What it Takes to Redesign Your Uniform

Aug. 16, 2017
Collaboration and patience (to start), here are 3 tips to get the right fit

Years ago, chiefs of police could select a uniform for the entire department in a decision that could take less than a day, says Captain Brian White of the Wichita (Kan.) Police Department. Now, that’s no longer the case. Today this process takes many voices, multiple options, and plenty of time and patience to get the right fit. Here are three tips from two departments that recently made a uniform switch.

1. Start with a committee

In 2017, the Wichita Police Department made a drastic switch to a Navy Blue color, forgoing a 90-year tradition of tan uniforms. The entire process took the department one year, says White. “The history of our tan uniforms ran deep and so changing to Navy Blue took time. It took time to decide what we wanted and so we started with a 20-person committee to begin the conversation between staff, line officers and vendors,” he says.

The benefit of the committee includes the representation of many voices in the police department, but the key is to keep the committee small, says Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Dandoy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Jefferson, Wis. “Pick someone to represent you during the shift,” he says. “One person per shift, a sergeant and an administrative team member, otherwise there will be too many voices.” He also urges the chief to set parameters for the meetings to they run smoothly and with better focus.

2. Determine needs and wants

White recommends sending a survey out to the department to see what officers want in a uniform. “Some officers wanted large cargo pockets and a certain look,” he says. “With so many options available now, there were plenty of factors to take into consideration.”

Dandoy agrees. “The uniform market has changed drastically over the years,” he says. “Not only are there plenty of styles and choice, there is utility all while keeping the professional law enforcement look.” The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office used a uniform provider for the process and had its officers test each uniform for comfort, ease of cleaning, staining issues and more. They also tested the uniforms for overall functionality and style. “We tested a shirt that had pockets hidden all over the place,” Dandoy says. “The function was good because we could store documents on the inside of the shirt, but the look was not acceptable for us.”

Luckily, says Dandoy, manufacturers are creating uniforms that are functional, keep a desired appearance and feel good, which is important. “If you’re not comfortable, you’re going to complain,” he notes.

3. Evaluate cost (in time and money)

Cost has been a large factor in uniform replacement for both the Wisconsin and Kansas agencies. The entire transition to new uniforms will take two years for the Wichita Police Department, with completion set for March 2019. “It would be nice to transfer all at once, but it comes with a cost,” says White. “We have 650 commissioned officers who need four to five uniforms each. It’s not a cost we can afford all at once.”

Dandoy notes that his department has a uniform allowance, but switching uniforms can be expensive. “You have to think about the look of your uniform after a few months of wearing and washing. The color is going to fade eventually on your uniforms, and if you have the same color uniform on top and bottom, then it’s going to look really silly if you place a new shirt with a faded out pair of pants. It’s not going to look uniformed.”

Wichita PD also found that while one uniform worked best for some, it did not work for all so the department ultimately chose two uniform suppliers who had similar Navy Blue. Of the decision, White says, “There was a cost to it, but the committee was split nearly 50/50 on which uniform they liked best.”

The uniform redesign process can be tedious, says White, but it’s one that people like when they have a say. “You just have to have patience and know it’s not as simple as a shirt and pants change. You must look at the badge design, the shoulder patch, belts and more.”

About the Author

Adrienne Zimmer | Editor

Adrienne Zimmer was the Editor of Law Enforcement Technology magazine, a monthly business-to-business publication that covers technology trends and best practices for public safety managers from 2017 to 2019. LET is part of Officer Media Group, which also publishes Law Enforcement Product News and Officer.com. Adrienne has been in publishing since 2013. 

Send her an email here or find her on LinkedIn here

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