Those of us old enough to remember the military style Jeeps that postal carriers used to drive also remember the days when all postal workers were dressed the same. You never wondered who was approaching your front door with a bag over his shoulder because you recognized the uniform. Today, uniforms among postal workers are, quite frankly, not uniform.
This writer lives in a suburban neighborhood not unlike most other suburban neighborhoods in the U.S. We have two regular mail carriers who bring our mail throughout the week. Both of them drive official USPS vehicles, raising a legitimate question as to whether or not they are rural contractors.
Why does that matter? Because the USPS does not require rural contractors to wear uniforms. Rural contractors are essentially self-employed carriers who deliver mail on behalf of the post office. They are afforded a lot of liberties that regular post office employees are not.
Official Rules Are Pretty Standard
You can go online and read the Postal Service’s official uniform rules for yourself. The document outlining the rules is rather extensive. It is also pretty detailed. Still, it doesn’t help me understand why our mail carriers don’t wear uniforms. My neighborhood is by no means rural. In fact, my house is a mere 10-minute drive from the post office. We are literally less than a mile outside the city border.
Does the USPS consider the route my home is on a rural route? If so, that would explain why our carriers do not wear uniforms. But it does beg the question of how the USPS defines rural. If our neighborhood isn’t considered rural, then how do our carriers get away with wearing street clothes?
In all of this, there is an important lesson to learn. That lesson is as simple as this: uniforms serve to identify people. Where I lived a decade ago, there was never a question of who was delivering mail to the front door. I recognized the letter carrier by his clothing.
Now I have no idea. The only way I can recognize the mail carrier in my current neighborhood is to watch for the USPS truck. If the carrier ever decided to walk the neighborhood instead, I would never know.
Uniforms and Public Image
Uniforms as worker identification also raises the question of public image. According to Alsco, the company that pioneered uniform rental in the U.S., companies work hard to design uniforms that project the right image to the general public. They want their uniforms to look professional and enhance their branding.
Classic USPS uniforms did just that. Gray dress slacks and a light blue shirt were as official looking as any military uniform. A well-dressed letter carrier garnered as much respect in his uniform as a police officer or firefighter.
The uniforms worn by modern postal workers are considerably more casual. Interestingly enough, uniforms are no longer standard in the post office. Some postal workers wear official slacks and shirts while others are only required to wear casual polo shirts. There are other differences as well, but you get the point.
If the USPS was trying to send a message with its uniforms in decades past, that message has ceased in 2020. That’s fine if it doesn’t bother them. After all, the post office is free to conduct business as it sees fit. The only thing people like me would ask is that they come up with some policy that is consistent across the entire Postal Service. Do not leave us guessing about our mail carriers, part-time counter workers, and special delivery personnel.