For a new police officer, putting on the uniform each day often produces a unique sense of pride. Ideally, veteran officers should feel even more pride, having experienced what it means to serve in their departments on a daily basis for many years.
No matter how committed experienced officers are to their jobs and departments, however, some of their memories of their uniforms may be less than positive. Maybe it was the seam that ripped while they chased a suspect. Maybe it was patrolling at an outdoor event in 100-degree heat wearing a hot shirt and itchy pants. Maybe it was when a car began burning as an officer helped accident victims, and afterward the officer wondered how flammable their ensemble would be if it came in contact with flames. Maybe it was the great-looking uniform that lacked storage areas for much-needed equipment.
Many departments design uniforms to ensure a professional appearance. The dressy Class A uniform appeals to them because it offers the impressive look that commands attention and breeds confidence among officers. The Class A uniform includes crisp-looking dress trousers and shirts for daily wear. For some important occasions, a dress coat may be part of the ensemble.
Officers handling active duties, however, often prefer the Class B uniform. The more casual-looking Class B uniform pants and shirts are less tailored for greater functionality and ease of motion during active work. They may include either a sports-like or a military-style design, and features such as double seams for durability. Rubberized waistbands for flexibility afford greater functionality during active wear. In some cases, cargo pockets provide space that officers need to store their ever-expanding supply of equipment.
The ideal approach might be to have both types of uniforms available for officers. Unfortunately, however, tight budgets often mean choosing between Class A and Class B uniforms rather than purchasing both.
Fortunately, new uniform textiles offer law enforcement agencies the opportunity to combine some features of both Class A and Class B uniforms, giving the patrol officer a professional look along with the comfort and functionality that the officer desires. That s possible because today s uniform fabrics are better-engineered than ever before and improving all the time.
Many law enforcement agencies choose polyester for their uniforms. The fabric s resistance to wrinkles and its soil-release properties make it appealing. In warm weather, however, traditional polyester can really hold the heat, making it uncomfortable for more active officers and for those who are in and out of automobiles frequently.
Surprising to some, in warmer climates many departments choose polyester/wool blends, or even 100-percent wool. Offering good breathability, wool s strength, durability and cost-effectiveness are improved when it is combined with polyester in a uniform fabric weave. Wool also helps create a very distinctive and professional uniform look.
Given the demands made on today s law enforcement uniforms, however, it can be worthwhile to consider some of the other fabric options now available for uniform construction. Some new textiles have proven themselves in the athletic and outdoor recreation markets. Known as hydrophilic fabrics, they have become familiar to consumers under brand names such as Nike s Dri-FIT and Patagonia s Capilene.
The newest hydrophilic fabrics used in work apparel are polyester knits. But they are not the hot, stiff polyester that some officers may wish were outlawed. These fabrics use spun yarns that give a truly cotton-like feel, creating soft garments that people like to wear. Hydrophilic fabrics have been very well-received by athletes and outdoor enthusiasts in large part because of their moisture management systems. Perspiration is moved away from the skin and then evaporates, enhancing comfort for very active workers and also providing odor resistance because, without available moisture, odor-causing bacteria can t survive. With 100-percent cotton, on the other hand, initial breathability may give way to discomfort as perspiration accumulates because the fabric can remain soaked and uncomfortable for hours.
The color-retention, durability and wrinkle resistance of hydrophilic fabrics are as good or better than the same properties in 65/35 cotton/polyester blends. Darker colors in particular have excellent color retention with this technology. Soil-release properties built into hydrophilic uniform fabrics ensure officers can keep these new uniforms very clean.
A uniform service provider can discuss with you all of today s fabric options and help you make the best choice of fabrics for your department. Try to check with a vendor that has access to multiple manufacturers and options so they re not just trying to sell you what they have available.
The design of a uniform also can affect its potential to bridge the gap between the Class A look and Class B functionality. For example, cargo pockets can be designed with pleats for appearance only, without the expansion strip that allows them to billow out when filled. Although their storage capacity obviously is somewhat reduced without the expansion capability, the pockets maintain a neater appearance while still providing some convenient storage space.
Alternatively, a stripe or piping on the outside of a cargo pocket can help tone down the pouchy look when a cargo pocket is filled.
SWAT Officers Get Better Concealment
Specialized textiles and design methods also can be adapted to meet the needs of law enforcement personnel working in specialized capacities, such as tactical response.
The military-style camouflage uniforms worn by many SWAT officers offer effective, inexpensive concealment in dangerous situations, in addition to durability and ease of mobility. And as departments look to upgrade SWAT uniforms or replace worn ones, they are finding a greater variety of options readily available in the market today than only a few years ago.
For example, high-tech protection options now address specific threats. There are body suits, undergarments and other items that offer varying degrees of chemical protection. Fabric features include breathability, a key to comfort during intense activity, and stretch, which affords ease of movement.
SWAT units also may benefit from lower-tech uniform features, including:
Flame-resistance. Standard cotton-polyester camouflage blend does not offer flame-resistance. Units encountering explosions or fires may enhance safety if they incorporate flame-resistant properties into their uniforms. And there is good news: Today s flame-resistant fabrics are more breathable and comfortable than those of the past, helping increase acceptance among those who wear them.
Nomex, perhaps the best-known flame-resistant textile, can be used either alone or in blends with other fibers to make uniform pants, shirts, coveralls and outerwear. Alternatives include flame-resistant treated cotton and cotton-blend garments that can provide flame-resistant protection at a lower cost.
When planning to incorporate flame-resistant fabrics into uniforms, you must assess officers risks carefully and perform a thorough review of data on any fabrics being considered;
Digital camouflage. Today s new U.S. Marine Corps-style digital camouflage designs, unlike traditional camouflage, feature computer-designed pixels (squares) in varying colors and patterns for optimal cover. Each pixel pattern blends into the backgrounds of a variety of locales, including urban, desert and woodland settings;
Current military-style construction features. The U.S. Army regularly improves its uniform designs to better meet the needs of soldiers in combat and other high-risk situations. These improvements can offer great solutions for SWAT officers as well. For example, today s military uniforms have pockets designed on a slant, which can provide faster access to weapons and equipment when every second counts.
Test & Eval
Workers in specialized fields such as law enforcement are often called upon to test new uniform fabrics and designs, rating test uniforms under development for their appearance, fit, fabric feel and durability. For a department struggling to integrate widely varying needs, preferences and cost factors into its uniform program, participating in a new-uniform evaluation may be a way to get more specific information about which uniform features work well for officers.
Uniform and textile service companies can help law enforcement agencies put together all desired features into an effective uniform program. These companies provide uniforms of all types to customers, pick up dirty uniforms, wash them and deliver clean ones. They also possess up-to-date knowledge of the latest textile developments. At the uniform planning stage, they consult with clients and offer performance-related information about the latest textile technologies for uniforms, soon-to-be-available options from textile manufacturers and uniform design modifications. Finally, they know appropriate laundering procedures for new fabrics to ensure customers get the best return-on-investment possible and protect their public image and workers safety by keeping uniforms in good repair.
Want to know more about advances in uniforms? A uniform service company can help you identify both design elements and uniform textiles that meet the specific appearance standards and comfort and functionality needs of your department.
David Hobson is president of the Uniform & Textile Service Association. Contact him at email@example.com.
The Uniform & Textile Service Assoication (UTSA) is an international trade organization that represents uniform and textile service companies and works to convey information about new uniform textile options. The Association would like to help answer your questions. To learn more visit www.uniforminfo.com