Historically, the amount of time and thought put into a uniform design was not in keeping with the ratio of hours an officer ends up spending in it. Modern uniform technology has some praises to sing however. Today's manufacturers are listening to what officers have to say and in turn, making more wear-, fit-, comfort- and movement-friendly attire that satisfies the need for a consistent, professional look while catering to the daily wear needs of the man or women underneath.
A vision in blue
When two California officers were fed up with their uniforms' shortcomings, they decided to do something about it.
John Wilson, an officer for eight years with additional experience in fire, forest service and the military, has been wearing government-issued uniforms since 1993. He and his partner began by tweaking their department utility uniform (which was not a 5.11 product). By coincidence 5.11 Tactical's president, Dan Costa, heard about the officers' vision and zest for reforming uniforms, and he invited them to share their insights and ideas with the company. Wilson explains Costa even went so far as to bring them into a factory workroom, hand over design tools and supplies and say, "OK, now's your chance." That's the beginning of how Wilson, his partner and 5.11 embarked on putting together what Wilson calls the "Jack of all trades" uniform and what 5.11 calls its Patrol Duty Uniform.
"They had a lot of ideas about how the uniform could be improved," says David Hein, director of merchandising and apparel for 5.11 with 20 years industry experience in uniform and consumer apparel.
Characteristically not bashful about picking apart the problems they have with current uniforms, law enforcement personnel have struggled for years to create the ideal pieces: tops that breathe well, truly fit and can accommodate the equipment police must carry. To these ends, 5.11's PDU shirts feature a mic-cord pass-through just above the duty belt, hidden document pockets, pen slots, a zip placket with faux buttons, epaulets, underarm vents and adjustable wrist cuffs.
Administrators also want a traditional, professional look and tone that some tactical and military styles lack. Hein says the PDU addresses what the chief or the commissioner and what the patrol officer require.
"There's a fine line you've got to walk between those two because you want something that's comfortable, that's durable and that'll do and perform as the officer wants, but you also want something that makes them look good in public, like their commissioner or the chief wants," he explains. "The PDU gave us the ability to provide that."
Among the visionary officers' requests was an expandable comfort waist, and for the women's version a more natural waistline as well. The end-result pants feature flat-front styling, permanent creases and hidden pockets throughout. Notably, the PDU is a wash-and-wear outfit; no dry cleaning is required and the Teflon (fluorine-containing resin)-treated material not only holds its color throughout its life cycle despite home laundering; it's specially sewn creases come out of the dryer unspoiled, not requiring extra pressing, Hein and Wilson say.
Further, the modifiable waist takes the ebb and flow of human waistline and environmental conditions into consideration. Other traditional uniform pants are fitted and not forgiving, causing discomfort, and in some cases, risk to the wearer.
"[Ill-fitting pants can cause] a bunching effect that can create an injury. It bruises the hips and causes a red or purple mark after wearing your belt for 12 or 14 hours," Wilson says. "If I gain weight, it's almost worse because now you have pressure on your bladder and your stomach area along with the belt and it hurts all day long. If you have to jump over a fence, it could lead to an injury, a hernia, something else. And that's just for a man who happens to go through a weight change." 5.11 also offers a truer fit for women that has a rise allowing the duty belt to rest in a more natural position.