It's official — the visibly gender-neutral Navy has arrived.

Service officials today released a sweeping Navy administrative message to announce the fleet introduction of new uniform items, lay out a timetable, with specific dates, for the introduction of other highly anticipated uniforms, redesignate a pair of covers as unisex, and expand the handbag policy.

Starting immediately, female chiefs and officers will be able to wear begin the year-long phase-in of wearing what is now the male-style combination cover, the start of a year-long phase-in of the item. Next spring, the shift to another unisex cover the same shift will begin as female E-6s and below start wearing the enlisted white hat, known as the "Dixie cup." 

By the fall of 2016, male and female recruits at boot camp will be issued new service dress blues. The introduction of the female version of the "crackerjacks" The service dress blues  at boot camp – which will now have a female version, which means signals the beginning of the end for the jacket-and-tie dress blues for female petty officers and junior sailors.  

Also approved, according to the message, is the new women's version of the "choker" dress white uniform, which will be available for purchase at Navy Exchanges in early 2017.

All of these items blur the distinction between men and women in uniform.

For Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has made gender equity one of his signature issues, it's the realization of a vision that first began in both the Navy and the Marine Corps were given by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, with much controversy and debate starting in 2013 when a common cover was introduced at the Naval Academy. 

Mabus has long insisted that gender-neutral uniforms and personnel policies are necessary to truly integrate women into the ranks., and However, the introduction of a common cover at the Naval Academy on 2013 ignited controversy and debate. 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus,  thinks the days of women looking different from their shipmates is over.

"One of the things that I think we ought to do, is that when we look out, we shouldn't see male sailors or female sailors," Mabus told Navy Times. "We ought to see sailors. United States sailors."

Though that discussion is likely to continue for some time to come, the Even though the debate will rage on, with the release of NavAdmin 236/15 today signals that on Oct. 6, Mabus’ ideas are now in the execution phase. 

"We are ending the way we segregate by uniforms," Mabus said of the NavAdmin's release. "Rather than highlighting differences in our ranks, we will incorporate everyone as full participants.

The Navy has finally approved uniform changes that have been in the works for years. New service dress whites will be available at exchanges around January 2018.

Photo Credit: Navy

"In the Navy and in the Marine Corps, we are moving towards uniforms that don't divide us as male or female, but rather unite us as sailors or Marines."

Not all the items that have now received final approval and execution dates are part of that debate.

The message announces the fielding of the lightweight Navy Working Uniform Type 1, which will soon hit exchanges in a few warm areas. Issue dates have also been set for the long-awaited fitness suit.

A more liberal handbag policy allows women to use a wider variety of civilian purses while in uniform.

"Many of these items have been promised to the fleet for some time, and we are really excited we can realize those promises with this announcement," said Capt. Janet Bristol, branch head for uniform policy under the chief of naval personnel, said in an October 7 interview Thursday.

With new uniforms coming in, sailors will begin to see changes in their annual clothing replacement allowances to help pay for the new uniforms as they roll out.

There's a lot to digest from this message, here's a look at what you need to know.

The new service dress blues feature a blouse with a side zipper to make it easier to put on or take off the uniform.

Photo Credit: Alan Lessig/Staff

Crackerjacks for all

New designs for men's crackerjacks for men have been in the works for nearly a decade, as officials wrestled with fabrics and features in an attempt trying to make the service dress blues more comfortable wearable year-round and easier to get into and out of as well. 

However, release of the new designs was held up as the Navy looked to develop female versions of both service dress whites and blues as well.

This year, the Navy is beginning production runs of the new blue crackerjacks and will begin issuing them to both men and women at Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, Illinois, on Oct. 1, 2016, issue of the new blue crackerjacks will begin at Great Lakes.

Officials say expect that about three months later, about a three-month lag after that before sailors will find them on the shelves at exchange uniform stores or through the online ordering service. 

"Wear is authorized for all upon availability," Bristol said. "It takes a while to build up inventory and we are required to have seven months worth on the shelves at the Defense Logistics Agency before we can offer them for sale at the Navy Exchange, somewhere around January 2017."

All women, E-6 and below must have the uniform by Jan. 1, 2020.

"There is no mandatory wear date for these new SDBs for males," Bristol said. "They can wear the existing uniform as long as their uniforms remain serviceable."

