I say, there are dependents that do dress that bad. On facebook I’ve seen a sign that says “Please do not masturbate in the MWR.” Everyone must realize that rules/policies/signs are created, because someone was caught doing that. They’re military bases. They have their own rules. If you don’t like them, then don’t live on them, don’t shop on them. Using the commissary/exchange/gas station is a privilege, not a right. Conform to the rules, or just don’t use the services offered.
Michelle daugherty says
I love it. That’s the way things need to be.
I must be way out of touch with military culture. I have lived on Navy bases for 16 years and never once realized I was violating a standard of dress. I am a proud spouse with a great family. We love the Navy and our country. I really thought I was getting this stuff right by serving along with my husband. I have served as an ombudsman, FRG president, school board trustee, I have served on our base school site council, several fundraising committees and I have worked several positions on the base. Always tried to lend a hand when I can by offering prayer or a meal. All those things I thought were PRIORITIES, and now you go and tell me I have it all wrong because I wear flip flops to run in for a quick gallon of milk. Of course I should know better, priorities right? And to the young mom with the deployed spouse, sick baby and grumpy 3 year old, make sure you dress everyone appropriately before running out for Tylenol and diapers, you wouldn’t want to lose face. Or that loyal friend running to grab dinner ingredients To cook up a meal for your neighbor’s family because she just found out her breast cancer is stage 3 and her husband’s deployment was extended……. Hold tight, are those pants appropriate? I mean really, we have standards for behavior.
Exactly. Very well said. I’ve been wondering if anyone else felt this was, or if it was just me.
As a retired USAF female, I can’t tell you how many times I have walked in and out of the commissary in my PT gear to grab lunch, or something we forgot for the kids, or something for dinner. I do think there needs to be a dress code- walking around looking like a tramp is unacceptable, and also men walking around looking like they forgot to shower and put their pants on (or pull them up) is unacceptable. The AF I joined wouldn’t even allow men to wear earrings on base – military or not. No Jammies, don’t dress like a slut and try to look somewhat presentable. If you wouldn’t go to meet your kiddos teacher in it, maybe don’t go to the commissary.
I grew up as an Air Force Brat. I married a man who served 24 years in the Air Force. I have never been without my ID card. How have I never heard of a dress code at the commissary?