How to Save Money on Military Uniforms While Still Meeting Standards

Marines shop for uniforms at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Corry Station Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Thrift Shop, Jan. 23, 2024. (Garrett Dipuma/Navy)
Marines shop for uniforms at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Corry Station Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Thrift Shop, Jan. 23, 2024. (Garrett Dipuma/Navy)

Uniforms. Military members have to have them, and they have to look good. And they're so darn expensive. 

It can seem like you have no choice but to go to the on-base uniform shop and pay full retail price for your military uniforms, but you have options to save money while still meeting uniform standards.

You can't get out of wearing uniforms, but you can save money and still look sharp. Figure out which of these options might work for you, then give it a try. If it doesn't work, try another option. We all need to save a few dollars any way we can, and uniforms seem like a great place to start.

1. On-Base Thrift Shops

The thrift shops on base often have a great selection of military uniforms, including shoes and insignia. One downside is that thrift shops often have limited hours. You'll have to find out when they are open. Some shops also require that the actual service member make the uniform purchase, so you can't send your spouse to do it. 

A twist on the usual thrift store is a dedicated uniform-only location. Sometimes they are called uniform lockers. 

If your closest thrift shop doesn't have what you're looking for, branch out. Larger areas may have multiple thrift shops. 

If you can't reasonably drive to a thrift shop, consider a phone call. Thrift shops are typically staffed with volunteers who are super helpful. Sometimes you can call and find out whether the shop has what you need in stock. Then activate the military network to find someone to pick it up and mail it to you. (Thank you, social media!) 

As a bonus, sometimes you can find uniform pieces with the right insignia already on it. If not, it's usually cheaper to swap out insignia than to pay retail for the item. Dawn Cutler, chief operations officer of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, shared this recent encounter with two junior sailors browsing the uniform section of the thrift shop on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia. 

"I stopped them and asked how they heard about the thrift shop and what brought them in," Cutler said. "One needed another pair of dress white slacks, and a fellow sailor had told her about the great deals on uniforms. She was thrilled to not only find the slacks in her size, but the length was also perfect for her height, and the pants cost less than $20. She said she felt like she hit the jackpot."

2. Borrow

You may have heard the quote, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." William Shakespeare was talking about money -- not uniforms! If you need a specialty item for a single use, ask around before you buy. Someone on your installation probably has it. 

This is another time when social media can be helpful. Your installation's unofficial Facebook page might be just the spot to find that Navy trench coat that you'll only need for Fleet Week or a maternity uniform you'll wear for a few months.

3. Uniform Consignment Shops

I suspect there might be some uniform consignment shops scattered around the country, But I know of one that serves everyone because it is online. Second Tour Uniforms is based out of Arlington, Virginia, but it serves everyone, everywhere -- including overseas, as long as you have an FPO/APO address. The selection varies as items are consigned, but it is growing. 

Second Tour Uniforms founder Nataley Shea started this service after years of helping transitioning service members purchase civilian wardrobes. "There wasn't a good option for getting rid of old uniforms," Shea said. "They were sitting in the back of closets, being donated without knowing if anyone would find them, or worse -- being thrown away! With consignment, these uniforms can help out another service member."

4. Alterations

If you are buying new uniforms because your body has changed, consider whether they can be altered instead of purchasing new. Most uniforms can be taken in, at least a little bit. Some uniform items can be let out a little bit. Seamstresses on or near base are usually skilled in these types of alterations. 

Not sure where to find someone? Ask around or check with nearby dry cleaners. Most dry cleaners have seamstresses or tailors on staff.

5. Sell Your Old Stuff

Selling your old uniforms won't actually help your new uniforms cost less, but it will free some cash for those uniform items. Your options include local area social media sales groups, any local consignment shop that takes uniforms or online options such as Second Tour Uniforms. Consider your availability and interest in dealing with listings and meetings when weighing your options.

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