When to Buy Uniforms
Whether or not you buy uniforms prior to OTS is completely up to you. If you buy them in advance it can be a pain to get access to a base or wait for items to be shipped, but when you arrive you won’t have to worry about carving out time on your schedule or working supply issues at OTS. If you order them in advance, perhaps your local seamstress isn’t familiar with altering uniforms so they get messed up and you need them altered at OTS anyway. There are so many pros and cons that I will let you all reach out to the Facebook groups and decide for yourself.
My personal recommendation for non-priors is to purchase ABUs in advance but wait to purchase blues until you get to OTS. Buying a uniform that you have no idea about can be terrifying, but the ABU really isn’t that complicated. Over the years I have determined that your fit preference really does change. Not only do you change your mind about how you like them to fit, seeing others wear the uniform makes you change your mind about how you want to wear yours. Therefore even if you think your ABUs are slightly large maybe later on you decide later on that you like it that way. We don’t wear blues nearly as often so it can take you longer to develop that preference.
As a prior cadet I purchased my ABUs in advance and intended to purchase my blues in advance as well, but in the end I procrastinated too long and didn’t have time to get my blues altered. For some reason I needed to buy another pair of blues pants at OTS as well so I did indeed go through the process. Here is what you can expect if you purchase at OTS.
You will be wearing ABUs fairly shortly after your arrival at OTS. I think I arrived on a Tuesday and we started wearing ABUs on Friday. It sounds like now you may be wearing the ABUs a day or two earlier but either way, it makes sense to have your ABUs squared away from the beginning. The first week or so is pretty chaotic. As a prior enlisted cadet I knew all about strings, but I never got around to clipping strings prior to OTS. At OTS I was regretting my laziness. The LAST thing I wanted to do in the midst of the chaos was sit down and properly de-string my uniform. This is why I believe everyone should arrive with their ABUs completely good to go.
If you decide to purchase at OTS you can expect a similar experience to my Ordering Uniforms (ABU) post, but while you are trying to worry about 100 other things. This will also be in the first few weeks in training before you settle in to a ‘routine.’ Additionally, keep in mind that you will have to be wearing your uniform daily so you can’t exactly drop off all sets at once in alterations, because there is a 2-5 day turnaround.
The blues uniform was a different story. We didn’t need blues for the first few weeks mostly because it takes a little more time to get them prepped. We were tasked to purchase all of our blues uniform items during the first few weekends after we completed our pennant test. This was still stressful because who wanted to spend their Saturday purchasing their uniforms when you could do the other 100 things on your mind in the dorm, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Here is what you can probably expect if you decide to purchase blues when you get there.
You shouldn’t have to worry about blues immediately when you arrive. At some point in training the cadet chain of command or your Flight Commander may tell you that your flight needs to get all blues items ASAP. Be sure your flight is being as proactive as possible with obtaining and squaring away your blues items because getting a jump on the rest of the cadets will help you stay ahead of the rush.
As soon as you can, get to AAFES and purchase your blues items. The clothing sales there is a large store with several tall shelves with every uniform item you will need. You will basically go down the list and work through it one item at a time. Items like t-shirts and socks you can just grab off of the shelf, but the blues items require tailoring. Here is how it generally worked for me.
To find blues pants you should know you don’t wear blues pants like regular pants, they sit high on your waist halfway up your stomach. You can’t just take your jean size and grab what’s on the shelf, you have to try them on and hike them way up where they are supposed to be to get the correct waist size. Find a pair and try them on. When you go there should be some AAFES employees there to help you with alterations and fit, so find them and let them tell you whether or not they fit you correctly. Keep in mind that none of the uniform pants are hemmed, they will all be custom hemmed to you (length of the leg). After you find the correct size you will stand up on a stool and they will mark where they need to be hemmed or brought in at the waist with chalk and pin them up for you.
Repeat the process for your blues shirts and your jacket. There should be an AAFES employee who can help you find the right fit. Once you try it on they will mark the sleeves or pin the chest so they fit tighter around your body, and then they are prepped for alterations. Once you have everything on your list you can go through the checkout stand.
When I was there the alterations drop-off wasn’t inside where you purchased the items and where they were marked, you had to go outside and around to the other side of the building. You will then drop off all of those marked clothing items, pay them or give them any alterations vouchers from purchasing items inside, and they’ll tell you when they are ready for pickup. I’m pretty sure it took around 10 days to have my blues pants and jacket tailored.
After that initial purchase it is just a matter of picking up your stuff. I personally found it extremely annoying when I had to leave the dorm. There were so many things that I needed to get done like study, paperwork, or emails, that leaving the dorm for any reason felt like a huge waste of time. This is why I believe multiple trips to AAFES while in OTS aren’t worth it, but I am sure there are tons of people out there who disagree with me. My intent is to arm you with as much information as you can so you can better decide what is the right path for you.
The Female Perspective
I’m a guy so the above advice may be more tailored to the male perspective. This is also assuming you have a standard body build, because if the AAFES alterations employees do the standard alteration measurements or cuts on a standard body, it will probably work out fine. From the female perspective I have heard complaints against the AAFES alterations personnel. If they do the standard measurements and cuts and your body is a little different than the standard, it may not work out how you like. Due to this, I recommend women take this into consideration. The recommendation from my female consultant is to actually purchase the blues uniform items in advance before OTS so you can try them on, then having a trusted professional (non-military) tailor alter them for you. In the context of tailoring clothes to make them fit better, there isn’t really anything they can mess up. If the clothes fit you better, you will look that much better in uniform.