Blue Line

What’s under your MOLLE body armour?

July 26, 2022  By Drew Clark

Photo credit: Ottawa Police Service

A look at MOLLE shirts

Most Ottawa Police Service (OPS) officers take for granted that they don’t need to think about their issued duty shirts, besides wearing one on shift. But why, in the 21st century, is the traditional police button down dress shirt designed for ties, with a standard collar, two front chest pleat patch pockets with flaps, a pen slit pocket, grommet holes, and fabric lengthening pleats? The shirts are normally a blend of 65 per cent polyester and 35 per cent cotton, and they need to be ironed before each shift. Why are these types of shirts still in inventory?

The OPS Quartermaster Unit (QMU) asked that same question in 2015, after the development of the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment (MOLLE) body armour, and realized the costs were increasing to affix extra items onto the outdated shirts.

The primary research and development (R&D) conducted by the QMU observed the United Kingdom’s police wearing a polo 1/3 zip or buttoned duty shirts for years, which is a modern, practical, comfortable and professional looking uniform. Having a few officers in OPS that transferred from UK police services helped with firsthand knowledge of this police garment. In addition, the success of the uniform golf shirts worn by the bicycle and marine units in the 2000s, was another large push for getting out of this “time warp dress shirt” ideology for the service.

The OPS Clothing and Equipment Committee (CEC), in partnership with the QMU, began the R&D phase with Franklin Switzer of Outdoor Outfits Ltd. in 2017. Together, they worked on creating artwork patterns and prototype samples of fabric and regalia, to develop a long and short sleeve black colour version of the “MOLLE shirt”. The main objective was to oversimplify a duty shirt at a lower cost than the “old-school” button down duty shirt, and remove all the extra add-ons since the MOLLE body armour would cover the upper body. While wearing an outer body armour, the vest indicates to the public who are police and name tag patches show who they are. This removes the need to pin on a name tag and breast badge on the shirt.


The CEC wore both male and female fitted shirts of the two-piece shirt button-down collar for 18 months. These shirts featured a stand, a buttoned polo placket, two-ply woven yoke, a woven sleeve upper with mesh in the underarm gusset, single pleat cuffs with button closures, permanent epaulettes, a microphone cord opening on left side seam, and a knit torso. After the development stage, this duty shirt went to a competitive tendering process, which was eventually won by Outdoor Outfits Ltd. With this bidding process, all Ontario Police Cooperative Purchasing Group (PCPG) members are allowed to use it. The first main order for officers was issued in 2019, in the dark navy colour. The new operational uniform has taken the Service by storm with the beneficial impact on the QMU’s budget by reducing spending while increasing esprit de corps of members.

The Quartermaster’s dogma for uniform care is “Wash and Go”. By partnering with Outdoor Outfits Ltd, and using a 100 per cent Polyester woven upper body and knit lower body material, plus the Ultra-Fresh™ Antimicrobial Protection Finish, the end product needs not be ironed or dry cleaned. We wanted clothing made from material that could be thrown into the washing machine and dryer and come out ready for the next shift. The savings of this MOLLE product allows the QMU to look at other uniform/equipment that might be just out of reach due to budgets. As an added bonus, the shirts boosted confidence within the ranks of OPS, who see this as a change for the better.

With the Navy (GEN 1 Police) MOLLE shirt design on the books, the QMU saw the benefit for all uniform members in OPS. A technical drawing of a full Light Blue (L-B) GEN 1 MOLLE shirt was created in 2020, created with two different fabrics of the same colour. An update saw the material used on the shirt bottom changed to navy blue, to better hide the wear of the material, with a light blue colour on the top. The L-B GEN 2 in 2022 will have a half collar, an embroidered name tag with the Canadian Flag, two pen/tool pockets, and both long and short sleeve versions. This removes the mic holder, epaulettes and earpiece slit for uniform civilians. Navy GEN 2 and L-B GEN 3 will remove the placket and cuff buttons to a long-sleeved t-shirt cuff version. In the future, you may see a Ringer t-shirt style, similar to what the UK police are wearing while on duty.

Drew Clark is the Ottawa Police Service QMU Coordinator, with 20 years of Material Management.

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