Dear Salvation Army, 3 Ways To Embrace The Uniform

**I envision a couple of movies unfolding in my mind where non-conformists make the “required” uniform more fashionable and, dare I say more aesthetically pleasing.**

Let’s face it (and let’s get this out of the way right off the bat) – The Uniform is not going to win any fashion awards.
It will not be walking a runway in Paris or being featured in one of those high-end boutiques anytime soon.
Chances are older generations will be more prone to argue for consistent uniform wear than most of the younger generational soldiers.   I am not here to argue for or against uniform wear (an auditory sigh can be heard being exhaled all around the Army world).    I am here however to recognize the need for such a uniform in our army.

uni1. Recognizable
The uniform is recognizable, sure it might be a marketable feature from time to time but it should also be a symbol of hope to people who see it.  There are many soldiers and officers who can bear witness to the fact that people will inevitably come up to us and say something to the effect of “Oh, The Salvation Army, you don’t know me but The Salvation Army saved my life….” The uniform is recognized by those it has helped as well as those who want to help.  We may have to sacrifice some comforts in order to wear it.  By putting it on we are taking off our personal identities and some of our individuality and becoming a part of something greater than ourselves…or better yet, perhaps our identities and individuality begins to make this Army greater than before.  We do this together.  We wear the uniform for a purpose.  We share in this mission and fight not as a solitary soldier but as a unified army…so be recognizable!

uniform12.  Christ-likeness
I am not saying that Jesus donned one of our finest polyester threaded navy blue uniforms or anything, but I am saying that we can embrace the uniform by understanding what it stands for.  Remember that the “S’s” stand for Saved to Save (or Saved to serve).  Who have we been saved by?  – Christ.  He has provided us this salvation and displayed for us what holiness looks like.  We have been saved for a holy purpose – to show others how new life can be and to help others navigate the murky sin-sick waters of life as well.  We can glorify God in these uniform through the ways that we conduct daily lives.  Can we practice “Christ-likeness” out of uniform?  Of course, and we ought to, but we can also utilize this semi-comfortable contraption to bear witness of a transformed life.  I am not saying wearing the uniform is always easy, but neither is living a holy life.  Again, we can draw some parallels here but they are not mutually exclusive either.  If you are a soldier and you are committed to the cause of the Army then consistent uniform wear is probably a given.

uniform3.  Uniqueness of Witness To Others
Barring that you don’t get delayed in airports often and get frequently mistaken for airline pilots and staff members, the uniform can be a relatively unique witnessing tool.  People are quite curious as to what the uniform is all about.  If anything it’s a wonderful conversation starter.  Bear in mind that witnessing is so much more than the old “gospel tract” methods.  It is so much more than “cold calling” people, or yelling from a street corner “Jesus Saves”.  People are people and want to be engaged as such.  If we have hidden motives and agendas we are disingenuous in our witness.  Wearing the uniform will either scare people away or cause them to ask certain questions…and who knows perhaps you can develop a relationship with someone because of it.  With wearing the uniform, we do not hide the fact that we are Soldiers and Christians.  We all know of areas in which Christianity has been tarnished by inconsistent witnesses and down right hypocritical people – and we cannot afford to be that kind of witness while in uniform.  Seriously, if you don’t think you can be a consistent witness in and out of a uniform (PLEASE JOT THIS DOWN) – THEN DON’T WEAR THE UNIFORM!  I don’t mean to be harsh but either wear it with conviction or don’t.  Either embrace the symbolism behind the uniform or walk away from it.

uniform3 The Future of The Uniform?

Look, I don’t know what the future holds for the uniform, but if what we have seen in the last 20 – 30 years indicates anything, the Salvation Army uniform can and will change.  This doesn’t mean that it will all but disappear, but it might mean that certain adjustments will be made – **ahem the bonnets and high collars…will skirts and pantyhose be next?  I don’t know.  Can I say that I ALWAYS enjoy wearing full uniform – of course not!  Will I stop wearing my uniform as long as I am a soldier and officer – No.  Would I welcome some adjustments or modifications to the uniform in the future?  You bet I would!

