The U.S. Navy has been stepping up its game, in its attempt to give females an equal footing with their male counterparts, when it comes to standard attire and fashion glory. Changes in uniform design, to new hair, and accessorizing rules are allowing women who serve to finally have a say and gain acceptance in their dress.
Men have long received the glory for being dapper and looking charming in uniform, while women serving have been relegated to wearing fashion lost in time. The female warrior for decades was forced to adorn the appearance somewhere between the skirted look of yesteryear, to a short haircut of male counterparts.
Navy Announces Female Uniform Changes in 2015
SECNAV Ray Mabus long had a vision for changing fashion for the women serving, to make their uniforms more gender-neutral. The first step came with a change in cover or head wear, to a common cover introduced to the Naval Academy in 2013.
Although it may have grown from the intent to promote fairness, Mabus received much flack for giving females the same look as male sailors. In 2015, Mabus ordered design submissions for unisex uniforms. In doing so, he refused to listen to the women wearing the attire. Females were already voicing their opinion about their fashion in studies that had been conducted.
Women especially noted that they were not seeking same uniforms as the men, but their existing fashion designs built to be better fitting to their bodies. Females spoke up in their disapproval of the new designs replacing their head covering. New rules stated that the Dixie cup would replace the bucket for enlisted women, and a cover that matched the men’s look would be issued for the women officers.
New Female Navy Uniforms Translates to Financial Inequality
Mabus’ idea to give women more equality through a gender-neutral appearance backfired. Along with the requirement of wearing new uniforms came the expense imposed on the female sailors to purchase them. The female officers did not have say when it came time for them to have to buy new uniforms to replace the ones that they were happy with.
Routinely with uniform changes, enlisted women received a stipend to purchase new covers, also customary, the female officers paid out of pocket. This meant about 10,000 female officers would be forced to pay an added expense, which the males did not have, making it a discriminatory action. Women officers spoke up and with help from their sister officers on Capitol Hill, their voices were conveyed to members of Congress.
When it came time for the cover change, on Oct. 31, 2016, many of the females refused to purchase the new head wear. Congress stepped in to help put off the cover change and stop the new fashion designs, Dress White Choker and Crackerjack for women, citing the need to wait for a full report by the Navy on uniform changes.
Concerns by the House Armed Services Committee were conveyed in a markup of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act:
The committee is concerned that recent changes to Navy female service dress uniforms, uniform covers, and other non-operational uniform components were not consistent with the Navy’s standard processes for evaluating uniform items, including user test groups that represented a broad spectrum of service member locales and operational specialties, out-of-pocket expenses to service members, including members of both the Active Forces and Reserves, and the inability for the Navy to identify an operational necessity driving this uniform change during a time of fiscal constraint.
Congressional Mandate Invites Females to Have a Say in Uniform Design
President Barack Obama signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in December 2016. The NDAA has pushed back the requirement to purchase the new cover to October 2018, as well as specified the representation of females for uniform test groups. The new law requires SECNAV to detail the need for the new cover in operations. Also stipulated, is the necessity to note the costs of new uniforms relative to the service member’s fraction of pay.
The 2017 NDAA required test groups to assist with the design of new female uniforms, therefore, the Navy invited 8,000 female sailors to apply to be part of a survey for new uniform components. Chosen active-duty and reserve female enlisted and officers answered a 34-question survey rating the style, appearance, and suitability of four newly designed uniform items. Congress requested the survey be completed by Feb. 1. The survey allowed Navy women to have a say in their fashion and gain equality.
Items on the survey included the unisex dress cover for officers and chiefs; the female enlisted Dixie cup dress cover; the choker-style dress coat; and the enlisted Crackerjack jumper-style dress blues. Also in the survey were sections for personal feedback, requesting specific feelings regarding the supposed need for gender-neutral uniforms.
Navy Relaxes Rules for Females Regarding Hair and Earrings
In a nod to listening to the wants and needs of female sailors, new uniform requirements were announced on June 21, regarding hair and earrings. Buns are allowed to be shown through the opening in the back of a command or Navy ball cap. The Navy stopped the requirement of cutting the long hair of female recruits, in January 2015.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson thanked the LTJG for bringing to light the need for the change with regards to comfort and appearance. On June 6, the female Sailor from San Diego posed the question regarding the bun. Richardson announced the immediate change in bun protocol in a June 8 Facebook video to the fleet.
Women also received the approval of more earring choices. Dress uniforms can be accessorized with white pearl or white synthetic pearl earrings. Females can choose round solitaire white diamonds or synthetic diamonds to wear with the dinner dress blue and white uniform jackets. Earrings can be no larger than 4 – 6 millimeters.
In striving to be on equal footing with men, Navy women are not asking to look the same. Females sailors are winning by having a say in their uniform fashions as an avenue to gain identity, apart from their male counterparts and gain equal acceptance.
By Carol Ruth Weber
Edited by Jeanette Smith
Navy Times: Sweeping uniform changes emphasize gender neutrality
Task and Purpose: How Female Officers Forced The Navy To Back Down On Uniform Changes
Navy Times: Congress moves to halt Navy’s gender-neutral uniform changes
Military.com: Navy Surveys Female Sailors on Controversial Uniform Changes
Navy: Navy Updates Wear of Earrings and Ball Caps for Women
Featured and Top Image by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danny Kelley Courtesy of U.S. Navy – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Leigh Ellis Courtesy of U.S. Navy – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams Courtesy of U.S. Navy – Creative Commons License