U.S. Military Officers wearing Medals
May 31, 2016 5:30 AM   Subscribe

I always remember military officers who received an medal or award wearing a distinctive ribbon. Wearing actual medals on a uniform was associated with the Soviet military or that of a banana republic, and considered comical. Lately I have seen U.S. officers wearing the actual medal on their dress uniform. When did this become a common practice and why?
posted by tman99 to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not an expert, but as I understand it, any given medal also has an associated ribbon (whereas awards with ribbons may or may not also have an associated medal). Wearing full medals is typically called for/allowed in formal/full dress contexts (worn on the left, with medal-less ribbons worn on the right), whereas ribbons-only are worn in more practical/utilitarian contexts, and e.g. on civilian clothing for formal occasions. (No ribbons or medals are usually worn in field/combat settings).

In other words, while massive racks of ornate medals is more associated with banana republics etc, the wearing of medals in itself is acceptable within certain contexts within e.g. the US military.
posted by Drexen at 6:03 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's permissible to wear medals rather than just the ribbons in certain contexts. The different services have different rules about what various levels of dress require in terms of medals vs. ribbons. (Wikipedia has a lot about this if you want to dive deep.) There are even some contexts where it is permissible to wear medals on civilian clothing.

There are also people who grumble about "medal inflation" since WWII. See this article, for example. So part of what you notice might just be people holding more decorations than in the past.

I do think that the trend towards wearing medals more often represents something of a culture shift, and I'd be interested to see more about it but my cursory Googling didn't turn much up. I suppose one way to check would be to look at the various revisions to the relevant military regs over the years.

As a side note if you look around reddit or other chat boards you do see a bunch of people saying that the reason they DON'T wear medals is because of the expense of buying and hassle of maintaining them. So that's a counterpoint.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:45 AM on May 31, 2016

Like Drexen said, it's about what level of Dress uniform you are wearing. In "Service Dress" situations, such as normal office environment, you'd just wear the ribbons. For formal occasions, such as Changes of Command or a formal Dinner you'd wear the full medals on one side, and any ribbons that don't have medals on the other (if at all). Ribbons and medals are never worn on the working uniforms.

Here is the order in which one would wear the ribbons for the Navy, each service has their own chart.

This page has an equivilancy chart of the US services uniforms, and the situations they are worn in. (no pictures though)

this one is the Navy regulation on which medals/ribbons are worn in what situation.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:55 AM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

My husband is getting two "medals" today, so I'll chime in.Though he is receiving medals, he will not receive a metal today. He will receive a certificate and he purchased a ribbon that will be pinned on his chest. If he sees something really formal coming up he will go ahead and purchase those two medals that he can wear. Here you can see an example of the medal on top and the more commonly wore ribbon below. (I have honestly never seen my husband wear his medals.)

As far as cost and expense, he gets something like $400 a year on uniform allowance, everyone does, its to keep your shit looking good and up to date. You don't have to expense it and show what you spent it on so a lot of folks just think of it as a bonus, but its not. Its for something very specific, its a little like using your student aid check to go to Spring Break while not buying all the books you were supposed to
posted by stormygrey at 8:12 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depending on which uniform you're wearing, it's possible that you're supposed to wear the medals rather than the ribbons. When I served (granted, getting close to 20 years ago), it was for really formal occasions. On a practical level, wearing the medals felt really dorky--they jingled against each other with every step I took.

There are also people who grumble about "medal inflation" since WWII.

This is true, but mileage varies. Some decorations are thrown around like Valentine's Day cards in an elementary school. Conversely, there's a strong argument to make that the military has become excessively stingy with the Medal of Honor since Vietnam.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:11 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another vetern here. Yes medals are only worn on super formal occasions. In the eight years I was in the Navy I worn my medals precisely once.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:09 PM on May 31, 2016

Since this question is about officers I will point out that we do not receive a yearly allowance for uniforms, merely a one-time payment upon commissioning which is pretty minimal.
posted by eglenner at 1:52 AM on June 1, 2016

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