Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has spent years ordering the Navy and Marine Corps to jettison female specific uniform styles as a way to ensure women don't feel apart from their male peers.
As part of this push, women are now set to wear service dress blue jumpers, the Dixie cup, choker whites and much else instead of the separate styles that women have worn for decades. But some have questioned the top-down push, which has received a mixture of reactions whose popularity is mixed.The Navy has spent years designing new dress uniforms for men and women in which that will have both genders will wearing junior enlisted crackerjacks and choker whites for senior enlisted and officers. But questions remain about whether women really want to adopt the style of men's uniforms styles.
At a public appearance leadership briefing hosted by DefenseOne breakfast Wednesday, Mabus defended this push in a response to a female officer, who asked him what he was trying to accomplish. featuring Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, hosted by DefenseOne, a female officer stood and asked the secretary what his office is trying to accomplish by moving toward a gender-neutral style of dress uniform.
"I think wearing different uniforms has segregated women, sometimes in not good ways," Mabus said. "If we ask any other group to wear a different uniform, can you imagine the outcry?"
In fact, he added, the female dress uniforms are "sort of a historical accident" dating back to World War II.
"When women first came in as WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service], they were given different uniforms because they were not part of the Navy," Mabus said at the public forum, hosted by the media outlet Defense One.
The uniforms — and that sense of separateness — have stuck around, he said.
Mabus has made the uniform standardization a signature issue, in tandem with his yearslong initiative that's opened new communities for female enlisted and officers, such as the submarine force and the riverines.
In her question, Lt. Cmdr. Rosie Goscinski praised Mabus for his efforts to diversify the Navy by recruiting and retaining more women, but asked uestioned how the uniform fit into that plan.
"We as a population are a little bit confused about the unification versus the diversity aspect," she said.
Goscinski argued that many of the new uniforms, which are cut to fit women but mimic the style of the men's uniforms, have been wear tested on 18- to 21-year-olds, not taking into account how they might fit more mature women.
Goscinski is the chief of Senate congressional affairs for the head of U.S. European Command, Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove. She's also the president of the Sea Service Leadership Association, a nonprofit for the professional development of women in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
She cited hundreds of notes from her fellow female officers who are concerned about the new uniforms fitting properly and looking professional while maintaining their femininity. Enlisted women, similarly, have been concerned the Dixie cup doesn't sit well for those who wear a hair bun.
The patterns for the uniforms are decades old, she said, and both men and women complain about the way they fit.
Mabus agreed that uniforms in general need some work.
"Part of that is, we haven't done a very good job making sure uniforms fit either men or women," he said.
That extends to covers, he added. The Navy and Marine Corps are moving toward the men's style combination cover for both genders, but the round band needs an update; to accommodate the fact that very few individuals have a round head, Mabus said.
The goal, Mabus said, is to integrate the general look of a sailor.
Mabus was met with a similar question last week after ina speech at the Naval Academy, when a graduating midshipman asked why — if he was trying to standardize uniforms — the Navy isn't making men wear female-style covers and dress whites.
In both cases, he argued that the choker whites, for instance, are an iconic U.S. sailor's uniform, and that's why they were chosen as the standard.
"I'll work with you in terms of making sure they fit, in terms of making sure they're tailored," he told Goscinski.
Female graduating midshipmen at the Naval Academy will be the first to test the new women's choker whites, at their commissioning ceremony Friday.
The next wear test will begin soon after, involving with 20 female flag officers at commands spread around the country.
Uniforms are expected to be for sale online and in exchanges in the fall of 2016, Cmdr. Chris Servello, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, told Navy Times.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.