County sheriffs wear tan and green. The Highway Patrol dons khaki and blue. So why does the Los Angeles Police Department, in a city with a famously balmy climate, run around in stifling dark wool uniforms?
“They’re not black. They’re very, very, very dark blue,” says Officer Birgit Aviles with the Los Angeles Police Historical Society. The color is known as “LAPD Navy” at Uniforms Inc. on Olympic Boulevard, where a standard dark wool uniform goes for $160.
Aviles admits that the outfit is “very hot. It attracts the sun and heat. You do have an option to go with the polyester-wool blend, but the officers feel it looks more professional with just wool. There is a lot of pride and tradition in the uniform.”
Just ask LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. “The chief could wear a suit or the uniform,” says Lt. Doug Shur, a spokesman for Parks. “He prefers the uniform. It’s his choice.”
It wasn’t the choice of Parks’ predecessor, Willie L. Williams. “There was talk of possibly going with a light blue,” says Aviles. That idea didn’t fly with the rank and file, who might have been miffed that Williams favored a double-breasted suit over LAPD navy. (“He looked too big in the uniform,” speculates one officer.)
The National Assn. of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors bestowed “Best Dressed Large City Police Department in the United States” honors on the LAPD in 1998. “Wool is more comfortable than synthetic because it’s breathable,” says Sgt. Bruce Bogstad of the department’s human resources bureau. “It’s also tough.” Police officers have worn dark uniforms since the 1800s, says Ruth P. Rubinstein, associate professor of sociology at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “The dark blue came from the black clothes that ministers and priests wore,” Rubinstein says. “It’s the image of authority. The uniform and the color give them a sense of power.”