Let's dive a little deeper in to what this uniform is, and some common “gotchas.”
First, all of the information about the wear patterns for the CWU can be found in CAPR 39-1, CAP Uniform Regulation, para 5.2.3. I won’t repeat too much of that here.
Remember this: the CWU is a “working uniform,” but may also be substituted for the Aviator Shirt combination uniform in limited circumstances, such as mission or flying work. See Table 1-1. As I mentioned previously, the CWU is not the minimum required uniform.
The CWU is often worn in sort of a “working configuration” (with the grey tactical pants or chinos) or a “meeting configuration” (with grey slacks or a skirt). You won’t find this difference in the uniform manual, but that's really how it sort of shakes out in the real world. Does that mean you need to have both slacks and tac pants? No. Tac pants honestly will work for 98+% of the situations you encounter where the wear of this uniform is appropriate.
Shirts There are three different types of CWU shirts available: a short- or long-sleeved knit shirt with a silk-screened CAP Seal; a short- or long-sleeved knit shirt with an embroidered seal and optionally a member’s name and a badge embroidered; and a short- or long-sleeved ‘tactical’ shirt with an embroidered seal and optionally a member’s name and a badge embroidered.
For all intents and purpose, these uniform shirts are the same. Which one you pick and wear is your preference. The embroidered seal shirts are more expensive than the silk-screened shirt, and the “tactical” shirt is more expensive than the “knit” shirts. The customization (name and badge) to the embroidered seal shirts adds about $9 to that cost. Thats about it. Pull the shirt out of the package and wear it. Nothing gets pinned on, etc.
Here are some tips:
CWU trousers & skirt
(paragraph 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124). We talk a lot about the shirt, but almost nothing about the trousers or skirt. Medium grey trousers. I won’t repeat the regulation, you can read it yourself. Polyester, poly-wool, cotton, slacks, Dockers, tactical pants, chinos, etc. Not grey jeans, please! The requirement is “medium grey” and thats about it. Important: Ladies, these are trousers or slacks, not leggings
“But what are ‘tactical pants’?”
Think “cargo pants” with more pockets. 5.11 is a popular brand, and their grey-colored trousers are just about the right color, too. (That's not an endorsement of 5.11, mind you, just an indication they have a good color grey trousers)
Bottom line: Can you wear the CWU at all times with tactical pants? Yes. Can you wear it with dress slacks? Yes. Just keep in mind those nice dress slacks might not be the best choice for the activities at hand. The same goes for a skirt. Plan accordingly!
“The regulation says ‘solid medium grey color.’ What does that mean?”
The best guidance I’ve heard as far as color is “Not ‘stone’ and not ‘charcoal’. Pick the grey color that closely matches the color of the grey shoulder marks from the Corporate-style aviator shirt uniform and you'll be about right!
Women may wear a grey skirt with the CWU, but just remember: this is a uniform worn primarily as a working and utility uniform. While this uniform can be worn in an office or meeting-type setting, it is also worn in an environment where “work clothes” are most appropriate. Make your choice based on the activities planned for the day.
Belt: Black. Not decorative. Normal-sized buckle. Doesn’t need to be fancy. Leather, or even a nylon 2” wide “rigger belt” with the tactical pants.
Footwear: Black socks and black plain shoes or boots. Women can wear hose and heels, but much like wearing a skirt, remember this is primarily a “working uniform” so plan accordingly! (I probably don’t need to tell you that wearing combat boots with a skirt is a fashion statement left for punk rock concerts?)
Undergarments: Much like the other service uniform combos that are worn with an open collar, when you wear a t-shirt under the CWU, wear one that is not exposed at the neck, like a V-neck or a U-neck. There is a long prohibition in the USAF about exposed t-shirts in the Class B blues uniform. That same wear pattern has carried over to the corporate style uniforms like the Aviator Shirt and the CWU.
Outerwear: Wear what keeps you warm. There are some suggested outerwear items in the regulation, like the blue windbreaker sold at Vanguard, or the black fleece with nametags. Don’t mix military uniform items with a civilian-style uniform. There are VERY few USAF-style items that cross over to the corporate-style uniforms, and outerwear is one area where nothing crosses over. Don’t wear your USAF-style flight jacket, or your military field jacket, for example, with a corporate-style uniform.
Last, but not least, you get to wear ONE thing on your belt (pager, cell phone, etc). ONE.
Wear your CWU at the appropriate times, correctly, and with pride. As always, if you have specific questions about uniform wear, CAPR 39-1, Civil Air Patrol Uniform Regulation and your commander are your first stops.