Do I Have to Buy My Own Uniform in the Military?
When you ship out to Basic Training, do you have to buy your own uniform? The short answer is yes and no.
Yes, trainees must purchase their initial set of uniforms in basic training. No, they aren’t asked to pay out of pocket. Instead, the DoD provides an Initial Clothing Allowance meant to cover the expense of that first set of uniforms.
What is a Military Clothing Allowance?
There are two basic types of military compensation. One is basic pay, which can be considered equivalent to a civilian salary. Basic pay is taxable, paid twice monthly in fixed increments, and typical IRS and state tax withholding applies.
The other basic type of military compensation is known as allowances, which are typically tax-free, not subject to withholding, and paid at the same time as basic pay.
And the first allowance most newcomers to the military get is typically the Initial Clothing Allowance, paid to service members so they can purchase their first set of uniforms, including battlefield uniforms known once upon a time as BDUs, plus dress uniforms, rain gear, cold weather gear where applicable, and more.
How Military Clothing Allowances Work
When you get to basic training, you inprocess in a variety of ways. One of the steps in that process? Going to an appointment to be outfitted with boots, utility uniforms and dress uniforms.
As you begin Basic Training, you are placed with a training unit, photographed and given a military ID card, assigned a bed in the barracks or dorm, and enter your financial information (Direct Deposit) into the military pay system so you can start receiving paychecks.
Related: Active Duty Military Benefits
Once in the pay system, you’ll be given the first of many allowances. The Initial Clothing Allowance is meant to keep troops from having to pay for their own uniforms, which are a requirement of military duty. It’s unfair to require the soldier, sailor, airman, Guardian, or Marine to pay for mandatory uniform items out of pocket.
Initial Clothing Allowances are paid to both officers and enlisted members, but officers typically get ONE clothing allowance except in certain cases which include but may not be limited to:
- First reporting for active duty other than for training for more than 90 days.
- Upon completing at least 14 days of active duty or active duty for training as a member of a Reserve Component
- Upon completing 14 periods of inactive-duty training as a member of the Ready Reserve (additions requirements may apply)
- Upon reporting for the first period of active duty required of an Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program member.
Enlisted members get one initial clothing allowance but may be entitled to another depending on the circumstances.
How Much is the Initial Clothing Allowance for Military Uniforms?
The rates vary depending on the branch of military service and the gender of the payee. For example, an Initial Clothing Allowance for a female Marine was $2,656.64 in 2023 (provided for reference only, numbers subject to change). Compare that to a male Army recruit’s standard Initial Clothing Allowance of $1,895.33 in FY 2023.
What is the Cash Clothing Replacement Allowance?
The Cash Clothing Replacement Allowance is paid to servicemembers once a year to help offset the cost of ordinary uniform wear and tear.
What is the Military Clothing Maintenance Allowance?
This allowance is described by the DoD as intended for “replacement and maintenance of military items during and after three years of active duty.”
In cases where a service member experiences a break in service, they “start over with the initial clothing allowance upon returning to the service. He/She will then receive Cash Clothing Replacement Allowance and Military Clothing Maintenance Allowance as applicable.”
What is the Extra Clothing Allowance?
The DoD describes this as separate allowances from the above, intended “for situations in which a member may need additional uniforms or is required to have civilian clothing to perform his/her duties.” Drawing this allowance does not change your other uniform allowance options.
Related: Active Duty Military Benefits
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.