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18 Comments

  1. Great words. I really don’t think the uniform looks all that bad and I’m super thrilled not to be wearing bonnets and stand-up collars. It’s the person wearing the uniform that makes or breaks it.

  2. You feel that God has called you to go and be an officer. Then you are too old to give the Salvation Army the years required after you gone to the college to become an officer. Why is there an age limit? Why isn’t there other options given to be more than a Solider and/or volunteer?

  3. You are so right. With the uniform we can get in places that no one else can, we can help those that need help. I loved the bonnets but can’t stand the hat strange am I. I love the uniform except there are days that without the skirt and nylons it might be nice but what really matters is that we love a God who love mankind and uniform or not, we are The Salvation Army.

  4. I was in a discussion on Facebook two days ago. It related to the group I was in the Army (Military) with 35 years ago, and someone asked the question “what are you doing now?” I simply pasted a picture of myself in uniform, and it has raised loads of really good conversation – more than anyone else’s “current” life. The uniform still has a place.

  5. I love the uniform. And as I’m training to be an officer, I’m proud to wear it. But like the police, the military, firefighters and paramedics, we need to modernise it or we (the women especially) just look like irrelevant fairies on a Christmas cake

    I was a military officer for 13 years and wore a smart skirted uniform back in the 1980s that is almost indistinguishable from what I wear now in the Salvation Army. Do the military wear the same uniform now? No, they don’t – apart from very formal State occasions: and women in the military certainly don’t wear skirts any more, even on parade. Skirts simply have to go as a compulsory element of the Salvation Army uniform – they are impractical for just about everything we do (including standing on the platform to preach) – and they make us look like we are stuck in the 1970s.

    I’m based in London in England, and in a lot of Corps in London, women (including me) wear trousers, smart shirts and jackets to lead and preach. Our uniform needs to catch up with what we do.

  6. The purpose of the uniform was to be affordable and practical as well as recognisable. It fails utterly in the first two as it is neither practical nor affordable. A major redesign is long overdue.

    1. I’m not sure that is actually the case. In the Victorian era a uniform was more expensive relative to an ordinary man’s income than it is today. What was different was the willingness to make a sacrifice in order to wear it. Nowadays when teenagers will pay £50 for a pair of jeans and sometimes even more for some designer trainers, I don’t see the uniform is too expensive.

  7. I’m sorry, I appear to be the contrary voice. I was in the army as a child, became a senior soldier and later a cadet. I loved my uniform. I loved the fact that it singled me out as a Salvationist and therefore a follower of Christ.
    Fast forward to nearly 30 years later when I had been away from Christ and therefore the army for a great number of years. I get saved, go back into uniform and offer again for officership, I am in uniform and people (strangers ) ask me if I have joined the Red Cross ambulance service.nothers ask if I have started to work in the prison service. From that it has become evident that people don’t recognise the army uniform anymore. It is a suit with a couple of badges. Our uniform needs our name (The Salvation Army) sprayed across it, preferably in neon as the police do!,

  8. I have seen the best and worst of uniform wearing. Those who wear it for the right reasons and do so proudly. Good for them. Others wear the uniform and make a mockery of everything it stands for through their life style and attitude. Then I know of others who wear the uniform as a means of entrance into SA groups such as brass band. I also know many soldiers who have relegated the uniform to a Sunday choir robe whether for brass band, songsters or simple church attire yet they never wear it in the community outside of church activity.
    I agree that the uniform has its place but it is certainly not an end in and of itself and should not be treated as such in my humble opinion.

  9. One reason my family doesn’t attend the Salvation Army is in order to be in leadership or to minister in a church you must wear a uniform…Didn’t read that anywhere in my Bible. I love what the SA does to help others and was raised in the SA but when you make rules as a church that exclude you must ask would Jesus be pleased?

