Over the past 12 years it has been my tradition to buy a new uniform for every promotion. I have always wanted to look sharp, so having a new uniform has helped me easily achieve that goal. From my perspective it is okay to throw new rank on an old uniform, but there is something special about wearing that fresh new rank on a brand new uniform. In a practical sense, I will usually have 2-3 uniforms at any given time. Usually one of them is about ready to be retired so when I promote I’ll rotate out the oldest set and add one brand new one, and update the rank on the 1-2 older but still serviceable sets.
Since uniforms fade over time, I always wash and wear them as a set. To keep them from getting mixed up I will mark them with the year purchased and set letter. For example when I commissioned I purchased and marked my sets 2015A and 2015B. For 2015A I marked “2015A” in both the trousers and blouse with a permanent marker where they taught enlisted me to put my “laundry mark.” This year my new set will be marked “2017A.”
Military Clothing Sales
From my prior enlisted experience you have two options for buying a new uniform. Most people purchase their uniforms on base at “Military Clothing Sales”, more commonly known as “Clothing Sales.” Clothing sales is ran by AAFES and is usually in a separate building on base near the Base Exchange “BX,” or co-located with the BX in the same building. In order to shop at any AAFES operated store, you need to have an active duty or dependent military ID card. For most of you who are applying for OTS, this will not happen until you start OTS. It isn’t really a big deal to wait until OTS to purchase your uniforms, but for me personally, I wanted to have it all done in advance so I didn’t have to worry about it.
After you find and purchase the uniform blouse and trousers, you will need to have the badges and name tapes sewn on. To purchase the name tapes, you tell the clerk at the front desk in clothing sales how many you want to buy, and they will put the order in for you. They may ask you if you want the name and USAF tapes (or just the name tapes); you will need one of each for one ABU blouse. They should be ready 3-7 days later.
Once the name tapes arrive you will take the blouse, name tapes, and badges (if applicable) to “alterations.” Alterations is another AAFES contractor which is usually co-located with clothing sales. The benefit of going through alterations is that they are very familiar with badge placement so it will almost always be correct and in accordance with the AFI. One of my pet peeves with them, however, is that they they don’t actually measure arms for stripe placement (applicable to enlisted only.) They usually put the stripes halfway between the shoulder seem and the elbow fabric, so it ends up being too high for most people and not, “centered on the outer arm halfway between the elbow and shoulder seam, when bent at a 90-degree angle” IAW the AFI. I am probably the only dude left in the Air Force who this bothers, but it REALLY bothers me.
After you drop off your uniforms and rank, name tapes and patches, it will take another 3-4 days for everything to be sewn on. To summarize, it will take three trips to the applicable shops, with the conservative time estimates. This is something to consider or pre-coordinate if you have to get someone to escort you on base (maybe that person can do one or two steps on your behalf).
- Day 1 – Purchase uniforms, patches, rank, and order name tapes (name and USAF) at clothing sales
- Day 4 – Pickup name tapes and drop off at alterations
- Day 8 – Pickup completed uniform at alterations
Going to the BX and shopping at AAFES really annoys me, so I prefer to buy my uniforms online. Being a Security Forces Airman taught me to take a lot of pride in my dress and appearance. As an A1C I used to notice that some of the NCOs had really sharp uniforms. The chevrons had slightly brighter colors, the fabric seemed to hold a better crease, and they didn’t seem to fade as fast. They told me about a company called Kellac Uniforms, Inc. which is located right outside Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX. I think they originally marketed their uniforms and equipment to Security Forces Airmen who wanted to look sharp, which makes sense because the Security Forces tech school and headquarters is located at Lackland AFB.
I purchased my first uniform from them about ten years ago, and I have been their customer ever since. Since I am promoting soon I am in the process of buying a new uniform, so I decided to document my experience. Ordering from Kellac is SOOO convenient for me because I do not live on base. When you place your order you tell them what badges you want, how you want them altered, and they arrive with everything sewn IAW the AFI. I throw them on to make sure the fit is the same, wash it, de-string it, then I am ready to go.
Kellac Uniforms, Inc.
The normal uniform set is the ABU Coat and Pant Ensemble – Mens 50/50 NYCO Ripstop, take note that link is for the men’s version (here is the women’s version.) From what I understand, the 100% cotton version is fire retardant and only used by firefighters or other people who need that feature in their uniform. The most difficult part of purchasing a set of ABUs online is not knowing your size. Here is how I figured out what size to order for me. At the bottom of the Kellac page they included a sizing chart:
I used the instructions from this random site and had my wife measure my chest, it was 38″. Each size is divided into:
- XS – Extra Short
- S – Short
- R – Regular
- L – Long
- XL – Extra Long
I used my height (5’11” or 71″) and the chart showed Regular or Long. I then used the same random site and had my wife measure my arm length, and it came to 22.5″. Based on the chart I decided to go with the Regular size, making my choice 38R.
Men’s Blouse Sizing ChartFor the trousers, I normally wear 32×30 with jeans, so I clicked the “Sizing-Pant” tab to see what it had to say. According to the chart, 32×30 would be 32XS.
I have spent countless hours in BDUs/ABUs, so I have had a long time to figure out the fit that I like. The Kellac site states:
INDUSTRY TIP: Adding 8 to your waist size is best to determine coat size. For example, 32 Reg Pants should wear a 40 Reg Coat.
I wear a size 32 trouser so this rule would put me at a size 40 coat. Over the years I have actually decided I like a less baggy feel, so I actually prefer a size 36R instead of 38R. I have worn 36R for the past 9 years (since the birth of ABUs). For the trousers I used to wear 32XS, but in recent years they have became too short. About five years ago I switched to 32S and have been wearing them ever since.
Kellac Sizing (According to Chart)
- Blouse: 38R, (rule of thumb too large for me)
- Trousers: 32XS
My Preferred Sizes
- Blouse: 36R
- Trousers: 32S
I have gone into a ton of detail, which I’m sure can be a little overwhelming. At the end of the day the sizes based on my measurements (38R and 32XS) fit me fine. I don’t really have a typical build so it makes sense that I prefer 36R, because the only difference that 2″ makes is a little more breathing room (that I prefer not to have.) For my trousers, I have always had fairly short legs. The reason I prefer the 32S over the 32XS is because I like to have a little extra fabric leftover when I blouse my trousers.
If you decide to order on base you get the benefit of trying on the uniforms in advance, but it usually takes a few trips to the BX to get everything done. At some point I plan to get a cost estimate for this method so you can do the monetary comparison as well. If you buy from Kellac it may take a few shipments back and forth to decide on the size, but once you decide, they will ship them 100% ready to wear (after you de-string). If you are unsure on size it may be a good idea to buy the non “ensemble” version at first until you figure out size:
I ordered a new uniform set on 20 November 2017 at 6:30 p.m. central time. I ordered non-asterisked (normal) sizes so for me their note applied, “Please allow 5-7 days for alterations.” I paid for USPS shipping so I expect the uniform to arrive in a few weeks. I will do a follow up post to document the rest of my experience with photos.