Women sailors will soon be getting black crackerjacks and the iconic "Dixie cup" cover as part of the Navy's top-down push to render uniform styling gender-neutral. Many of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus's speeches paint a picture of a world in which he looks out from a podium into a sea of sailors and Marines, identical in uniform, rather than the gendered mix of covers and jackets he sees now.

That dream will soon be a reality, as new uniform updates this year call for crackerjacks and Dixie for both male and female junior enlisted, plus choker whites and combination covers for every officer.

There's one hitch, though: Some female officers are not only unenthusiastic about the many new uniforms, but are incensed they'll have to pay out of pocket to buy them, unlike enlisted. changes, they're incensed that they have to pay out of pocket to update their uniforms.

"Not only do we not like the fact that they're changing the uniforms to make us all look like men, it's also the cost," said an O-5 helicopter pilot, who asked to remain anonymous to criticize the Navy's initiative.

Some also point out that they've been asking for an update to their khakis pants for years, to no avail. The Chief of Naval Personnel's office is working on that, a spokesman confirmed, though it is years out.

For now, the only thing changing is the dress whites.

"All the ones I talked to said they hated it," an O-5 helicopter pilot told Navy Times.

The active-duty officer, who asked not to be named due to possible career repercussions, said that she did the math: To replace her five-year-old dress whites for the new ones with a high Mandarin collar, which she'd worn once,  to uniform, which she's worn once, will cost about $300 for the coat and skirt, extra for tailoring, and as much as $100 for shoulder boards and sleeve stripes. $70 to $100 for striping, plus $50 or $60 for shoulder boards.

To replace her year-old cover, complete with scrambled eggs, will run about another $1450, she said

"It’s a good chunk of change forof stuff I have that is not worn out," she said. "My cover is in perfectly good shape and it’s practically brand new."

The O-5 said women are also upset that these changes, ordered by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, have been fast-tracked above changes that women wearing them want to see, like better fitting khaki pants for officers and chiefs. And they're stuck with the bill.

"Uniform changes across the board have affected everybody, male and female alike, and we’re OK okay if everybody’s got to foot the bill," she said. "We’re the only ones that have to shell out this money."

WhileFemale junior enlisted get an annual clothing allowance and chiefs receive a replacement payment, but officers are on their own. 

Officers are required by law to foot the bill for their uniforms, following a one-time stipend at the beginning of their careers, CNP spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said.

"We appreciate the concerns of sailors regarding uniform changes, but being in uniform, means being uniform in appearance," he said. "The most recent changes to Navy uniforms send a signal that the Navy is one team, has one standard, and is one in dress."

Christensen also said the service was developing a new khaki trouser design that's likely a few years away from fielding.

Softening the blow is the fact not all the uniforms must be replaced at once. Officers won't have to replace their uniforms all at once, though. According to a NAVADMIN released in October, the women have until next fall to buy new covers and can continue to wear their dress whites until they're not longer serviceable, but must replace them by Jan. 1, 2020. [Incorrect/MF -- NavAdmin 236/15 list the Officer and CPO Female SDW (choker) coat as available for purchase by Commencing January 2017 and also says The mandatory wear or possession date is 1 January 2020.]

That softens the blow a bit, the helicopter pilot said, but is almost beside the point: She and other women, she said, feel that though the uniform changes are designed to create a more inclusive environment for women like her, they end up singling them out anyway.

Khaki pants

While women have spoken out against the uniform changes, they have also voiced frustration about their unheard suggestions.

Under the pseudonym Lt. Anna Granville, an outgoing junior officer shared her complaints about the women's khaki pants, which haven't changed in several decades, on the military blog Task and Purpose.

Others, including the helicopter pilot, say they have been asking for years to have the pants redesigned, as the high-waisted, pleated design is unflattering and uncomfortable for so many of them.

"The one thing that we have been harping on for 10 years, that I know of, is to fix our damn pants," she said. "It's the one thing that gets overlooked, and we wear that uniform every single day."

Uniform experts are looking at redesigning these trousers, redesigning of the pants is in the works, Christensen confirmed, although it is a three- to four-year process. Officials have looked at one new prototype. Once a design is selected, it can take years to produce enough prototypes for a wear test, make changes and then field the improved version.

Christensen was unable to provide details on where uniform officials are in that process. the uniform. He could not give details on where the Navy is in that process.

Once a design is decided on, it can take years to test and field new uniform items. So far, according to a Navy official who was not authorized to speak on the record, CNP's office has evaluated one proposed design.

'An attitude thing'

The Navy's push to a single dress uniform style is part of a larger effort to foster respect and equality between the genders, Mabus told Navy Times in a September interview.

Mabus said he was inspired by his first Army-Navy game, watching male and female West Point cadets march on the field in the same gray gender neutral overcoats and covers, while the midshipmen wore two different uniforms.

"It's not to get women to wear men's uniforms, but I do think uniforms used to segregate women, and they're an historical accident, because women couldn't join the Navy or the Marine Corps," he said. "They joined the auxiliary, and they were given different uniforms to indicate that they weren't full sailors or Marines."

But for women who have spent their careers trying to prove themselves as outstanding officers while owning their gender, and who feel a kinship with the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service and the uniforms they once wore, it feels like a step back.

"It's not gender neutrality to us," said the helicopter pilot. "It's, 'You'll dress like a man.' "

While the uniforms have been redesigned to specifically fit women, with nipped-in waists and oval covers to accommodate hair buns, some wearers feel the new style is still a feeling that it takes away an individuality they've grown accustomed to. 

"If they went and they redesigned the uniform and it was a new Navy dress uniform, that would be one thing," she added. "But it wasn’t. It’s, 'Now the women will wear the men’s uniform. And oh, we made it a little wider in the hips.' " 

The service has also moved to eliminate a number of female-specific uniform styles and accessories, including the beret, tiara and dress cape.

The pilot also questioned how altering uniforms — like the dress whites she's only worn three times during her multi-decade career — will promote respect. Women also question how alteringchanging a dress uniform is going to promote respect, particularly for a uniform that, the pilot added, she has only worn three times in her career.

"Every time I've ever been harassed or inappropriately touched, it was not because of what I was wearing," she said.

For her, it comes down to equal consideration by the men who run the uniform board and beyond.

"I get that they don't see it because it doesn't affect them, but we don't get thought of, and it's more of an attitude thing," she said. "Sexual assault is out there, sexual harassment is out there, yes. But on a day-to-day basis, the 'You don't think about how this affects me,' is more of the discrimination that I think most of them see."

That will change as young sailors join up and more women take on leadership roles, she said.

But until then, "There’s just not enough women at the top yet."

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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