The totally new service dress whites will be delivered exactly a year after the blues. They will be issued at Recruit Training Command starting Oct. 1, 2017, and are expected to become available at exchanges around January 2018.

Women who choose to wear the new SDBs during the optional wear period must wear the enlisted white hat as a component of the uniform.

For the whites, only the jumper has been redesigned to mirror the blues, with black piping on the cuffs and the back flap. Like the blues, the whites will feature an easy access side zipper.

Both men and women must purchase the new SDWs by Oct. 31, 2021, when authorization to wear the old white jumper will end.

Along with the new dress uniforms, the Navy will begin officially switching women to the traditional enlisted white hat in April 2016, when they will be issued to female recruits.

New-issue and sale versions of the hat both will have male and female sizing labels attached inside to help sailors pick the best fit.

Here, there's a few dates to pay attention to.

All women, E-6 and below women must shift to wearing the Dixie cup with their current dress whites by Oct. 31, 2016. Once the new dress blues are available, women in that uniform can only wear the enlisted white hat.

Bristol says that the Dixie cup will replace the current female enlisted combination cover, known as the "bucket hat," beginning on the mandatory wear date for the new female crackerjack uniform, Jan. 1, 2020.

"The white hat will be the only authorized head gear worn with the new SDB and SDW jumper style dress uniforms," Bristol said. "For those who prefer to wear the old blues during the optional period, only the combination cover will be authorized with that uniform."

The new female officer and chief petty officer "choker" dress white jacket is expected in exchange stores in January 2017.

Photo Credit: Navy

Chiefs and officers

The combination cover for female chiefs and officers also is also being phased out as women shift to the same combination covers authorized for men. All female officers and chiefs must begin wearing their new headgear by Oct. 31, 2016.

Women who like the fit can wear the existing, and formerly all-male, combination cover, or they can wear the new "alternate" combination cover that's available now at many Navy Exchanges and online.

"The ACC is similar in design to the current male combination cover, but is smaller with an oval — vice round — opening to facilitate a more comfortable and stable fit on the head when worn," Bristol said. "The smaller proportion seems to be more flattering to smaller statured people."

Starting in January 2017, the new female officer and chief petty officer "choker" dress white jacket is expected planned to to be in exchange stores as well. 

"To the eye, it looks like the male jacket, but it's been designed especially to fit women," Bristol said. "It will completely phase out the current female dress white jacket by Jan. 1, 2020."

Here, too, only the new unisex combination covers will be authorized with this uniform.

The 100 percent nylon fitness uniform will hit exchanges by January 2017.

Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff

 NWUs, fitness suits and handbags 

Sailors in Guam and Hawaii will be the first to be able to purchase the new lightweight NWUs in exchanges, starting sometime in April 2016. At the same time, those in Singapore and Diego Garcia will be able to purchase them online or from the NEX's 800 number.

On Oct. 1, the lightweights will become the NWUs issued to recruits.

It's unknown Wwhen they’ll be available to other sailors isn’t known, yet. Officials say the that for the rest of the fleet, the lightweight version will eventually replace the original NWUs, bover time. But they’ll only become available in uniform stores as existing NWU stocks run out. 

Recruits also will also be the first to get the new fitness suit, beginning  and that, too will come on Oct. 1, 2016. 

The 100-percent nylon jacket and pants will be 100 percent nylon, dark blue with gold Navy logos and silver reflective piping. Fleet sailors can expect to see them in exchanges by January 2017. Everyone must have a set in their seabag by Jan.uary 1, 2020. 

Officials have decided that this uniform can be worn while in a liberty status. or The mandatory possession or wear date is 1 January 2020.  

Finally, there’s a new purse policy on the street. Effective immediately, women may carry wear civilian handbags, with or without flaps, while in uniform.,"

The bag must be leather or synthetic leather and match the color of the uniform shoes worn — plain black, brown or white. — and be leather or synthetic leather, It also must also be "generally rectangular or square in shape with magnetic or zipper closure," the new rules state. .  The color of the handbag will match the color of the shoes worn.  

The handbag must be Dimensions must be betweenfrom 5½ five and a half to 16 inches in wide, and from 5½ to between five and half and 14 inches tall, with a depth of 2 to 6 inches.ranging from in height with a depth of between two to six, and 2 to 6 inches in depth. 

Civilian manufacturers' logos are OK as long as they don’t exceed 2 square two inches square

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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