The Distinctive Cadet Uniforms

The USAFA Uniform Board

The responsibility for the development of a distinctive wardrobe of uniforms for the Air Force Academy Cadets was delegated to the Air Force Academy by the Secretary of the Air Force.

From January 1951 to January 1955, various officers and persons within and outside the Air Force establishment made part-time efforts to develop a distinctive wardrobe of Air Force Academy uniforms. Many excellent ideas and designs resulted but none were selected.

On 31 January 1955, Secretary of the Air Force Talbott announced that Mr. Cecil B. DeMille, Paramount Studios, Inc., had consented to design a distinctive wardrobe of uniforms for the cadets. At the same time the Academy assigned a fully qualified textile engineer (Lt Col) and a civilian assistant to be put full time on the Cadet Uniform Project.

In late February 1955 interim uniforms were adopted for the first class of cadets. The “interim” uniforms had distinctive shoulder boards, silver braid cap, silver sleeve braid, with narrow black soutache, and the former Aviation cadet wing and propeller cap insignia. With the interim uniform resolved, all effort was directed to the preparation of a comprehensive and fully integrated plan for the development of a distinctive wardrobe of Air Force Cadet uniforms. The uniform board was established by Letter Order M-1226 dated 4 October 1952.

The Uniform Board immediately established recommended criteria for each item of the proposed wardrobe, which was furnished to Mr. DeMille to be used as a point of departure by his designers. First sketches from Mr. DeMille were forwarded to the Academy in February of 1956 and on 6 June 1956, a contract was negotiated with Western Costume Company, Hollywood, California, for the manufacture of uniform prototypes which were subsequently presented to the Academy Superintendent on 8 August 1956. The Superintendent approved generally all elements of the wardrobe, which were ultimately approved by HQ USAF.


The Concept Sketches of Arnold Friberg

Arnold Friberg was an American illustrator and painter noted for his religious and patriotic works. He is well known for his 15 "pre-visualization" paintings for the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments which were used to promote the film worldwide and for which he received an Academy Award nomination. (Wikipedia)

The Concept Sketches of John L. Jensen

Cecil B. Demille

19 November 1955. Secretary of the Air Force Donald A. Quarles has conferred the Exceptional Civilian Service Award on Cecil B. DeMille for designing uniforms “which will be proudly associated with the Air Force Academy for years to come.”

With Mr. DeMille when he received the award were his associates in designing the distinctive uniforms, Mr. Henry Wilcoxon and Mr. John L. Jensen. The citation accompanying the Exceptional Civilian Service Award to Mr. DeMille follows:

"For rendering exceptional service to the United States Air Force in the design of a distinctive family of uniforms for the Air Force Academy cadets. Mr. DeMille’s deep devotion to the cause of aviation reaches back to the first World War. Throughout the years he has continued his interest in aviation and the Air Force. When in 1955 he undertook the design of the Air Force Academy cadet uniforms, he brought to this assignment an unsurpassed knowledge of wardrobe and uniform design acquired during a career as director and producer spanning 42 years. In outstanding productions which bear his characteristic trademark of painstaking search for historical accuracy and an infinite attention to detail, Mr. DeMille has depicted the uniformed men of all branches of our military services, from Bunker Hill to the present. This rich and constructive experience is abundantly reflected in the uniform designs which will be probably associated with the Air Force Academy for years to come. For the singular contributions of the filling the United States Air Force mission, the exceptional civilian service award is made to Cecil B. DeMille.



Left to Right are: Mr. Wilcoxon, General Nathan F. Twining, Mr. DeMille, Secretary Quarles,
and Mr. Jensen holding artists sketches of the new uniforms. (Shown Below)

The photos show the "OK" and initials of Cecil B. DeMille in red pen, lower right corner. (Click on thumbnails for a full size photo)

Uniform Prototypes

November 1956. Distinctive uniforms for cadets at the Air Force Academy will go into service next fall (1957). The new uniforms were developed by Mr. Cecil B. DeMille and his associates, Mr. Henry Willcoxon and Mr. John L Jensen, in close consultation with the Academy’s uniform board. Mr. DeMille was asked to design the uniforms because, in many years of making motion pictures, he had studied and portrayed uniforms of this and many other countries. In addition to the new distinctive uniforms, the wardrobe of Air Force Academy cadets will include several standard Air Force uniforms such as khaki pants and shirts for summer duty, fatigues, and flying suit.


1st Lt Carl Peterson (right) displays the summer parade dress uniform, which is part of a family of distinctive cadet uniforms which will go into service at the US Air Force Academy next fall. The new uniforms were designed by Mr. Cecil B DeMille and his associates, Mr. Henry Wilcoxson and Mr. John L Jensen, in consultation with the Academy’s Uniform Board. 

The summer parade dress uniform, to be worn at parades, ceremonies, and to chapel services, is made of white Van Heusen cotton cloth. Lt Peterson wears the cadet officer’s version, which features a yellow waist sash, a sword, and a white leather sword belt with a silver buckle over the right breast. Other cadets will wear white leather waist belts. The buttons of the jacket form a “V” down the front. The distinctive white cap is identical in design to the indigo blue cap worn with the new winter uniforms. Both have dark blue braid around the crown. The black visors have a silver-colored metal edge. The insignia shown was improvised, pending selection of permanent insignia.



In the photograph, right, three of the new cadet uniforms are modeled by Air Training Officers.

At left, 1st Lt Jerald Till wears the winter dress uniform, the workforce of the wardrobe which will be worn to classes, meals, athletic events and during travel. In style it resembles the standard winter Air Force uniform but its color is a more brilliant indigo blue. The pleated trousers may be worn also with the other uniforms shown. 

At center, 1st Lt James Clendenen wears the evening dress uniform designed for wear at formal social functions.

At right, 1st Lt Frank Drew models the winter parade dress uniform which will be worn at parades, ceremonies, and chapel services. With this uniform cadet officers will wear the yellow sash, sword, and a white leather silver-buckled sword belt as shown. Other cadets will wear a white leather waist belt with a silver buckle. 

The distinctive cap, worn with most uniforms in the new wardrobe, is indigo blue with darker blue braid around the crown. Its black visor has a silver-colored metal-edged brim. A white cap of similar design will be worn with the white summer parade dress uniform which is not shown. The insignia shown was improvised; decisions on permanent insignia have not yet been made.



Shoulder Boards


– All Images and Narratives Courtesy McDermott Library, Clark Special Collections Branch