Uniforms at NYMA

Many people feel strongly about the NYMA uniform and uniforms in general. Recently, some people have been asking about our continued use of a formal uniform on campus. Some are asking if our cadets should wear uniforms at all. Others are asking more subtle questions like if the officers’ braid should be gold or silver. NYMA is recreated periodically by its own community; it is, at its core, a democracy regulated by its members. For the administration here at NYMA, these types of discussions represent a healthy school.

Some of these uniform questions are more about personal aesthetics while others deal with the heart of our existence as a military school. Everyone knows military schools require uniforms and that this is part of the pageantry of the military. People also know that many non-military schools around the globe also require uniforms of various types and that each school’s uniform is in a way a communication of school values. I feel these points alone are not enough to answer the question of whether or not we should change the uniform. The current uniform is expensive and our financial budget is limited.

To help answer questions like this, I tend to revert to the essential “Six C’s” that we promote at NYMA. For example:

Does a uniform provide a cadet confidence in their physical appearance?

Does the uniform improve their sense of craft – their attention to detail and communal respect?

Does a uniform enhance the sense of team and improve the overall level of cooperation?

For these types of Six C questions about the value of a uniform, I think the answer is a resounding yes. Therefore, in response to the question “Should NYMA have a complex formal uniform?”, we should continue the tradition.

Unfortunately, this does not resolve the issue of what the uniform should look like or when it should be worn. For example, our sportswear uniforms change on a regular basis and we recently started a contest with a design school in Italy looking for new ideas in this regard. How the PT uniforms and sportswear evolve is not really an issue I hear about much on campus. In this particular area we usually try to improve quality, style, and popularity…hopefully all at a better price as well!

Some members of the campus don’t like the formality of the uniform and this tension between formality and individual expression has always been there; it’s not anything new. These people usually value personal expression and creativity. Are we not humans who innately express ourselves through our personal appearance? This year the Commandant openly listened to this opinion and decided that on open weekends the wearing of uniforms will be optional.

Still others on campus are seeking to create a more informal cadet uniform for everyday use without making significant changes to the Class A or B uniforms. They would just desire a reduction in their weekly use and instead students would wear something like a public school uniform (khakis and a sports shirt) on most days.  The argument there is that it’s a cheaper uniform and provides the potential for a more colorful campus. The criticism though is that it represents a drastic departure from NYMA tradition.

It has always been said that the formality of the uniform reminds cadets of the privilege of joining our century-old tradition. The uniform prompts us to remain respectful of our peers, our leaders, and the NYMA staff. I personally would like to hear from the NYMA community on this issue. What do you think? Please take a moment and let me know at jgastel@nyma.org.


Jonathan Gastel

Assistant Superintendent, New York Military Academy