Police departments across the country have a variety of uniform classifications and standards for officers, but what do they all refer to when they describe a uniform as being part of a “class?”
The police uniform is the visual representation of the profession, clearly identifying the individual who wears it as a law enforcement agent. Chiefs also agree that the police uniform must be in good condition, clean, and well-kept at all times. Officers should always wear their badge over the left breast, along with nameplates, and stars or other additional decorations. Uniformed police officers may also carry required equipment, including an authorized firearm, handcuffs, duty belt, and flashlight, among other gear, at all times.
Differences exist in the types of uniform regulations that police departments follow. Across the board, there are typically multiple distinct classes of uniforms that are categorized for various police and tactical operations. For our purposes, we have denoted these classifications into three areas – Class A, Class B, and Class C police uniforms. Here is a general industry breakdown of uniform classifications:
Class A Uniforms
Class A police uniforms are often referred to as the “dress uniform” for law enforcement officers, but may also include an everyday uniform style as well. The more formal Class A uniforms or parade dress uniforms typically include dress coats made from a dark wool or wool blend fabric, with heavy ornamentation such as epaulets or scalloped pockets that mimic the look of a military dress ensemble. Officers will classically don formal hats, white gloves, and ties as part of their dress uniform. The full dress uniform is reserved for ceremonies, receptions, funerals, and other special occasions, not for everyday wear.
The everyday Class A uniform is styled and based on the classic Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) uniform. The LAPD uniform features a matching dark navy shirt and pant, a style that many departments have followed since its arrival in the 1940s. Like the dress uniform, the more informal Class A uniform is made with wool or wool blend fabrics, which are historically navy or black in color. The garments include military creases and permanent press fabrics, rather than wash and wear. Class A uniform pants are typically a 4 or 5 pocket design and often have a stripe running down the side of the pant.
Class B Uniforms
Class B uniforms, sometimes referred to as a duty or operational uniform, feature a more casual style with a relaxed fit, often used interchangeably with the Class A uniform for everyday duty. Class B uniforms are built for rough and tumble police activities and for street duty wear. They are made from less expensive, lightweight fabrics like polyester, which allow for uniforms to be washed and worn, as they can be easily laundered at home. Class B uniforms maintain a tailored look, but include some tactical features, such as cargo pockets. Class B uniforms are typically composed of a long or short sleeve button style shirt, dress or tactical pants, black footwear, and approved seasonal outerwear. Class B accessory-type items may include body armor, duty belts, tactical gear, and baseball caps or other headwear.
Class C Uniforms
Tactical, BDU uniforms are frequently classified as a Class C style. Class C uniforms offer a less tailored appearance, with a heavy focus on comfort and durability for more intense tactical situations. Tactical uniforms are characterized by an athletic, military look and the use of multiple, bellowed pockets to store all of your gear. Class C uniforms are used by SWAT teams, K9 units, and other special operations teams that need a uniform with attention to mobility and comfort.
Tactical uniforms are often made from ripstop fabrics with some cotton or polyester cotton, which are safer and more flame resistant than standard police uniform materials. Many tactical pant styles on the market are offered in small, medium, and large sizes, rather than waist sizes. However, Blauer tactical pants and operational trousers are offered in waist sizes by the inch, which offers superior fit and function. Class C uniform shirts also bear a tactical style, typically including front patch pockets, an athletic cut, and ripstop cotton or nylon mesh fabrics. In some departments, Class C uniforms may include a casual knit or polo shirt and tactical shorts in the warmer weather.
Which Should You Choose?
The bottom line is that your Chief will select the standard uniform requirements for your department. Depending on your geographic location and weather conditions, everyday duty-wear may be formal Class A uniform or a tactical Class C uniform for special operations officers. Regardless of the classification, your uniform is a representation of your status as a police officer and symbolizes authority to your community – so wear it well.