  10. Well stated. Agree will a lot of what others have said. I have seen many – officers and soldiers wear the uniform incorrectly both physically and spiritually. Either truely believe and stand for what the uniform represents or don’t wear it. I wore mine to high school and in college. When the bandmaster in my home corps had one who quit band because they could not wear the uniform because of their life style versus what the uniform represents. Hated to lose them, but had a lot of respect for their honesty and strength of character. If only everyone understood and acted accordingly.

  11. Wearing our uniform lets strangers know that we are Christians and therefore we must always remember this, and be available to give help and assistance where and when it is needed. Members of the public that know anything about Salvationists expect this and seeing a person in S.A. Uniform would give them the courage to go to that person if they need any help..

  12. I don’t think the uniform is used in the same manner it was originally intended for. I believe we would discover more people coming to our worship services and learning about God if the uniform was eliminated. I think it divides Gods people instead of unifying us.

  13. I agree with Sue and Helen. I’ve been a soldier since 14, and a bandsman for over 25 years. I never had a problem with the uniform up until a few years ago. I can see the benefits of it to identify ourselves as members of the Salvation Army in the public. However, time and time again, I have seen people come to our services and feel like they don’t belong because they see a sea of black uniforms. People have almost thought we were cult-like with the clothing and Army lingo. Friends who have married non-Army people often end up leaving the corps because their spouse may feel uncomfortable there. My brother-in-law moved to town and tried coming to the Army with his family but felt he didn’t/couldn’t fit in. As a result, we lost some excellent leadership as he went on to become an elder at one of the large churches nearby.

    I don’t think it is solely the uniform…I believe that the non-alcohol part of being a soldier also plays a large part. Outsiders who come to the church won’t give that up just to become a soldier–again, a loss of possible leadership. These are not alcoholics or people who get wasted on the weekends. Maybe just a nice glass of wine with their steak dinner. I know full well the history of the Army and the reason we don’t drink, but I think that the time for this may need to change. How many soldiers are ministering to alcoholics in a downtown bar or the Harbour Light these days? In those situations, of course you won’t drink or undertake any other such activities! However, making people feel like they’re sinning (due to a religious (Army), non-Biblical promise they made when they were probably 14) to abstain from alcohol if they do decide to have a social drink is not right. We have lost a number of people who have stepped away from the Army due to that.

  14. I am doing my final uni dissertation on spirituality and textiles and would love to hear from anyone with comments on the Army uniform (email bettyvirago@gmail.com)

    My own thoughts are that the uniform is out of place.

    As a church started with poor people in mind to have a uniform out of the price reach of people in poverty is dreadful. I note one comment about people willing to pay £50 for jeans, that, my dear is again, the thoughts of the wealthy.
    £250 will buy you a full uniform in the UK, but as someone who has lived in poverty there was no way I could afford one. I was told I should ask the corps for charity, but why?
    Why should a person in need be treated as a beggar and not equal to anyone else in the church?
    So, as a person in poverty I am not able to join the band, choir or take a position in the corps unless I stoop to begging (which I already have to do for food sometimes). I did get a uniform in the end, but was quizzed three times by the officer when someone in the corps complained that I must have been up to no good because how would I have afforded a uniform if not through illegal means.

    I grew up in the Army and had a uniform from the age of seven, you talk about wearing the uniform and stopping you becoming an individual as a good thing, but is it? Does God want us to look the same, be the same and act the same? or does he want us to express the uniqueness of our characters as he made us?

    Uniform wearers talk about being able to get into places that a non-uniform wearer cannot, but when I ask which places I’m told, “well, we get more money when collecting”. But again, is this fair? A sort of cheating (perhaps even scamming) the public out of money for Jesus?
    As to being able to get through airports quicker, really? You’re reason for wearing a uniform is to be able to put yourself above your fellow man at the airport? Is that a Christian belief?

    I remember the paedophile my parents left me with while they were doing their officership work for Jesus, telling me how sexy I looked in my junior soldier uniform.
    As a teenager I remember my friends father pinching my bottom as I left the hall on Sundays because he said the skirt made my bum look big.
    As a young adult I remember being grabbed by men asking if I wore suspenders when collecting money in the pubs.
    Not to mention the see-through blouses that allow men to see our undergarments.
    The uniform is a bit uncomfortable, you say. Well for me, it was so uncomfortable that when I physically put it, it bring me to tears. It is uncomfortable for the men, but for women it is embarrassing.

