Military Dress Uniform Regulations for Medals

Military medals as displayed on formal wear.

Military medals may add a sense of valor and pride for the wearer. Medals are often displayed on formal uniforms during public ceremonies. Military medals, however, can’t be worn at all times or in all places. There are rules and regulations as to proper medal wear, including what medals are authorized, where they are placed and where they can be displayed.

1 Validity

Military members should consult authorized sources, to see if they are qualified to wear any medals. These sources include the unit’s personnel section, which can check official records. Members should also consider reading the Department of Defense Decorations and Awards manual to see if they qualify for additional medals. If so, members should consult the installation's personnel records section for proper updating procedures.

2 Proper Uniform

Not all uniforms are authorized to display medals. All service branches authorize medal wear on formal uniforms such as the Air Force’s Mess Dress Uniform or the Marine Corp’s Dress “A” and Evening Dress uniforms. Army white and blue uniforms, white and blue mess and evening mess are authorized for medal wear. The Navy and Coast Guard allow for medals on Full Dress and Dinner Dress uniforms.

3 Uniform Placement

Medals are always worn on the member’s left chest area, typically around the mid-chest or jacket pocket level. Medal centering is specific to uniform design, fit and branch regulations. For instance, miniature medal placement on the Air Force mess dress is centered between arm seam, lapel and midway between top shoulder seam and top button of jacket.

4 Order of Precedence

Department of Defense medals are worn in a specific order of precedence. The highest awarded medal, the Medal of Honor, is worn around the neck. Otherwise, all medals are worn from left to right in order of precedence. For multiple medal rows, the highest ordered medal is worn at the upper most row on the left. All branches also have specific guidance on how to incorporate their order of precedence with other medals.

5 Ceremonies

Ceremonies requiring authorized uniforms for medal wear include Formal military balls, Dining-In, formal holiday celebrations and induction ceremonies. Some civilian ceremonies may also permit formal wear. These include civic celebrations of military service or funerals. Consult the base protocol office when authorized uniform for a civilian ceremony is questioned.

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.