What Are the Different Types of Prison Uniform?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Single-color one-piece jumpsuits are common prison apparel.
Single-color one-piece jumpsuits are common prison apparel.

A prison uniform may come in a variety of different sizes and types including jumpsuits, scrubs, shorts and jeans. Some uniforms are to be worn with a hat, while others are not. Also known as a jail uniform, it may be designed for a man or a woman, and may come in solid colors or include stripes.

During penal imprisonment, inmates are required to wear uniforms that identify them as prisoners. Some prisons issue jail uniforms that consist of denim jeans and a solid colored shirt, while others opt for a more institutional design. Different jails and prisons utilize different uniform styles, but all inmates are required by law to wear them.

One style of prison uniform is a one-piece jumpsuit. Usually, these are short-sleeved jumpsuits that come in a single color. As is common with other uniforms, a one-piece jail uniform may be made for male or female inmates.

Prison uniforms can deter escape attempts.
Prison uniforms can deter escape attempts.

A two-piece prison uniform consists of a short-sleeved short and a pant with an elastic waist. This type of uniform is similar in style to hospital scrubs. These often come in muted colors, such as olive or khaki, but may also come in bright orange, yellow, blue, red or white.

Sometimes a two-piece jail uniform will be featured in two colors. Such is the case in black and white striped uniforms, as well as in two-piece uniforms that feature a solid color shirt and pant trimmed with another color at the collar. When a prison uniform features a colored trim, the second color may also appear as a stripe on the side of each pant leg, as well as around a single row of buttons on the front of the shirt. If the uniform is to be accompanied by a hat, it may also be found to display two colors with the brim decorated in the same color as the trim on the shirt and pant leg.

Inmates are required to wear uniforms that identify them as prisoners.
Inmates are required to wear uniforms that identify them as prisoners.

When inmates are allowed to wear shorts, a prison uniform may issue knee-length shorts with a matching shirt. As is the case with other inmate uniforms, shorts do not have pockets and are often featured with elastic waistbands. Shorts are frequently featured in basic solid colors and are not an exact size, but are designed to fit inmates in the small, medium, large or extra large sizing categories.

Besides different colors and styles, a prison uniform may also include stenciling used in identifying a prisoner. Such stenciling may include the prison’s name and the state where the prison is located. The uniform may also include prison-issued shoes, which are usually a work boot or a slip-on canvas shoe with a rubber sole.

Why Do Prisoners Wear Orange?

Movies and television have introduced false ideas about prison life, including inmate attire. Prisons and jails started using orange jumpsuits in the 1970s. Just as they did with the traditional black and white striped uniforms, now people tend to associate prisoners with orange jumpsuits. You may be surprised to discover that this color is not as standard as you think. This is somewhat because of the media and partially because if you see an offender out in public, they are likely wearing an orange jumpsuit. After all, that shade of orange is exceptionally bright, and you would most surely see it if you were in the vicinity. Usually, offenders wear orange while being transported or staying in a temporary facility. The uniforms worn in their "home" prison are traditionally a less pronounced color, such as navy blue, beige or gray.

What's more, television shows such as "Orange Is the New Black" have led to people considering prison wear, especially the orange jumpsuit, as somewhat of a fashion statement. Because of this fad, many prisons now opt for different uniform colors and styles. Some facilities have brought back the black-and-white striped uniforms standardly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

What Do Prisoners Wear and Why?

Male and female inmates typically wear uniforms inside and outside the walls. However, they may not be jumpsuits; often, these uniforms consist of work pants and work shirts. Uniforms in detention facilities are utilized to serve several purposes:

  • They distinguish offenders from staff.
  • They signify the inmate's custody level.
  • They limit the opportunity to carry concealed contraband by not including pockets.
  • They make prisoners easier to identify by the public when they are transported, creating less chance of escape.
  • They encourage equality among inmates rather than revealing their social status.
  • They instill what some refer to as external discipline, making it obvious to passersby in public that they are inmates.

While some facilities make their inmates wear distinctive uniforms, others allow them to wear street clothes, meaning clothes they wear when not detained. Some other prisons have uniforms but enable the inmates to choose color or style. Many of the uniforms include the inmate's ID number and last name. Some also include the facility's name in large print on the clothes to quickly identify offenders.

On their first day in prison, the facility will usually issue the offenders work shirts and work pants, along with sweatsuits, T-shirts and shorts for physical activity. Depending on the prison's location, they will also usually have a coat of some type and often hats and gloves. In many detention facilities, none of the clothes have pockets, belts or drawstrings, particularly in places of higher security where there are risks of self-harm or harm to others.

Male and female inmates are typically issued canvas or leather deck shoes or sneakers and plastic shower shoes. Sometimes they will also be given work boots.

As for underwear, women are usually issued brief-style panties, full-coverage bras and socks. Similarly, men are issued sleeved undershirts, boxer shorts and socks. In colder climates, both females and males may be given thermal underwear.

Detention facilities usually have rules on how the inmates can wear their clothes. For example, they can't wear pants below the waistline, portraying a gang vibe. Additionally, offenders must wear appropriately fitting clothing, not extremely loose or tight attire. Prisoners may not be allowed to roll up shirt sleeves or pant legs, could be required to wear a particular style of shoe when not in their cell or in the shower, and remain fully clothed if not in their cell or shower. These rules are enforced to keep inmates and staff as safe as possible.

Many prisons allow offenders to purchase additional or different clothing in the commissary if they favor other articles over the prison-issued set. This is useful for inmates who, for example, prefer brief underwear rather than boxers.

What Do the Different Color Jumpsuits Mean in Jail?

Different facilities have uniforms of varying colors that signify characteristics like threat level, flight risk, an offender on suicide watch, and chronic or temporary health issues. For example, general population offenders at the Los Angeles County Jail wear dark blue. Workers wear all-yellow, while trustees wear light green shirts. Inmates who have a medical condition for which they're currently being treated wear dark brown. Some facilities also employ color-coded wristbands that serve the same function as the uniform hues. This addition is typically added as another layer of protection for everyone involved.

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Discussion Comments

anon328648

A question about the prison clothes and the orange pants and grey sweater. Is that included? If and when the inmate is former military, is it the same clothing then?

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    • Single-color one-piece jumpsuits are common prison apparel.
      By: ViewApart
      Single-color one-piece jumpsuits are common prison apparel.
    • Prison uniforms can deter escape attempts.
      By: maxriesgo
      Prison uniforms can deter escape attempts.
    • Inmates are required to wear uniforms that identify them as prisoners.
      By: kolotype
      Inmates are required to wear uniforms that identify them as prisoners.