    The Salvation Army talks about fair trade, we’re encouraged to buy fair trade food when possible, and yet, we buy a uniform with no traceability. I’ve tried and tried to trace the uniform manufacturing process to no avail, which makes me suspicious. Where is it made? Is the cloth woven in an ethical way? Is the dye for the cloth from one of the dye houses in India where children are being exposed to harmful chemicals? We don’t know. We don’t even know what it’s made of, except to say it’s wool rich. As someone who specialises in wool, that statement means nothing. It doesn’t even say the country of origin in my uniform (which is a legal requirement). But as long as we’re drinking ethical coffee after the meeting we’re good right?

    I accept that a uniform hints that the wearer is a Christian, but lets be honest. Most people I know who wear it, only do so on a Sunday in the church hall. One corps I know, even has changing rooms so they can change into it once they’re in the safety of the corps. People travel by car, get to the corps and put the jacket on in the hall. Most uniform wearing salvationists don’t meet the public in their uniform, so when exactly do they get to use it as a witness?
    Besides, the uniform doesn’t describe what’s in the heart.

    And then of course, there are the Salvationists who think that wearing a uniform makes them a better Christian than a non-uniformed person. Come on, we all know they exist.

    When are we going to stop using the uniform as a crutch or excuse and be honest about it? We wear it in secret on a Sunday, behind the walls of the church. We use it as a festival outfit, or to look like a band or choir uniform. We use it whenever we want money, or to get through security quicker. We use it to separate the rich from the poor and the good from the bad.

    We even use it as a tool for punishment. How often has someone been ‘punished’ in a Mary Poppins “Mr Banks” style, by being stripped of the uniform for a misdemeanour, when the Bible states forgiveness and is clear to point out the punishment of sin has been paid.

    My Grandmother, who was an officer was buried in her uniform because she was adamant that she didn’t want to meet God without it – that Egyptian theology and has no place in Christian belief. My personal thought is that at least it’s one Army bonnet buried not to be worn again.

    I don’t hate the Army, or the uniform, but we need to stop pretending.

    If nothing else, I hope I have got people thinking and perhaps emailing a rant or two to help with my research.

  15. On another thought (another blog post perhaps), a response to Jeff’s comment.

    I was raised as an officers kid, an extremely bad experience that left me hating God and the church for many years.

    I came back to God through one of those dreaded non-uniform wearing Christians handing out tracts. Oh dear… well it does happen.

    I was looking for a drug dealer and found a Christian ranting about God outside a tube station instead.

    I was an alcoholic, sober over 13 years now. But it never leaves you. I’ve been to churches where they don’t discriminate on alcohol. The church where I became a Christian was one, and every Sunday evening the young adults would go to the pub for a drink and chat, but I couldn’t risk it. So I couldn’t build good relationships with people my age.
    I’ve been to church where they held Bible Study groups in pubs, but again, I couldn’t attend.

    I don’t think the Army explains it enough to our young folk. I remember being young and asking why we didn’t drink and never getting the same response nor a response that satisfied. Again a few years ago, I remember my nephew having the same questions and feeling he too, didn’t get a good enough response.

    I remember a conversation with a wonderful officer, Major John Smith (John Smith is also a UK alcoholic drink by the way!) I asked why we don’t drink and he told me, “He never wants to be in a position where God needs to use him, but cannot because he isn’t sober enough”.

    I’m glad we don’t drink and maybe it’s the alcoholic in me, but I question why someone’s need to drink would put them off joining a church.

    Unless you’ve struggled with alcoholism, you probably won’t appreciate the danger, even over a decade later, that even being in a room with alcohol can be. I never again want to be in the position where I lose everything because I need a drink. God has brought me too far for me to risk screwing it up.

    At least in the Army, there is still a place for addicts to feel free.

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