About 92 percent of online responders said they oppose a single standardized dress blue uniform for male and female Marines. (Adrian R. Rowan / Marine Corps)
Vive la différence.
So says 92 percent of the roughly 300 readers who responded online to a Marine Corps Times story about female Marines at Marine Barracks Washington who are wearing elements of the male dress blue uniform, as part of a wear test ordered by Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.
One style of cammies for male and female Marines at work or downrange is fine, they say. But for more formal appearances, the vast majority of Marines — both men and women — prefer to see female Marines in the traditional, more feminine and more form-fitting female dress blue uniform.
Women, 16 percent of the respondants, stood overwhelmingly against a change, 79 percent to 21 percent. But men were even less likely to accept a common uniform, with only 6 percent supporting such a move.
Marine officials have repeatedly flirted with changes to the women’s version of the distinctive dress blue uniform over the past decade. And each time, proposed changes have been met with stiff resistance.
Since the May start of this year’s parade season, female Marines stationed at 8th and I have sported the flat, round white dress covers traditionally worn by men, rather than the taller and more narrow frame caps issued to women. A handful of women on parade deck staff have also wear-tested a tailored version of the men’s dress blues jacket with its tall mandarin collar, broad belt and brass buttons down the front, instead of the traditional women’s tailored blue blazer with lapel collar.
A spokesman for Marine Barracks Washington, Capt. Jack Norton, said the women involved in the wear test would submit their thoughts about the uniform items after parade season ends in August. This feedback, he said, would be transmitted to Amos, who may use it to inform future uniform decisions.
Marines and veterans who spoke with Marine Corps Times cited tradition and the tailored fit of the female uniforms as reasons to keep the status quo.
Sgt. Chantel Williamson, a material management noncommissioned officer in charge with Marine Forces Reserve stationed in New Orleans, said she liked looking like a woman at dress and ceremonial events.
“Sticking a female in a male uniform just looks bulky and unappealing,” she said. “We should stand out in the Marine Corps as women who look like women, not women trying to look like men.”
Williamson said she had tried the male white dress cover, and she didn’t like the fit, especially when it was covering long hair or sitting above a bun.
“It just looked wrong. It was unflattering, and it didn’t stay on your head right,” she said.
Master Sgt. John Fontana, a 21-year Marine stationed with Naval Aviation Logistics Command Management Information Systems in Norfolk, Va., said he liked some of the uniform changes implemented during Amos’ tenure as commandant — including his controversial decision to stop the practice of rolling sleeves on the desert version of the camouflage utility uniform — but he couldn’t see the rationale for a unisex dress uniform.
“I think the dress blues is such a historical, recognizable uniform that it should be left alone,” Fontana said.
It made sense to give more weight to the opinions of female Marines, he said, since they would be making the change. But he said it made sense to him that women too were hesitant to adopt a common dress blues.
“If I was a female, I wouldn’t want to be the same,” he said. “I would want them to know that this was me; I don’t have to fit in.”
Jordan Avera, a former radio operator who got out of the Corps in 2011 as a corporal, said he would like to see Marine officials bring female Marines up to a common physical standard with upper-body strength requirements before they transition to a common uniform.
“For a group that demands complete equality, these issues seem to disappear into the cracks,” he said.
But for Larry Novelo, who served from 2001-2009 as a combat cameramen and got out as a sergeant, such a change is in keeping with the Corps’ emphasis on identifying as a Marine first and foremost.
“It lines up with us not wearing MOS patches like the other services do,” he said. “The one thing that separates us from the other services is we try not to separate each other. We didn’t even get our name tapes on our uniforms until the late ’80s.”
Novelo said he is not suprised that so many in the Marine Corps community were opposed to the change but recommended that the opposition be viewed with perspective.
“People complain. It’s a Marine Corps pastime,” he said. “Just give them a couple years and it will be fine.”